Dr Douglas McIntyre is what one might refer to as ex-gay. The 68-year-old who hails from Texas, US, went through a process of conversion or reparative therapy that began at age 14 when he was arrested and charged with child prostitution.
The therapy, he says, saw him transition from the gay lifestyle to heterosexual. He has been living as such ever since the process ended when he was about 28. He has been married to the same woman for more than 45 years. They have three children and six grandchildren.
“I have everything they claimed I could never have,” McIntyre told the Star during a Skype interview. The ‘they’ he refers to is the gay community. McIntyre accuses gay leaders of perpetuating a “lie” that homosexuals cannot change.
“The world has allowed the gay world to define change except they have never done it. They have said it is impossible to change when it is absolutely possible,” he says.
After his own experience, McIntyre and a group of friends founded Homosexuals Anonymous (HA) in 1977. The organisation, which is one of the largest and oldest of its kind in America, seeks to give reparative therapy to people struggling with their sexual orientation. One of the core pillars of the programme is that no one is born homosexual. McIntyre says HA and its affiliates believe that homosexuality is learned and stems from traumatic experiences in one’s early life. This, he says, is evident in his own traumatic childhood.
McIntyre was sexually molested from age four to 14. The abuse began when a neighbour found him hiding under the steps outside his home from his alcoholic father who had tried to beat him with an axe handle. The neighbour told the four-year-old that he should seek refuge at his house the next time his father came home drunk.
“So the next time my father came home drunk I went to his house and he introduced me to a world of men. Now I am trying to sanitise this okay; he had a ring of friends who used young children constantly for sexual purposes. So he initiated me into that world and told me he would kill my mother if I ever told anyone. I had no one to talk to, no father to tell because he had already tried to hurt me and I couldn't tell my mother. So for the next 10 years this man sold me on a regular basis to his group of friends. That went on until I was 14. The men I was sold to had fantasies and I had to play out these fantasies. A lot of them had to do with girls and other things I will not mention,” he says.
McIntyre reached his breaking point 10 years later when the stress of living the double life of a Straight A student, perfect church boy and Boy Scout on one hand and a child prostitute on the other became too much for him.
“I reached a stage at 14 where I found my father’s .45 pistol. I sat on my bed and yelled at God ‘I hate you and you have one day to get me out of this mess or I am going to kill myself.’ And I meant every word of it. That evening I came home, there was a person in my living room giving a Bible study. She read out the information that I needed in the text of scripture to hope that I could become different.”
He was arrested the next day for child prostitution. During his hearing the judge sentenced him to four years in a correctional facility for young boys. But before the hearing ended the same lady who had given the Bible study walked in and told the judge she had a Christian School and asked the judge to have McIntyre admitted there.
“The judge said yes but on the condition that they have me tested by a psychiatrist and if I can be changed, and if I can find a school that can accept me then he would change my sentence. I was taken to the school where I was tested by a church psychiatrist. He told me that in my thinking I was completely backwards and believed I was 100 per cent female. Then he gave me a hug and told me that he came from a hell worse than me. He was a Jew from Germany who as a boy saw his family murdered by Nazis in a concentration camp. He then signed my papers. The next day I was admitted to the boarding school,” he explains.
Afterwards, McIntyre went through 10 years of therapy to help him through his struggles with his sexuality.
Robert Gollwitzer, founder of the International Ex-Gay Ministry, an organisation associated with HA, says the programme involves 14-steps — part of these are based on the 12-steps formulated by Alcoholics Anonymous.
“The steps were adapted to the special needs of people with unwanted same-sex attractions. The other steps have been developed from the experience and the road to freedom of our two founders; Colin Cook and Dr Douglas McIntyre .We also use techniques and resources by various psychotherapists who worked in this field. Some of us also had a special training in psychotherapy, Christian counselling, or theology,” Gollwitzer explains.
Although both Gollwitzer and McIntyre say their programme has been highly successful there is a fierce debate about whether reparative therapy really works and the effects on patients, whether harmful or not.
The American Psychiatric Association resolved to condemn the therapy which is usually practised by Christian groups in America.
In its resolution, the APA said homosexuality is not a mental disorder. They oppose all portrayals of lesbian, gay and bisexual people as mentally ill and in need of treatment due to their sexual orientation. The Pan American Health Organisation, the North and South American branch of the World Health Organisation, also stated that services that claim to “cure” homosexuality lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the wellbeing of affected people. The WHO had also removed Homosexuality from its list of mental disorders over 20 years ago.
Aside from the condemnation of the practice from health organisations, reparative therapy has been plagued by allegations of abuse. Psychologist Douglas Haldeman says the practice also involves electrocution of the genitals and hands as well the use of nausea-inducing drugs simultaneously with homoreotic stimuli. Some states including California have also banned the practice.
In addition, the founder of the biggest organisation offering the treatment, Exodus International, closed down its own programme and its founder Alan Chambers apologised to patients and their families for the shame and guilt they felt when their same-sex attractions did not change despite the treatment.
In its own history HA has faced sex allegations and other scandals. Rumours of sexual misconduct by Collins Cook, HA’s co-founder, as well as a separate centre - Quest International - first came to light in 1986 when Ron Lawson, a gay Adventist and Professor at Queen’s College, began investigating Cook’s former clients. Lawson interviewed 14 individuals counselled by Cook and found that none had changed their sexual orientation after the therapy, while two of the 14 claimed that they had had sex with Cook.
McIntyre admits that there have been a few abuses in reparative therapy but insists these abuses have been few and far between, saying for every one incident that have been mentioned there are more than 20,000 programmes with no abuse.
McIntyre rejects Haldeman’s assertions about what the programme involves, insisting that 20 to 40 years ago electro-shock therapy was used to treat mental conditions but it isn't anymore. He says there maybe some overzealous therapists who may use this kind of treatment, but he advises patients to simply change their therapists or counsellors. He says outlawing the practice is restricting the freedom of those who want to get help.
Of Exodus’ founder, McIntyre says the views he expressed are personal, saying there are several other smaller Exodus organisations that sprung up to take the place of the larger organisation.
On the scandals plaguing HA, McIntyre admits that there were transgressions involving Cook and some patients but says these happened in the early days of HA and in addition did not directly involve HA but Quest International owned by Cook. He adds that Lawson has had a personal vendetta against Cook and has republished the story over the years to continue the scandal. He adds that there are some failures and successes in the treatment, saying Lawson only interviewed a few failed cases while ignoring the many success stories that HA has had over the years. He says Quest International has since closed down and that Cook has not engaged himself in any therapies since the scandals came to light.
Pastor Kyama Mugambi of Mavuno says while his standpoint is that same-sex relationships is not God’s vision for sexuality according to the scripture, he stresses that God does not judge people on the basis of their sexuality or who they prefer to have sex with. He however says that God can work in the life of someone dealing with same sex attraction but He is not limited to a 14-step programme.
“If someone comes in and says I looked at my life and it is not compatible with God’s vision for me and they say show me how to do this in a Godly way, God will work in a variety of ways. For some people the negative or unwanted same sex attraction goes away immediately but for others it becomes something they struggle with for the rest of their lives,” Pastor Kyama says.
He says Mavuno has helped people struggling with their sexuality but does not concentrate on their sexuality in its approach.
“The help is not specific to their sexuality. The first thing the person experiencing this challenge needs is to understand when they come to us they are looking for a spiritual solution and as a church our commitment is to offer that spiritual solution. What we aim to do is to help that person in the process of finding God, community and purpose,” Pastor Kyama explains.
He says those who continue to struggle with same sex attraction are still not locked out from living their lives in a Godly way. Pastor Kyama says those still struggling can make the personal choice to abstain from sex. He however stresses that for this to happen the church must provide a community where people can find a solution to these issues.
“The point of the church is to provide a community where sinners come to find solutions for their relationship with God. Often times the church has been vilified and we have been told that we are going about this the wrong way. I agree that in the past, the church or rather people within the church have been wrong. But there are many good churches in Nairobi that are open and can provide this community,” Pastor Kyama says.
Reverend Michael Kimindu who heads the Other Sheep East Africa, a Christian organisation that has embraced sexual minorities in the region, says it is wrong to say that gay people have never tried to change. On the contrary, he says, most gays find it difficult to accept who they are and attempt several channels to change due to stigmatisation.
“For the time I have spent with the gay community I know there are so many of them who would want to change at whatever cost but it has not been possible. Whether it has been through prayer, psychiatry or through counselling they have tried all these. And the reason they try is because their lifestyle is hated, their rights are denied by society, they are stigmatised, they are called all sorts of names, and many are being killed. If we were together and I see you getting killed because of what we are, what will I not do to change? What money will I not to pay? Rev Kimindu poses.
He challenges McIntyre to produce evidence that people cannot be born gay and proof of his organisation’s success. He said McIntyre’s claims are akin to pastors who claim they can heal the sick, yet they have never attempted to visit hospitals where people are dying. Kimindu adds that what most churches do is invite gay people into their congregation as long as they can suppress their sexual desires through abstinence, something he says is like telling the person to go back into the closet.
Kimindu says Other Sheep does not attempt to change the sexuality of their members but rather provides counselling so that they can accept themselves and help them come out to their families and the religious communities so that they can be pastored to like everybody else but with the special knowledge of who they are. Other Sheep also counsels parents and guardians so that they may understand that their son’s or daughter’s sexual orientation is not their fault or a family tragedy.
“We provide this counselling so that those in the LGBT community can accept themselves and lead decent lives. So that they don’t enter drugs because of depression, or get into alcoholism, commit suicide and so that they can avoid unsafe sex which leads to HIV-Aids and other STIs,” Kimindu explains.
David Kuria, a gay activist, is one such person who tried to change his sexual orientation without success through a series of sessions with a psychologist because of the stigma. “The doctor was very understanding and asked me if I had ever thought that maybe it is society that is wrong. What I was being taken through was reality therapy, that is to cope with things as they are. For example, if you have an ill partner you have to go through the process of grieving and after you have grieved, acceptance follows and you move on.”
Kuria dropped out of the therapy because what he wanted was a roadmap out of homosexuality to heterosexuality, something that the psychiatrist was not providing to him.
Kuria says that in the coming days Kenyans are likely to see more ex-gay stories and people claiming they have a ‘cure’ for homosexuality.
“My hope is the Kenyan scientific community, especially the Kenya Psychiatry Association, comes up with guidelines on how that process is managed or we will have a cottage industry of quack psychologists and psychotherapists taking advantage of parents who may want to change their children. Because I will tell you the coming days will be hard for gay people and there will be a lot of stress and kids who did not want to come out will come out because of the stress and you will have parents who want to change their children,” Kuria says.
Dr John Mburu, a psychiatrist based in Nairobi, says although the “gene” President Yoweri Museveni demanded while signing Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law has not been identified, there are still many studies that show that biological factors lead to homosexuality.
“It is important to note that sexual orientation is a complex phenomenon and genetic link if it exits represents only the part of the picture. Other biological factors are the roles of prenatal hormonal influences that may affect foetal brain development which subsequently determine sexual orientation. Studies have been reported showing how maternal hormonal levels during pregnancy influence sex differentiation and subsequent sex orientation,” Dr Mburu says.
On the ‘treatment’ of homosexuality, he says doctors in Kenya usually deal with gender identity disorders rather than issues to do with sexual orientation. He however says that researchers do not view homosexuality as a mental illness.
“Homosexuality has become accepted by researchers as normal sexual variation; we should therefore shift attention to understanding the nature of gay and lesbianism relationship,” he advises.