In a New York Post op-ed defending the abuse of minors who are forced into “ex-gay” therapy, Jeff Bennion, co-founder of North Star International, knowingly lied for the Lord. In his article he writes, “In no way did I ever feel from them or my therapists that I had to engage in SOCE (Sexual Orientation Change Efforts) because of feelings of shame, cultural, religious or family pressure.”
A revealing YouTube video, however, paints a different portrait. It shows a deeply conflicted Mormon man, who was emotionally crippled in his teenage years by religious shame and self-loathing. His feelings of guilt and self-hatred forced him into “ex-gay” therapy and turned his life into a sad endurance test of denial:
“I was really in denial. Whatever that was, I wasn’t gay, I didn’t have homosexual feelings. Whatever it is, it’s not that…I had a lot of shame. And that is why I did not want to admit it. When the spirit really first told me that, I was like, ‘God give me anything else. Make me an alcoholic, give me cancer, give me any other trial but this one.’ So I had a lot of shame…”
After such a heartbreaking admission, does anyone truly believe that Bennion wasn’t humiliated and browbeaten into therapy as a youth by his culture and religious belief system?
What Bennion expressed is precisely the type of outside pressure experienced by stigmatized and traumatized LGBT youth who are coerced by parents and churches into reparative therapy. Had Bennion grown up in a healthy environment that told him that gay was okay, he would have embraced his feelings, instead of believing they were worse than a fatal disease. Here is the video where you can see the oozing and unresolved self-disgust.
Here is another revealing quote from Bennion’s New York Post op-ed:
“You may be surprised that people like me even exist; we have little reason to make an issue of our sexuality, so you seldom find us waving placards in parades or rallies, but there are a lot of us.”
It is my contention that there is no such thing as an “ex-gay.” Earlier this month, Voice of the Voiceless founder, Christopher Doyle, announced that July was “Ex-Gay Pride Month.” When he couldn’t find any real “ex-gays” to participate, he decided to blame his failure on unnamed gay terrorists who allegedly intimidated his group into cancelling the big show. The only public event now taking place, is the leader of Homosexuals Anonymous, Doug McIntyre (aka Grandpa), driving alone from Houston to Washington, DC, while preaching at truck stops.
Similarly, Bennion makes weak excuses for the invisibility of so-called ex-gays, when he claims, “you seldom find us waving placards in parades or rallies, but there are a lot of us.” It is instructive that in a nation of 300 million people, the only three who have spoken out for “Ex-Gay Pride Month” are Doyle, McIntyre, and Bennion — all of whom are paid to say they have changed their sexual orientation.
Let’s be clear.
Bennion is a businessman with a vested financial interest in undermining laws that would protect minors from “ex-gay” therapy. According to Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, co-founder of NARTH, half of all reparaitve therapy clients are teenagers — so ensuring they can be abused is crucial to their business model.
So, Bennion is not simply a patient who was helped by reparative therapy. He is an “ex-gay for pay” who professionally profits from this sick industry and the continued exploitation of minors to fill his organization’s coffers. As the co-founder of North Star International, a Mormon “ex-gay” outfit, Bennion has an unusually sexy staff of 10 to support. Calls for money are ubiquitous on his website, and the first thing one sees when entering is an ad pleading with clients to attend his $140 Couples Summit.
I’m not saying all of these people are con artists. Some mean well, but as Bennion explained, denial is a large part of the experience. Some are living in such suspended states of reality that they become predators themselves — rationalizing the deep harm they are inflicting on the very people they are purportedly trying to help.
However, it is indisputable that Bennion’s financial conflict of interest renders his opinion of reparative therapy virtually meaningless. It would be far stronger if real clients made the case instead of profiting pros, but I reckon they can’t find too many people who would publicly profess happy outcomes. (Similarly, it took Columbia University’s Dr. Robert Spitzer two years to find a mere 200 “ex-gay” clients for his 2001 study, and the majority were professional ex-gays provided by NARTH and Exodus.)
Bennion’s op-ed is really just a series of meaningless talking points and emotional PR phrases designed to defend Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH), a group so pseudo-scientific that its mantra is, “There is no such thing as a homosexual, just heterosexuals with a homosexual problem.”
A huge moral failure of Bennion’s op-ed is that he omitted the tragic fact that JONAH is being sued because one of its referral therapists, Alan Downing, allegedly made clients undress in front of a mirror and touch themselves. Perhaps, Bennion’s shocking silence on the reality of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s case, that he so callously dismisses and derides, means that he endorses this type of sex therapy or maybe even practices it himself. It is difficult to know where he stands, because he studiously avoided the central question in the case when commenting in the New York Post.
Here is another form of bizarre therapy that JONAH endorses that Bennion never brought up:
Why no mention of what quack “ex-gay” therapists actually do with clients? Is Bennion ashamed of the actual techniques used behind closed doors?
Moving along, here are a couple of the jumbled talking points in Bennion’s article:
“The client’s right to determine the course of his own therapy is a touchstone of modern psychotherapy. So the effort to deny people access to this therapy not only infringes on my right to self-determination, it violates the ethical standards of every major mental-health association.”
Who is he kidding? At both Massachusetts and New Jersey hearings to ban “ex-gay” child abuse for minors, the major mental health organizations testified in favor of the bill. Not a single credible mental health professional spoke out against these bills, unless you count the exorcist who appeared in front of the committee in Boston last week.
Here is a quote from a mental health expert who testified in Boston and clearly contradicts Bennion’s failed attempt to co-opt the mental health establishment:
“The National Association of Social Workers MA Chapter strongly believes that Massachusetts must join California and New Jersey where conversion therapy bans have passed,” said Mark Blogier, a licensed clinician and member of the Massachusetts Chapter of NASW. “What these teens need is understanding and acceptance. And real therapy – preferably with a social worker – which means starting where the teens are at and helping them accept themselves and eliminate shame and self-loathing.”
First, it is critical to note that clients have no ability to “determine” their sexual orientation any more than they can determine their height or foot size — thus any group that claims that they can alter sexual attraction is committing consumer fraud by making false promises they have no means to deliver.
Second, psychiatric professionals, not clients, truly determine the course of therapy. If a client walked into a psychiatrists office and claimed low self esteem because he wasn’t the strongest kid on the football team, he couldn’t simply demand the shrink prescribe steroids to make him feel better about himself. Nor could an ambitions client demand that a psychiatrist help her learn psychological tricks to undermine co-workers to get ahead. This would be unethical therapy and trained mental health professionals set standards for care, not self-deluded clients with an agenda. The duty of a professional therapist — instead of a greedy or ideological one — would be tell a client that the odds of going from gay to straight are about as good as turning into a camel or a platypus. So, why waste the time and money?
Third, the bills unfairly criticized by Bennion only deal with vulnerable youth and not adults, who are still free to waste their money and inflict self-harm. Obviously, there is a long precedent of the state intervening to protect children who are in danger of abuse. For example, a parent can’t use religion to justify denying his or her child life saving medication. A father can’t use a Bible verse about “sparing the rod” to excuse brutally beating his son. While the state should rarely step into the child/parent relationship — it becomes necessary when a youth is in danger. A child is a person, not property, and should never be forced to endure the lasting mental scars produced by the dangerous pseudo-science of reparative therapy.
Bennion’s op-ed has another passage worth comment:
“But I also found that my sexuality was much more fluid than I’d realized. Under certain circumstances, those feelings were not an issue at all, to the point that they became dormant.
I don’t claim that I no longer experience same-sex attraction, but neither do I need to. Through therapy, I gained enough skills that I felt able, in an open and honest way, to explore romantic relationships with women.
Today I have a wife and child, happily married for nine years. To me that is a miracle, something I never would’ve believed possible for me.”
First, it is possible that Bennion is bisexual, however, he would not need years of expensive “ex-gay” therapy to figure that out. If his sexuality is truly fluid, it would have occurred naturally. There is not one legitimate technique used by anti-gay reparative therapists to help one discover their sexual orientation in a healthy manner. Their sole, closed-minded message is: No matter what, don’t be gay.
Second, it is troubling when he writes, “under certain circumstances, those feelings were not an issue at all, to the point that they became dormant. I don’t claim that I no longer experience same-sex attraction, but neither do I need to.”
This is called classic repression. His feelings are obviously still there, but they are being fought and buried with great mental effort and anguish, which is likely to create a debilitating cognitive dissonance as time goes on. As we have repeatedly seen, what Bennion preaches is rarely sustainable for a lifetime.
Third, he claims to be happily married, but all “ex-gays” do so — until they announce they are getting divorced. It must deeply disturb his wife, on some level, that her husband would prefer to be sleeping with a man. He desperately wants a penis and she will never have one, no matter how many $140 couples retreats they attend. There are entire support groups for people in this situation, and when the marriage eventually collapses, his wife should seek help from the Straight Spouse Network.
Fourth, it is laughable when Bennion writes, “Today I have a wife and child, happily married for nine years. To me that is a miracle, something I never would’ve believed possible for me.”
In reality, it is not a “miracle” for a gay man to get married — considering that most LGBT people actually did marry prior to 1980, when the social stigma was often too great to remain “single.” It is both easy and cowardly in 2013 to marry someone of the opposite sex simply to fit in. It is truly heartbreaking that some, for selfish reasons, would choose to destroy the life of a wife who deserves better — like a genuine straight man who is actually attracted to her. If history is a reliable guide, time may reveal that Bennion’s marriage is not a “miracle” but a huge mistake.
Finally, if you want to get to the crux of why reparative thearpay is a fraud, it can be found in this critical sentence in Bennion’s op-ed:
“I advise anyone considering such therapy to make sure they understand that their outcomes may not be mine.”
This is what we call the “ex-gay” disclaimer. What Bennion is basically saying is that he intends to string clients along, take their money, break their hearts, damage their families, and cause psychological scars. And, when the destruction is over and lives are ruined he will conveniently point to that sentence and say, “It’s your fault for failing. I told you that your outcome may not be mine.”
When this awful day of reckoning occurs, realize that Bennion has already spent your money and you won’t be getting a refund. Nor, will he pay for the years of real therapy with a legitimate therapist you will likely need. Once these charlatans have used you, picked your pocket, and spit you out — you are on your own.