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Posts for September, 2007

The LaBarbera Award: PFOX’s Regina Griggs

Jim Burroway

September 5th, 2007

The LaBarbera AwardParents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) Executive Director Regina Griggs has long co-opted the status of a persecuted minority by describing a strange parallel universe where homosexuality is perfectly accepted and it’s the ex-gays who experience “discrimination.” Her organization works aggressively against gays and lesbian families at all levels, but if anyone expresses any opposition to her efforts they are labeled as engaging in “discrimination against the ex-gay community.” She’s even positioned “ex-gay” as another kind of orientation. To support this line of argument, Griggs has a long history of blowing criticisms out of proportion to prop up the idea that the so-called “ex-gay community” is a persecuted minority under constant siege.

In her most recent example, Griggs claimed that members of her PFOX organization were “attacked” at the Arlington, Va County Fair:

As happens every year, gay activists disrupted our booth activities. They screamed obscenities, threw our materials from the exhibit table to the ground, insisted we recognize their same-sex “spouses,” demanded that PFOX leave, and hit a PFOX volunteer because he is ex-gay.

One gay man went so far as to hit our ex-gay volunteer because he refused to recant his ex-gay testimony. We summoned a police officer, who ejected the gay man off of the fairgrounds. Our ex-gay volunteer decided not to press assault charges against the gay man because he wanted to turn the other check as Jesus had done.

This is not the first year that PFOX has had to summon the police for protection from gay activists.

This story was picked up all around the anti-gay circuit, including Focus on the Family’s Citizenlink webzine and Family News In Focus radio program. But it appears that this incident didn’t really happen. Ex-Gay Watch’s David Roberts did some digging and has the story:

Since PFOX stated that the police were “summoned” and that they “ejected the gay man off the fairgrounds” we decided to check with the Arlington County Police Department…

We contacted the Arlington PD and ended up speaking with John Lisle of the Media Relations/Legislative Affairs Office. He had no initial knowledge of such an incident. After checking briefly, he again said that no one was aware of such an incident. So we sent a copy of the PFOX statement to him at which time he agreed to check more thoroughly. After over two days of research, there was nothing he could add to his statement; no report exists and no one recalls such an incident.

David Roberts also learned that Arlington County Fair officials hadn’t heard of any problems either. In a follow-up story, he reported:

Yesterday, we spoke with Jackie Abrams, Vice Chair of the Arlington County Fair. According to Abrams, no physical altercation occurred, police were never called and no one was ejected from the fairgrounds – she was emphatic and certain. “I was in radio contact with the other board members during the Fair, and definitely would have known if the police had been summoned. It did not happen [her emphasis],” said Abrams. She added that her calls to PFOX, and specifically to PFOX president Regina Griggs, had gone unanswered.

David Roberts also spoke with two eyewitnesses who worked at nearby booths. Each reported an incident of a heated discussion, but neither of them saw anything physical — no shoving, no hitting, no police or fair officials escorting anyone off the property.

In other words, there is no shred of evidence that anything happened the way Griggs describe it. In fact, all evidence suggests that this is just another one of her many attention-grabbing stunts.

This isn’t the first time Griggs has claimed victimhood status for ex-gays. It’s been a long-running theme of hers, and she’s been very diligent in coopting the experience and the language of the gay rights movement. One of her best examples can be found in this letter she sent to the APA last March:

The ex-gay movement is a civil rights movement to ensure the inclusion of former homosexuals in all realms of society and to support the ex-gay community’s equal access to schools on the same level as gays currently enjoy. Ex-gays and their supporters should not have to be closeted for fear of other’s negative reactions or disapproval. They do not think something is wrong with them because they decided to fulfill their heterosexual potential. Nor do they believe others should condemn them for the personal decision they have made for their lives. Because of the abuse heaped upon them by society, former homosexuals experience discrimination at every level.

The PFOX website’s “About” page has more examples where the “ex-gay community” experiences “abuse heaped upon them by society.” And in the most amazing turn of logic, they go so far as to claim that anti-discrimination and hate crime laws which identify sexual orientation as a factor for protection somehow “legitimize intolerance against former homosexuals” — a notion that is both ludicrous and blatantly false. The fact is, these laws protect everyone regardless of sexual orientation — including non-gays of all stripes, ex-gays among them.

But it’s the last point which makes Grigg’s hysterical notions of “discrimination at every level” so particularly outrageous. Terrance Heath recently began a huge undertaking with the LGBT Hate Crimes Project, and if Grigg’s really wanted to understand the face of intolerance, she should look at a few of these examples:

Real victims of discriminationMichelle Abdill and Rhonda Ellis of Medford, Oregon were shot execution style on December 4, 1995 by Robert Acremant, who wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper saying that it was easier to kill them knowing they were lesbians.

Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder of Redding, California were murdered on July 1, 1999 by white supremacist brothers Benjamin Matthew Williams and James Tyler Williams, who confessed to killing the couple because they were gay.

Author Warren, a developmentally disabled gay man from Grant Town, West Virginia, was murdered on July 3, 2000 by two teenagers. After kicking and beating him, they drove him to the edge of town ran over him four times to disguise his death as a hit-and-run.

Guin “Richie” Phillips disappeared on June 17, 2003. His body was found on June 25, 2003, stuffed in a suitcase in Rough River Lake. During Joshua Cottrell’s trial, Cottrell’s aunt and cousin testified that he planned to kill Phillips because he was gay.

Michael Sandy died on October 13, 2006 after being hit by a car while trying to escape four attackers. His attackers later said they targeted Sandy because they were seeking gays to attack and rob.

Griggs might do well to consider that a little bit of perspective is in order. There were 1,171 hate crime incidents in 2005 based on sexual orientation. Twenty-three of those crimes were anti-heterosexual. It’s quite possible that a few ex-gays might be caught up in that mix. If so, those crimes are every bit as deplorable as the other 1,148. But to try to compare the “ex-gay community’s” experience with the very real discrimination and harassment that gays and lesbians experience across the country is beyond offensive.

If the “ex-gay community” has experienced abuse and discrimination “at every level,” where are the ex-gays who were kicked out of the military for being ex-gay? Where are the ex-gays who have been fired from their jobs because they were ex-gay? Where is their answer to Daniel Fetty?

The “ex-gay community” should consider themselves blessed that they have no such answer.

But Regina Griggs isn’t interested in counting blessings. Instead, she’d rather count something else. Notice how she ends her rant about the Arlington County Fair:

… Almost every day we are on the front lines suffering harassment and injustices merely because we demand our equal rights.

The public eats up our information because they have never been exposed to factual truth about same-sex attractions. Teens especially are eager for our educational literature. But our brochures and flyers cost money to print. We also have to pay for exhibit fees and travel. If you would like to help with costs, please make a tax deductible donation to …

Nice. Milking a non-event using hysterical hyperbole to raise money. The LaBarbera Award was created to highlight “the most outrageous, offensive, malevolent, crazy, or excessive statement or claim.” Regina Griggs more than earned the award just on her latest drama-queen antics alone. Capping them with a fundraising appeal is just the rhetorical equivalent of running up the score. Congratulations, Regina. You’ll be a hard act to follow.

PFOX is an Exodus member ministry.

Richard Cohen Is “Disappeared”

Jim Burroway

March 31st, 2007

Ex-gay impresario Richard Cohen’s embarrassing performance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show continues to reverberate through the ex-gay movement. Ex-Gay Watch reports that PFOX and NARTH are quietly scrubbing their web sites of all mention of him. It’s as if he never existed. Nope. Nothing to see here.

Richard Cohen had been president of PFOX, but was forced out after his previous embarrassment on CNN. Now PFOX and NARTH are pretending like they never heard of him. Which is odd really, considering that he never tried to hide his form of therapy from anyone. In 2000, he wrote a whole book about it — complete with photographs — with Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s endorsement featured on the front cover. NARTH even sold it in their bookstore. How can anyone pretend this is new information?

See also:

Richard Cohen Shifts Gears
Richard Cohen Is “Disappeared”
Fallout From Richard Cohen’s “The Daily Show” Appearance
Therapy In the Wild, Wild West

Therapy in the Wild, Wild West

Jim Burroway

July 24th, 2006

By now this is all very old news. In the online world, anything more than a few weeks old is ancient history, but I experienced a sort of deja vu this weekend as I re-read Richard Cohen’s 2000 book, Coming Out Straight. Interesting reading, I know. Let’s just say it’s what I do on my afternoons off.

You may remember ex-gay activist Richard Cohen, president of PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays), who was featured on CNN’s Paula Zahn Now on May 23rd demonstrating his unusual methods for “curing” homosexuality. He advocates some very unorthodox therapeutic exercises — many of them drawn from pop-psychology fads of the 1970′s and 1980′s.

Richard Cohen on CNNOne technique involves the client beating a pillow with a tennis racquet while screaming at his parents. Remember when that was all the rage? Beating a pillow while screaming about how angry you are at your parents presumably allows you to work through your feelings about your remembered “abuse” which, according to Cohen, you weren’t allowed to express as a child. There’s a lot of recycled “adult children” talk sprinkled throughout his theories, and they’re all described in his book from six years ago. Not much has changed here.

But his most controversial therapy involves “holding” or “touch” therapy, where he takes a male client onto his lap, holds him gently, and repeats affirming words to him. Cohen claims that this recreates the father-son bond in the “adult child,” which, according to the distant father/domineering mother theory which he favors, is supposed to be the key missing component in the lives of gay men. He went on to demonstrate this technique on-camera with a client identified as “Rob.”

This raised quite a few eyebrows among professional therapists. Among those shocked by this display was Dr. Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College in northwestern Pennsylvania, who himself is very active in the ex-gay movement:

When my wife watched the clip (I taped it), she said she couldn’t get past the “ick factor” to even evaluate what was said. We discussed which was the ickiest, the tennis racket slamming the pillow while screaming at mom; or the client-cuddle technique where Richard holds his client like a baby in a kind of nursing position. We couldn’t decide.

Dr. Throckmorton had worked closely with PFOX in their attempts to force the Montgomery County (Md.) school system to revise its sex-education programs to include information about ex-gays. This “information” from PFOX includes, for example, a reading list for teachers and students which promoted the idea that gays are diseased and need to be “healed” — a position that is incompatible with modern psychology.

I don’t know to what extend Dr. Throckmorton was bothered by these actions. But he has clearly decided that the sight of a colleague who is a well-known figure in the ex-gay movement embarrassing himself on national television would be the last straw:

Since viewing the “Paula Zahn Now” segment, Throckmorton has notified PFOX that, although he supports its mission and its belief that people are not born homosexual, he will not represent the group as long as Cohen remains its board president.

Holding Therapy in "Coming Out Straight"So why do I bring all of this up now? Well, I was reminded of it as I was reading Cohen’s book. And there it was, exactly what I was looking for: the same detailed descriptions of his “holding therapy” in pages 207 through 211 that he demonstrated on CNN. This book isn’t exactly obscure. It comes with a glowing foreword written by that other famous non-therapist therapist, Laura Schlessinger.

Cohen’s enthusiastic endorsement of this holding technique is found throughout his book (along with pillow-beating, or “bioenergetics” as it is termed). This nationally-televised demonstration may be shocking, but it’s not new. It’s been a part of Cohen’s practice for several years, and no one can accuse him of hiding it.

And there’s another thing that’s no longer hidden: Cohen’s permanent expulsion from the American Counseling Association in May 2002 — although he’s doing his best to hide that. You certainly won’t find any mention of it in PFOX’s website.

ComingOutStraight-208d.jpg

While we disagree strongly in many points, I’ve come to respect some of Dr. Throckmorton’s recent actions. He’s one of the few ex-gay proponents to recognize that biological factors can play a role — in possible combination with environmental and developmental factors — in the sexual orientation of many gays and lesbians. This position, more or less, is generally in agreement with those held by most serious researchers, although Dr. Throckmorton places more emphasis on environmental factors. But at least it’s a start. More specifically, he recently criticized Joseph Nicolosi’s “reparative” theory of homosexuality (which is essentially the “distant-father” half of the weak-father/strong-mother theory), declaring “I am not a reparative therapist.” Nicolosi (with the late Charles Socarides) is often looked to as a father of the ex-gay movement, and this theory is the operative theory among almost all of the most prominent ministries. (Ironically, it is this “reparative” drive that Richard Cohen’s techniques are supposed to “heal.”)

And despite his enthusiastic participation in Exodus conferences and other ex-gay activities, he has offered draft guidelines for the practice of what he calls ‘sexual identity therapy” which seeks to establish an ethical framework by emphasizing the actual needs and aspirations of the client, and not the political, religious or moral ideals of the therapist. For example, the draft states, “Therapists should be open to the possibility that embracing same-sex attractions may place other vital aspects of identity at risk. It is also important for therapists to take a neutral stance toward the client’s worldview.” There are areas in these guidelines which can stand improvement, but this effort is certainly a welcome departure from NARTH’s draft guidelines which simply regurgitate the customary anti-gay rhetoric.

Besides, I have to believe that anyone who grew up just a few blocks away from me — a fellow River Rat from Portsmouth, Ohiocan’t be all bad.

But like any specialty in which standard practices, ethical guidelines, certification, and official oversight are all absent. and especially where the distinction between religious ministry and clinical practice is often obliterated, the field of sexual reorientation therapy can resemble the wild west, complete with charlatans and snake-oil salesmen. When one makes it his life work to enter into this kind of work, one must be very careful when choosing those with whom one associates and makes common cause.

See also:

Richard Cohen Shifts Gears
Richard Cohen Is “Disappeared”
Fallout From Richard Cohen’s “The Daily Show” Appearance
Therapy In the Wild, Wild West

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