Ex-gay movement gives its spokesman the hoot. But why?
For nearly six years, Richard Cohen was the Tom Cruise of the so-called “ex-gay” movement. His book, Coming Out Straight , was all the rage and catapulted him into the realm of superstar status. In 2000, he was even a featured therapy trainer at the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality’s (NARTH) annual convention in Washington’s prestigious Mayflower Hotel.
Many of the religious right’s elite, such as Rev. Lou Sheldon and Bob Knight, graced the gilded conference hall, which I also attended while working on my book, Anything But Straight. During Cohen’s presentation, he discussed how men who are “transitioning into heterosexuality” must find mentors.
“I solicited all three of my straight male mentors,” Cohen recalled. “‘Would you like me to service you? I’m really good at it,’ I told each one of them. When they rejected me, I knew they loved me for who I am.”
Most of the middle-aged conservatives in the crowd looked stunned and a tad sickened by Cohen’s inappropriate remarks. Still, they followed his orders to take off their shoes and massage each other’s backs while new age music piped through the speakers. “Touch, yes! Sex, no!” Cohen bellowed.
Following his demonstration, there was a mad rush to Cohen’s booth where he was hawking his book. The right wing was so infatuated with their new gay-healing guru that they ignored passages in his book that revealed he once belonged to a bizarre sex cult. They even “overlooked” disturbing pictures of him banging a tennis racket against a pillow while yelling out his father’s name.
Cohen was soon catapulted to the board presidency of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX). Until Cohen’s arrival, the group was primarily an outlet for its leader, Regina Griggs, to vindictively get back at her son for coming out to her as gay. Cohen quickly seized control of the message and ludicrously cast ex-gays as victims of discrimination and set PFOX’s sights on getting their theories into the public schools.
Like Tom Cruise, Cohen’s bright star eventually crashed because people started to realize that this guy just might be nuts. The wheels began to fall off the car when I got a tip that Cohen had been kicked out of the American Counseling Association in 2002. He managed to hide this career suicide from the public until I informed the media in 2005.
With his counseling career in ruins, Cohen turned to the media as his only channel to attract new clients to his “healing” seminars. However, his act that played so well at the NARTH convention made him look like a quack to mainstream Americans. On his appearance on CNN’s Paula Zahn Now earlier this year, Cohen actually performed his tennis racket routine to the guffaws of million of viewers. He made a further buffoon of himself on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live where boxer George Foreman looked as if he wanted to give him a left hook. He further disgraced his image on Showtime’s Bullshit, starring comedians Penn and Teller.
However, Cohen’s “jumping on Oprah’s couch moment” came on his appearance with me on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. To prove he was heterosexual, Cohen belched and cursed and when he was feeling the heat, he got up in the middle of the interview to “shake it off.”
Cohen’s antics were even more than PFOX and NARTH could take and they heaved him overboard, purging their websites this month of his kooky books and articles. The largest ex-gay group, Exodus International, even put out a statement saying they do not endorse the counselor’s work.
In kneecapping their “Top Gun,” these groups have been quite disingenuous. Richard Cohen did nothing wrong other than make public what the right wing strongly endorsed and applauded behind closed doors. Cohen’s only real sin is that he went on television. As far as his outrageous and ridiculous therapies, NARTH and PFOX intimately knew about them for at least six years, as they are vividly discussed in his book. So, these disloyal groups are not dumping Cohen because he is off his rocker, they are dumping him because he is off-message.
Cohen may be the fall guy, but the fact that conservatives fell in love with him in the first place demonstrates how they will embrace practically anyone who is willing to make their living condemning homosexuals.
Wayne Besen, author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth (Harrington Park Press), writes a weekly column published at www.waynebesen.com. Regular “LeftOut” columnist Daryl Moore returns next month.