Friday, December 28, 2012

Flashback: "Ex-Gay" Speaker Richard Cohen at the World Congress of Families VI

The right-wing World Congress of Families VI took place on May 25-27, 2012 in Madrid, Spain, where Religious Right activists from around the world discussed abortion, homosexuality, and demographic winter. Having shared details of NOM president Brian Brown's remarks at the conference, I'd next like to discuss a talk by so-called "ex-gay" speaker Richard Cohen. Cohen is the author of Coming Out Straight and Straight Talk About Homosexuality and the director of the International Healing Foundation, an organization based in Bowie, MD that offers seminars on "unwanted same-sex attractions". Cohen, whose "ex-gay" activism has been documented by Ex-Gay Watch, Box Turtle Bulletin, and Truth Wins Out, tried to defend his position by citing the APA (with glaring omissions) and outmoded theories of development.

Cohen began his talk by describing his own struggles with "same-sex attraction", which culminated with marriage to a woman and fatherhood. At the 3:37 mark of the video, Cohen insisted that people are not born with feelings toward members of the same sex. He accused experts whose research suggests otherwise of wanting to justify their alleged "homosexual feelings."
"People are not essentially born with homosexual feelings. There have been many scientific studies conducted over the last particularly three decades trying to purport a genetic, biologic, or hormonal basis for [same-sex attraction]. Many and most of those researchers are homosexually oriented; therefore they're trying to justify their homosexual feelings, trying to say we're born that way. However, in 2008, the American Psychological Association said essentially no one is born with SSA."
Actually, what APA guidelines state is that sexual orientation exists as a continuum rather than a rigid set of categories. What APA document Cohen supposedly cited when he made his assertion about sexual orientation is unclear to me.

In his haste to cite the APA for legitimacy, Cohen conveniently failed to mention the APA's disapproval of "ex-gay" therapy and repeated support for the LGBTQ population. For instance, he failed to mention a 2010 statement by the APA expressing concern over "ongoing efforts to mischaracterize homosexuality and promote the notion that sexual orientation can be changed and about the resurgence of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)." The statement reminded mental health professionals that insufficient evidence exists to demonstrate the efficacy of SOCEs. The APA affirmed its position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder, adding that "same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality regardless of sexual orientation identity."

Cohen also failed to go into detail about a 2008 APA publication endorsed by thirteen professional associations entitled Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth. This APA publication disapproved of efforts to change sexual orientation through therapy, warning that such efforts have "serious potential to harm young people". Funny how Cohen left all that out when he brought up the APA.

At the 5:42 mark, Cohen used outdated Freudian assumptions to argue that homosexuality is an "emotionally-based condition." He conflated sexual orientation with gender identity, arguing that people exhibiting same-sex attraction allegedly received insufficient parental love and gender modelling.
"Homosexuality is principally an emotionally-based condition ... In my professional experience, there are three main desires that drive homosexual feelings. Number one, it's a need for the same-gender parents or same-gender peers love. Two, it's a need for gender identification, and three, in some cases, it represents fear of intimacy with the opposite sex. Scientific research over the past eighty years identifies many potential causes that will lead an individual to develop homosexual feelings. My therapeutic colleagues and I have observed in those with unwanted SSA two things driving this desire. Number one, it's always the result of unresolved issues or wounds of the past, and number two, it's a legitimate need for unmet love."
Cohen summoned several volunteers on stage. Using the volunteers as part of his storytelling, Cohen recited claims of how inside a gay man is a "little kid" who allegedly internalized his mother's femininity and did not receive enough love or "internalize masculinity" from his father. He told a similar story of how alleged failures of development and attachment create a woman who is attracted to other women. Cohen did not seem to realize that gender identity exists on a wide continuum and is wholly distinct from sexual orientation.

Hilariously, after branding LGBTQ persons as unhealthy, broken people, Cohen spoke of love. At the end of his talk, Cohen urged listeners to offer "unconditional love" and "lay down the weapons of judgment" to people with same-sex attractions. The fact that his attitudes promotes judgmental, harmful attitudes toward LGBTQ persons seemed to escape him.

Cohen's ideas about sexual orientation echo the dubious and homophobic rhetoric of the larger "ex-gay" movement. Unfortunately, the World Congress of Families VI symposium provided Cohen with an international audience for his ideas. Let's hope Cohen's "ex-gay" work comes under as much scrutiny abroad as it has in the United States.

For more information about Richard Cohen and the International Healing Foundation, visit www[dot]comingoutloved[dot]com

(Hat tip to Good As You)


  1. Replies
    1. PostMormon Girl -- Isn't it? I doubt that his audience members looked into his claims.

    2. That's exactly what I was thinking as I read this. Not only will most audience members believe him without fact-checking, but they'll also pass everything on as fact via social networking, etc.

    3. Michelle -- Such is the way of the Religious Right, no matter what the nationality.


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