Utah author and social worker Kim Nordyke Mack joked that her maiden name doomed her to a lifelong struggle with same-sex attraction, a challenge made more difficult because of her Mormon faith. To deal with that ongoing battle, she writes the “How I Deal” blog, which is about “a faithful LDS woman’s experience in dealing with being gay and remaining true to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” She had three children with her previous husband, but she now lives a celibate life, which keeps her in good graces with her church.
She also considers her own story, and many others like hers, as proof that therapies to change a person’s sexual orientation can have some benefit. That is counter to a study released in August by the American Psychological Association, which drew the conclusion that such therapies are “unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm.”
“Even if all of the studies said after 10 years that I would be miserable, I would still do it, because my experience tells me I won’t [be miserable],” she says.
Nordkye Mack was one of several long-term sexual-repression role models at the Evergreen International conference held Sept. 18-19 at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. Evergreen, a nonprofit that offers members of the LDS Church help and support in repressing or “diminishing” homosexuality, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The conference attracted about 400 people, most of whom were searching for a remedy to same-sex attraction either for a child, a spouse, or for themselves. Others, like Nordkye Mack, show anecdotally that some homosexuals’ behaviors can change, even if, as in Nordyke Mack´s case, same-sex attraction is still present and she has no sexual interest in men.
Taking place at the same time was a conference for members of Affirmation, a group of gay and lesbian Mormons that believes homosexuality is a special gift from God. Among that group are former Evergreen clients, some of whom say their Evergreen treatment included electro-shock aversion therapy and being told to marry as a means of avoiding homosexual behavior.
Despite the close, albeit unofficial, ties to the LDS Church, not all the attendees at Evergreen follow LDS doctrine so piously or dismiss the APA’s conclusion.
Eric, a 41-year-old Dallas business professor and returned LDS missionary, repressed his homosexuality through much of college with the help of therapists. He accepted himself as a gay man shortly after realizing during his senior year at Brigham Young University that church leaders “don’t have a clue” about sexual health. For years, he and his LDS therapists fixated on his same-sex attraction while post-traumatic stress disorder related to being molested as a small child by an adult neighbor and his older brother festered in his mind, untreated and unaddressed.
“At BYU, being told to masturbate to pictures of Madonna as a therapy for homosexuality—that did harm. That did real harm,” Eric said to a roomful of attendees at the Evergreen conference. The attendees erupted in laughter, but Eric wasn’t joking. When the Material Girl and other methods of changing his sexual orientation failed, he said later, he felt inadequate and personally responsible. While he thought his homosexuality explained his difficulty with relationships and, later, sex addiction, he believes now those problems are the result of his childhood trauma.
Eric doesn’t go to church now, and believes same-sex attraction is not a sin in the eyes of God, only church leaders. Nevertheless, he still appreciates Evergreen for the camaraderie it provides with those who understand his complex sexual baggage—and LDS values. “The reason I come to Evergreen is emotional support. I don’t believe everything they say,” he says.
Eric didn’t want to publicly reveal his brother as a sex crime perpetrator, so he asked that City Weekly identify him by first name only.
Even some Mormon mental-health professionals seem out of step with LDS Church leaders like Elder Bruce Haffen, who used the word “evil” twice in his speech about homosexuality.
Social worker Christy Cox, of the LDS Addiction Resource Center for Healing (ARCH) in Sandy, co-presented a session with Nordkye Mack entitled “Growing a New Norm for Moms and Daughters.” Cox later joked that she might get a “talking to” by her LDS bishop for things she said. She revealed that she not only accepts and loves her lesbian daughter—but also appreciates her daughter’s partner.
“This partner my daughter has is saving my daughter’s life,” Cox said during her session, crediting the woman with reducing her daughter’s previously dangerous drinking habit. Cox supports Evergreen’s work for individuals who want it, but that category does not include her daughter.
One gay expert on reorientation therapy, Salt Lake City psychologist Lee Beckstead, who also served a Mormon mission, may be too far off the straight and narrow to get an invite to speak at Evergreen. Set to task by the APA in 2007, Beckstead and five other psychologists from throughout the country reviewed 83 studies of various reorientation therapies. The psychologists’ 130-page report (pdf) informed the APA’s stance that the reorientation therapies are a bad idea.
“Ex-ex-gay groups have felt violated, used, abused, and are fighting back,” Beckstead says. “They were the reason for the task force.”
Multiple speakers at the conference referenced the APA’s findings, usually denouncing and dismissing them as Evergreen board chairman Larry Richman did. He said the APA task force members were “gay or gay activists” and “no one represented people who have changed their sexual orientation.” The sexual-orientation-change community has its own studies that show effectiveness and safety, which the APA reviewed, but they were mostly rejected on scientific grounds, such as statistical violations that exaggerated results, Beckstead said.
In its August report, the APA repeated its stance that clinical literature proves homosexuality is normal and healthy. Thus, any emotional or physical price patients may pay to repress their homosexuality is probably too high, even for clients who requested it.
Eric, the Dallas business professor, sought answers from the LDS therapists specifically for his same-sex attraction, because he had faith that he could change and that they could help him. His efforts to change his sexual orientation, however, were “very hurtful and damaging to me.”