Scared Straight

The religious right's ex-gay movement is scouting local recruits

Cases of reparative therapy (also referred to as conversion therapy) documented by Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D., in the Online Journal, involve attaching electric sensors to the genitals and then administering a shock at any sign of arousal by same-sex images. Other cases cite exorcism, sedation, isolation, physical restraints, and hypnosis.

NARTH was founded in 1992 by Joseph Nicolosi (who also declined an interview with New Times). Its Website provides links to medical studies that show statistical data in support of reparative therapy. Among them is a paper presented by the American Psychological Association's Dr. Robert Spitzer at a 2001 APA convention. Spitzer claims 66 percent of men and 44 percent of women who received reparative therapy for his study achieved "good heterosexual functioning."

Yet many reparative therapy studies NARTH cites are filled with methodological ambiguities and questionable results, according to psychiatric experts outside the organization. Indeed Spitzer's was discredited. Immediately following his study's publication, the APA issued an official disavowal of the paper, noting it had not been peer-reviewed and bluntly stating, "There is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of reparative therapy as a treatment to change one's sexual orientation."

Tatiana Suarez

"One of the reasons there isn't any data," says Thomas, "is because the APA has a lot of internal politics determined by gay activists within their own ranks. There are plenty of people in the APA who are willing to ignore my reality and use their own bias to stop studies that would actually prove that change is possible."

Dr. Gerald Schoenewolf, a member of NARTH's Science Advisory Committee, agrees. He recently published a report on NARTH's Website that states the APA, to which he belongs, "has been taken over by extremist gays." He also claims Africans were "better off" in slavery and that the civil rights, women's rights, and gay rights movements are "irrational" and "destructive."

On a recent Tuesday evening, as she has done almost every week for the past five years, Sarah joins Joe Alicea and the Worthy Creations crew in Miami Shores for a strugglers' support group.

With each meeting, Sarah says, she inches further along the road to change, loosening her ties to homosexuality and nudging her closer to breaking free from the shackles of sin.

In the half-decade since joining the ex-gay ministry, Sarah has not had any sexual contact with a man. She hasn't felt an urge to kiss one yet, either. In fact she hasn't even reached the point of wanting to go out on a date with a guy. But she is convinced she will someday.

"I'm not there yet, that's all. It's a process; it takes time," she says with a half-hearted smile. "Am I attracted to men? Of course," she adds. Asked what kind of physical traits she finds attractive in men, she repeats the question and then pauses. "It's more about who the person is inside."

Sarah is more effusive about her former attraction to women. "What kind of girls did I like? All types, you name it. They ran the gamut from curly hair, straight hair, blond hair, dark hair, olive-skinned, white, blue eyes, brown eyes," she bubbles. "I like athletic girls, ones who like sports. Thin, though, physically fit, in shape. And confidence — I loved girls who knew what they wanted and weren't afraid to show it.... Yeah, confident girls."

Tonight she must purge all thoughts of lithe, athletic, confident females. At the Worthy Creations meetings, the shy girl, who confesses she doesn't really have any good friends, must become an army of one, readying for battle before a crowd of peers. The enemy: her own tortured soul.

"The Lord can deliver us from our sexual brokenness," intones Alicea, who says he left the gay lifestyle half a decade ago and credits his sexual awakening to the healing powers of Jesus. In a testimony delivered at Calvary Chapel in South Beach this past December, Alicea stated he was once gay because "his cup was overflowing with feminine love" — his mother was too nurturing; his father was too stern; he legitimately sought out male company to make up for the attention his father failed to give him.

"It's not easy," scoffs Alicea, recrossing his legs and clasping his hands over a knee. "But we are not born into homosexuality and we do have a choice," he adds, shifting his attention to Sarah. "Would you like to go next?"

Sarah inhales, smiles awkwardly, and casts her eyes to the floor. Confession time.

"This has been a hard week for me," she mutters, "but I've realized some things. I became attracted to women because I didn't get the love I needed from my mom. I know that now." Clenching her fists, she digs them into her thighs and begins jiggling her right leg. "I craved female attention because I never got it from her...."

Clench, dig, jiggle.

"She was emotionally absent...."

Mom was reserved, dominating, and cold, Sarah says. Grandma was bipolar, and Sarah thinks Mom was abused: "She alluded to it, but she never gave me specifics." When Sarah was a baby, Mom divorced Sarah's biological father and then remarried. The little girl who always tried to please inherited five stepsiblings.

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