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Unable to Shake Decades of Failure, NARTH Attempts Extremist Makeover

CHICAGO – Truth Wins Out warned mental health professionals today not to be fooled by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality’s (NARTH) cynical rebranding effort. The group, infamous for its failed efforts to “cure” LGBT people, has launched a new website, therapeuticchoice.com, and renamed itself the NARTH Institute, which serves as a division of the brand new Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (ATCSI).

“NARTH can put lipstick on this new pig, but it’s the same old swine peddling junk science to desperate and vulnerable people,” said Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director Wayne Besen. “This cynical rebranding effort is an attempt to mask NARTH’s past failures, history of consumer fraud, and shredded reputation. We urge mental health professionals not to be fooled by NARTH’s new facelift.”

Besieged on several fronts, the embattled “ex-gay” organization’s new direction is an effort to confront mounting legal and legislative challenges. Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, (JONAH) an organization run by former NARTH board member and convicted felon, Arthur Abba Goldberg, is being sued by the Sothern Poverty Law Center for consumer fraud. A therapist affiliated with JONAH, Alan Downing, allegedly made his clients undress and fondle themselves in front of a mirror. This behavior echoes that of another prominent NARTH therapist, Christopher Austin, who was convicted for inappropriate behavior with his clients.

In the legislative arena, two states, California and New Jersey, have passed laws banning ex-gay therapy (aka reparative or conversion therapy) for minors. Several states are looking to pass similar measures. Explaining the purpose of the new branding, NARTH writes, “In recent years NARTH has been increasingly involved in legal and professional efforts to defend the rights of clients to pursue change-oriented psychological care as well as the rights of licensed mental health professionals to provide such care…. Adding to our board new legal and medical experts (i.e., Geoff Heath, JD, and Keith Vennum, MD) and a new clinical member David Pickup, MFT.”

A second “ex-gay” organization, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) also rebranded its website, with a legal focus echoing that of NARTH’s. This is no surprise, as prominent PFOX and NARTH member, Christopher Doyle, has been the chief lobbyist against bills prohibiting the barbaric practice of reparative therapy on minors. Doyle gained notoriety for what he admitted online:

“I tried to have sex with the little girls that my mother watched in her daycare, and eventually, one of the girls told her parents what I was doing. The shame that was placed on me by my parents was more than I could bear. Rather than rescue me, teach me, and put me in counseling, the ‘bad boy’ was left alone to deal with all of this shame.”

The huge changes at NARTH are symbolic of the implosion of the “ex-gay” industry. In the past few years, key “ex-gay” groups have shut their doors, including Love in Action, Exodus International, Evergreen International, and Love Won Out.

Last week, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) released a letter by several former “ex-gay” activists who explained that such therapy is unethical and harmful. Former Family Research Council “ex-gay” spokesperson, Yvette Cantu Schneider, also released a statement with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) where she expressed regret for her participation in the “ex-gay” industry. Last year, former “ex-gay” poster boy John Paulk apologized for his role in promoting these groups, and the year prior, key “ex-gay” activist, John Smid, renounced his role with Love in Action – the first modern ex-gay ministry founded in 1973.

“The ‘ex-gay’ industry is an experiment that has failed,” said Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen. “I can understand why they would want to reinvent themselves, because things didn’t work out so well the first time. However, these group are simply repackaging the same old snake oil in a fancy new bottle.”

NARTH has disingenuously billed itself as a secular therapy group. In reality, this organization served as a front for virulently anti-gay religious groups such as Focus on the Family. The claim that NARTH is a secular organzation is betrayed by its own rhetoric.

“We, as citizens, need to articulate God’s intent for human sexuality,” Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, co-founder of NARTH, said in CNN’ 360 Degrees with Anderson Cooper, April 14, 2007. 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 noNARTH Alliance Discredited ‘Ex Gay’ Therapy Group, NARTH, Undergoes Major Rebranding Effort space for sex with a guy.”

Although NARTH claims to be a group that offers therapy, what it does isn’t therapy at all. Instead, it is anti-gay hate speech wrapped in medical language, in an effort to make it more palatable to mainstream Americans. NARTH co-founder, the late Dr. Charles Socarides, told The Washington Post on August 14, 2007, “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.”

NARTH board member Gerard van den Aardweg is a frequent purveyor of anti-LGBT hate speech. He writes in his book, Homosexuality & Hope: A Psychologist Talks About Treatment and Change:

“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)

NARTH is also infamous for its bizarre theories and techniques. The group encourages male clients to drink Gatorade and call their friends “dude,” because this will supposedly make them more masculine. Dr. Joseph Nicolosi espoused the idea that, “Non-homosexual men who experience defeat and failure may also experience homosexual fantasies or dreams.”

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)

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).” It is a veritable, step-by-step guide on how one would attempt to transform from gay-to-straight.

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)

Sexism is rampant at NARTH. This is made clear in exercise 57 of Phelan’s NARTH endorsed book where advises male clients what 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)

Such retrograde beliefs is reminiscent of NARTH board member Gerald Schoenwolf, who in 2006 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.”

Truth Wins Out (TWO) is a non-profit organization that works to demolish the very foundation of anti-gay prejudice. Our philosophy is simple: We attack the underpinnings of homophobia by debunking harmful lies, discrediting hateful myths, and countering anti-gay organizations. By chipping away at the underlying ignorance that fuels anti-LGBT attitudes, we can ultimately win our fight for fairness and achieve full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people worldwide.