By Wayne Besen
“Ex-gay” therapist Joe Nicolosi is dead. I doubt he’s in a better place. I do know the earth is a better place without this noxious con artist who peddled phony cures for homosexuality.
While I hesitate to speak ill of the dead, I wonder how many LGBT teens took their own lives, or numbed their tormented minds with alcohol and drugs because Nicolosi preached that they were sick and in need of healing? How many thousands of ruined lives lie in his wake, with gay people pressured to marry straight spouses – only to have their doomed marriages end in bitter divorce?
At 70, Nicolosi died relatively young from flu complications – ironic considering his admonitions against the dangers of the “gay lifestyle.” He often cited discredited “studies” on LGBT mortality by disgraced psychologist Paul Cameron to scare people into his so-called therapy. (Last night, I encountered dozens of healthy gay men in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago that had far outlived this quack)
Nicolosi deserves special scorn because he was not part of the older generation of mental health professionals that can claim ignorance about LGBT people. This charlatan wasn’t misguided or lacking in information. He was a uniquely malevolent force, propelled by an antiquated ideology and scornful of evidence that contradicted his purposeful lies. He was impervious to facts and must have known, on some level, his crackpot theories to convert LGBT people into heterosexuals did not work. Time and again, the hapless clients who left his expensive therapy sessions unchanged were blamed for his own failure as a “therapist.”
It is fitting that on the very week that Nicolosi passed away, ABC’s 20/20 aired a special where investigative reporter Brian Ross exposed abusive and ineffective “ex-gay” camps. The 20/20 segment vividly shined a light on the torture and rejecton LGBT youth sometimes must endure thanks to the malicious theories peddled by snake oil salesmen like Nicolosi and others.
Nicolosi was an arrogant hate-mongering demagogue who was equally despised by his colleagues on the right, due to his abrasive personality. However, he and the Religious Right had a symbiotic and profitable relationship. Faith-based conservatives had trouble persuading non-religious Americans to reject LGBT people based on biblical arguments. Nicolosi conveniently provided a medical veneer that resonated with secular people sitting on the political fence. His shtick was to hijack medical language to give cover to the view that homosexuality is a sin. Most people who bought his disinformation were unaware that Nicolosi and his ilk were fringe characters rejected by mainstream psychology.
In reaction to acceptance of LGBT people by mainstream medical and mental health associations, Nicolosi banded together with like-minded quacks to form the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. NARTH pretended to be a science-based organization, but its raw antipathy and political nature often seeped through.
For example, NARTH co-founder Dr. Charles Socarides, told The Washington Post, “Homosexuality is a psychological and psychiatric disorder, there is no question about it. It is a purple menace that is threatening the proper design of gender distinctions in society.”
Though NARTH pretended to be secular, the underlying religious motivations of NARTH were always right below the surface. For many years, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi served as a spokesperson for the far right Christian organization Focus on the Family. On CNN’s AC360 with Anderson Cooper, (April 14, 2007), Nicolosi said, “We, as citizens, need to articulate God’s intent for human sexuality.” At the Feb. 10, 2007 Love Won Out conference in Phoenix, the “secular” therapist told the audience, “When we live our God-given integrity and our human dignity, there is no space for sex with a guy.”
NARTH would also attract clients by painting a dark, dystopian portrait gay life. It would depict coming out as futile, because instead of creating happiness, it would lead to disappointment, loneliness, and health problems.
“I do not believe that any man can ever be truly at peace in living out a homosexual orientation,” Nicolosi said. “I think the homosexual condition has certain limitations to it. I think that two men in a relationship have difficulty and two women would have difficulty where there is a certain compatibility between male and female.”
NARTH was effective at bashing LGBT people, but had difficulty defending its bizarre theories and practices. The core of Nicolosi’s “reparative therapy” was the idea that homosexuality in men was caused by a distant father. He said he could turn gay men straight by repairing the broken father/son bond by encouraging non-sexual friendships with heterosexual men. This would cause the gay client to become more confident in his masculinity and become one of the guys – and by doing so, attraction to the same sex would decrease, while attraction to the opposite sex would increase.
This non-scientific crackpot theory metastasized into “touch therapy” by NARTH member Richard Cohen, who creepily held clients “non-sexually” in his lap for extended periods of time. NARTH therapist Christopher Austin was convicted for sexually abusing his clients with this technique. (Cohen was permanently expelled by the American Counseling Association for multiple ethics violations)
NARTH’s efforts to promote gender stereotypes would be comical had they not harmed so many people. In therapy sessions, Nicolosi encouraged male clients to become more masculine by drinking Gatorade and referring to friends as “dude”. On its website, NARTH endorsed and sold a book from member therapist, James E. Phelan, “Practical Exercises For Men In Recovery of Same-Sex Attraction (SSA).” In exercise 57 of Phelan’s book, he advises male clients to tell their wives: “It is up to you to help educate her about your needs. Tell her, ‘I need to be the man of the house. Let me be the man of the house.’ Dominant women only demasculinize men. A man has got to be the lion of the den.” (p. 61)
Phelan’s peculiar book urges clients to keep a “masturbation inventory” and practice “safe driving.”
“Keep your eyes on the road, not on other peoples’ cars,” the therapist warns. “Focus on driving, not having sex with other drivers.” (p. 30) The author also offers a comprehensive list of 236 activities clients can participate in whenever they feel homosexual urges. This list includes: Bowling, singing to myself, watching the sky, reading maps, caring for houseplants, going to a revival or crusade, seeing famous people, crying, seeing or smelling a flower or plant, going to a drive-thru (Dairy Queen, McDonalds, etc.), walking barefoot, bird watching, smiling at people, playing Frisbee, and going to auctions. (Pgs. 93-97)
NARTH therapists frequently practice “rubber band therapy,” where a gay client is made to wear a rubber band and snap it on his wrist when sexually stimulated. It is a mild form of aversion therapy meant to “snap” the client out of the moment of attraction.
Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, a NARTH therapist, has written that Prozac may cure gayness. Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, who had once been a frequent contributor to NARTH’s website, wrote “The Pink Swastika,” which blames the rise of Nazi Germany on gay people.
NARTH board member Gerard van den Aardweg said he believes that there is a link between muscle weakness and homosexuality.
“The possible correlation between homosexuality and ‘muscle weakness’ could mean, for instance, that boys with deficient muscular growth run a higher risk of becoming sexually deviant because of their feeling inferior on that account…it is precisely youthful inferiority feelings about the physical appearance, body build, and the like that can motivate a development to a homosexual orientation.” (Homosexuality & Hope: A Psychologist Talks About Treatment and Change, Ch. 2, p. 29)
Most tragically, NARTH exploits the fears of parents for profit, recruiting males as young as three years old, referring to them as “pre-homosexual boys.” What Nicolosi does is instill a sense of deep shame, telling perfectly healthy youths that they are broken and he can fix them – for a fee paid by their vulnerable and confused parents.
It is important to know that there is zero scientific validity to NARTH’s anti-gay views. Reparative therapy is not considered a legitimate and accepted form of psychological care. It is soundly rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization in America. The American Psychological Association says attempts to change sexual orientation can cause, “anxiety, depression and self destructive behavior.”
In August 2009, the American Psychological Association produced a landmark report that said, there was “no evidence” that ex-gay therapy was effective, and in many cases it was linked to harm. There are survivor organizations to help the victims of such therapy, as well as support groups for spouses who married a gay partner who could not change sexual orientations.
The truth is, Nicolosi and NARTH had never been about science and research. It was a nefarious propaganda center designed to stigmatize, demonize, and browbeat LGBT people into the charade of pretending to be heterosexuals. The seething disdain is evidenced by van den Aardweg’s vicious and unfounded attacks on LGBT people. According to the NARTH leader:
“The person with a homosexual drive is pulled to a neurotic and conflictions existence. Stubbornly and imperviously, against all advice, despite the sorrow they inflict on their parents, young people with this problem cling to their ‘choice’ of what their ignorance mistakes for ‘happiness.’ It may be hard, but it is true: not a few of them degenerate, their youthful freshness and gladness disappear; they become weaklings in many respects – like addicts.” (Ch. 2, pg. 24)
Nicolosi’s and NARTH’s influence began to decline in 2006 after a series of professional humiliations. For instance, NARTH board member Gerald Schoenwolf, seemed to justify slavery on the organization’s website:
“With all due respect, there is another way, or other ways, to look at the race issue in America,” wrote Schoenwolf. “It could be pointed out, for example, that Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle, as yet uncivilized or industrialized. Life there was savage, as savage as the jungle for most people, and that it was the Africans themselves who first enslaved their own people. They sold their own people to other countries, and those brought to Europe, South America, America, and other countries, were in many ways better off than they had been in Africa. But if one even begins to say these things one is quickly shouted down as though one were a complete madman.”
Also in 2006, NARTH psychiatrist Joseph Berger, MD, a member of its “Scientific Advisory Committee,” wrote a paper encouraging students to “ridicule” gender variant children.
“I suggest, indeed, letting children who wish go to school in clothes of the opposite sex–but not counseling other children to not tease them or hurt their feelings. On the contrary, don’t interfere, and let the other children ridicule the child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world. Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary.”
In 2008, Dr. Lisa Diamond, University of Utah, publicly rebuked NARTH in a Truth Wins Out YouTube video. Diamond claimed that Dr. Nicolosi deliberately twisted her work for political gain. NARTH also uses outdated studies from up to 100 years ago and repackages these invalid studies as new.
In 2010, George A. Rekers — an officer for NARTH — hired a young prostitute known as Geo on Rentboy.com, a gay-escort website. Rekers became a laughingstock when he claimed he had only hired the boy to “lift his luggage.”
Unlike so many other people involved in the failed “ex-gay” industry that recanted or apologized, Nicolosi died disgraced and unrepentant. After his death, his wife Linda, who no doubt lived well off the money Nicolosi made off the backs of LGBT people and their families, cynically portrayed him as a victim.
“Joe was certainly a larger-than-life, one-of-a-kind guy,” Linda said. “Never worried about political correctness, he was happy to swim against the cultural tide when he was sure the culture was going in the wrong direction. That got him into trouble quite a few times.”
Peoples’ issue with Nicolosi had zero to do with political correctness. The problem was that he was scientifically incorrect and spread nasty lies to the world about LGBT people. He used his sad, pathetic life to perpetrate pure evil and cause incalculable heartache. His wickedness was more pernicious because he cloaked his dehumanization in medical language to make hate more palatable to the masses.
Let the historic record show that Joseph Nicolosi was a disgrace to the medical profession. He was an opportunistic ideologue and anti-LGBT propagandist who trafficked in hate and harm. This quack will not be missed.