Corey Larsen spent years hiding the feelings that drew him to other men, at first refusing to acknowledge them and then praying daily for them to be taken away.
As a teenager in Clearfield, Utah, he tried to banish the thoughts. As he grew older, the attractions grew stronger, but so did his religious convictions as a Mormon.
The contradiction tormented him. After moving to Manhattan several years ago, he remained a respected young leader in his church ward. Behind closed doors, though, he sank into despair. “I was either going to stay in the church, in what I believe and what I love, or choose this different path that I felt was just knocking on my door,” he said.
Last May, Mr. Larsen, 28, began seeing a therapist in Jersey City, joining others across the country making similar attempts to eliminate their gay desires through therapy or religious ministries dedicated to that end. Most are caught in similarly anguishing crises of faith and identity, searching for a way out through a murky world of intense dispute and warring political agendas.
Efforts by religious conservatives to “treat” homosexuality received renewed attention last week with news that the Rev. Ted Haggard, an evangelical pastor dismissed from his Colorado megachurch in a gay-sex scandal, had undergone three weeks of intense therapy and then reportedly concluded that he was “completely heterosexual.”
Although the scientific community cannot say definitively what determines sexual orientation — whether it is nature or nurture — most mainstream mental health professionals dismiss attempts to eradicate homosexual desires or to change someone’s sexual orientation as quackery that is potentially harmful.
Gay rights advocates say the efforts only provide additional fodder for homophobia. Mental health experts say there is no proof that sexual reorientation therapy, as it is often called, works. Meanwhile, they argue, the damage it can inflict on self-esteem, triggering depression and even suicide, is well documented.
“There’s not a debate in the profession on this issue,” said Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist and former chairman of the Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues of the American Psychiatric Association. “This is like creationism. You create the impression to the public as if there was a debate in the profession, which there is not.”
Nevertheless, these efforts, commonly called the “ex-gay” movement, have become increasingly visible across the country, where the battle over gay marriage and sex scandals in the Roman Catholic Church have brought the divisive issue of homosexuality to the forefront in recent years.
The efforts to rein in homosexual desires run the gamut from those that take a completely secular counseling approach to others that are completely spiritual. Some proclaim complete change is available, while others focus simply on helping gays and lesbians live celibately. Men seem to predominate in them, but women also seek them out.
Despite the skepticism about whether ex-gay programs can work, there is no denying the struggle of those involved. Among them are evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, Mormons, Roman Catholics and others often driven by deeply held religious beliefs that run counter to societal voices that encourage them to embrace being gay. It is unclear how many people participate in these programs, but a leading Christian organization in the movement, Exodus International, estimated in 2003 it had 11,000 in its affiliated ministries...
The anguish of those struggling with their sexuality is real. It is just sad that they are trapped in a religious mindset that can't accept them for who they really are.