Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rachel vs Uganda law, pt 1: Rachel interviews "ex-gay" advocate Cohen

Watched it last night. It was a split screen interview. Google: Rachel Maddow Richard Cohen

Richard Cohen heads the International Healing Foundation, a group that claims to help people change their sexual orientation.

Prior to doing the Cohen interview, she provided the context by talking about Uganda's proposed "kill the gays" legislation, and the links between the Ugandan proponents of this bill, and the American C-street crowd and the American evangelist movement, including the ex-gay movement. She also interviewed a Mark Benajamin, of the Salon journal, who pretended to be gay and sought ex-gay counseling as a means of investigating these groups. One thing he witnessed, and which is a common theme in expose's such as Wayne Besen's Anything But Straight, is that the ex-gay movement confuses, possibly with intent, the meaning of sexual orientation with sexual behavior. Orientation is what you feel and desire and behavior is what you do. Stopping one's behavior does not stop one's desires. But the ex-gay "success stories" often use the stopping of behavior as evidence that "change is possible", a phrase Cohen used over and over last night (even while claiming that he does not offer a "cure").

Another point is that no two ex-gay programs are the same. Many might do a "secular" approach, and Cohen explicitly said he does not do prayer. Often such places employ the disproven research of Paul Cameron and others which point to (false) causes of homosexuality like childhood traumas. The Freudian lingo is used a lot with these individuals. Cohen's techniques have included asking a male client to cuddle with him or a "male mentor" as an attempt to rebuild a "fractured" relationship with a father figure. Another technique is having the client hit a tennis racket against a pillow, screaming angrilly at their mother, in order to resolve that aspect of their childhood. Now that these techniques have been highlighted on videos that I'm sure you can You Tube, I wonder if he still talks about them in his public talks.

Also note that the terminology can change. The term "ex-gay" may not be used. You read above that even the word "cure" may be denied. Some may not acknowledge the term "sexual orientation" or "gay". Indeed, many words - "change", "orientation", "heterosexual", "homosexual", etc - are all subject to differing definitions by different groups.

Then the interview started. Cohen started off by saying "Uganda got it wrong...and so did you Rachael...since the 1950s, the Uganda government has been punishing homosexual behavior, so this is not new...we do not believe in this legislation. We had no knowledge of it.". Throughout the interview, Cohen said that his group advocates compassion and tolerance for those who "choose" to live a homosexual lifestyle and those who choose to come out straight. At the end of interview, he mentions Rachael as an example of the former.

Notes on Cohen's books -

Rachael reads a passage from Cohen's book "Coming Out Straight", which makes claims about how homosexuals are x-times more likely to recruit and molest children. This is Rachael's rebuttal to Cohen's claim that he is about fostering tolerance towards gays. Cohen said, that is not in the new version of his book, version 3. Racheal notes she read it from version 2. Cohen said he took out that part because of the way he fears it may be used to justify hateful Ugandan legislation against gays (which is Rachael's whole point against him).

She also reads from, "Gay Children, Straight Parents", about how certain factors can cause homosexuality such as, "divorce, adoption...and race". He acted surprised that the word "race" was in there. Cohen said she quoted him out of context prodded her to read above and below that quote, which she did. It didn't seem to reveal any significant qualifier, though Cohen said it did. The qualifier? That homosexuality is caused by multiple factors. This was meant to steer away from the idea that he was blaming any one factor that he listed out. Rachael then repeatedly asked him how race makes someone gay. He used the it's-not-any-one factor argument.

Always be wary of that argument. It seems a classic way for advocates to toss out multiple rationales, and try to take back those that don't sell. I'm wondering if someone else put race in there, or he was just tossing out social science categories, and forgot to edit his book. It might explain his surprised look.

No comments: