"Ex-gay" storm over Throckmorton
BY Bob Adams
April 29 2005 12:00 AM ET
In an exclusive interview with Advocate.com, Warren Throckmorton, Ph.D., a counselor and psychology professor at Grove City College, a Christian school in Pennsylvania, disputes media reports that right-wing groups pressured one of the nation's largest health care companies to reappoint him to its advisory board.
Throckmorton had been removed from Magellan Health Services' National Professional Advisory Council in March, reportedly because his views that mental health treatment can "cure" same-sex attraction--and because a film he created and publicized on "ex-gays," titled I Do Exist--were controversial and could distract from the panel's work. Throckmorton was reappointed to the council in April, and media reports suggested Magellan had been pressured to reverse its initial decision by such right-wing and antigay groups as the Illinois Family Institute and Concerned Women for America as well as "ex-gay" poster boy Stephen Bennett.
Magellan's Web site calls the company the "nation's leading behavioral health and employee assistance company," noting that the firm touches "more individuals and families than any other health care organization in the United States." Throckmorton, who maintains a Web site at http://www.drthrockmorton.com/, tells Advocate.com that he is unaware of any concerted effort by antigay organizations to pressure Magellan to reappoint him. "Magellan didn't come under pressure from the Illinois Family Institute," Throckmorton says. "As far as I know, no one from there even called Magellan." He adds, "There was no campaign to pressure Magellan. Steven Bennett and other groups, to my knowledge, didn't contact Magellan."Peter LaBarbera of the Illinois Family Institute did not respond to Advocate.com requests for an interview. Robert Knight of Concerned Women for America was out of the office and unavailable for comment when contacted by Advocate.com.Erin Somers, vice president of public relations and communications at Magellan, says she was involved in virtually all communications at Magellan regarding Throckmorton, and she tells Advocate.com, "I am not aware of having been contacted by any of those folks. I'm pretty certain I would have heard if we had been, given my situation as the point of contact."
Somers also says she would not characterize Magellan as having been pressured by conservative groups to reappoint Throckmorton to its advisory board, but does admit that "we got feedback on [the initial decision to remove Throckmorton from the panel] from both sides of the issue--folks who thought we had done the right thing in retracting the invitation and folks who thought we had not."
But gay activist Wayne Besen (http://www.waynebesen.com/), author of Anything but Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth and an outspoken critic of reparative therapy, believes conservatives did work together to persuade Magellan to reappoint Throckmorton. Besen is a former spokesman for the gay political group Human Rights Campaign and the man who made international news when he photographed John Paulk, a man who said he had been "cured" of his homosexuality through reparative therapy, in a Washington, D.C., gay bar.Besen says an e-mail he sent to Throckmorton asking him about his removal from the panel prompted a rapid e-mail exchange involving Throckmorton, Bennett, LaBarbera, and Knight. Besen was copied on the e-mails between the antigay, right-wing activists. He provided them to Advocate.com.The e-mails personally attack Besen, calling him "committed to wickedness," and seem to threaten a concerted effort to discredit and personally attack him. One e-mail from LaBarbera to Throckmorton alleges that the group has damaging information about one of Besen's former boyfriends, stating, "Did hear though that there's a new Web site by Wayne's boyfriend that contains some revealing glimpses into the promiscuity of gay male life. Stephen Bennett has the info." Throckmorton responded to that e-mail by writing, "Yes, Stephen called and let me know."In another e-mail, Throckmorton writes to the right-wingers, "Just thought I would keep y'all aware that the blood is in the water," which he tells Advocate.com referred to the fact that word had begun to circulate about his removal from the advisory panel. But Besen believes the statement is indicative of the groups' plan to pressure Magellan to reverse its decision."Everything about that conversation was tied to Magellan," Besen says of the e-mail exchange. "He went right to those three right-wing political activists who are obsessed with homosexuality. It's a smoking gun."Besen adds, "What is this doctor doing conferring on Magellan with three of the most extreme right-wing agitators in the United States of America? For Dr. Throckmorton to even be having this type of conversation is indicative of the fact that he's really a propagandist who is disguising his hatred and true aims under the guise of scholarship and his profession. I think he's a disgrace and should be ashamed."
Throckmorton acknowledges that the company was contacted by several conservatives who were upset over his removal from the board, but disagrees that it was a coordinated effort. "I know from getting e-mails CC'd to me that people--some of whom I knew and some I didn't--who had heard about it through the media accounts that they didn't think it was a good reason to remove me," he tells Advocate.com. "As far as involving [Illinois Family Institute or Concerned Women for America] in any conspiratorial way: no, no, no."Throckmorton also says the e-mails exchanged between him, LaBarbera, Knight, and Bennett were meant simply to alert the men about his initial removal from the Magellan board. "I know Bob Knight and I know Pete and had e-mailed them to let them know I had been dismissed from the advisory committee in the event that they had heard about it. I wanted them to hear about it from me," he says. "When I wrote it to Pete LaBarbera, it had nothing to do with a campaign against Magellan. That's absurd."Throckmorton says Magellan officials told him that the reason he was reappointed to its advisory board was that the company realized "they had gotten into a cultural debate over homosexuality and they were taking sides, and they didn't want to take any political position on homosexuality."Somers corroborates Throckmorton's comments: "Our decision to retract the invitation has made it appear we're taking sides on the issue of homosexuality. The fact is that we're not."Magellan agrees with the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and other mental health professionals that homosexuality is not an illness or disorder that needs to be cured, Somers notes. "That is a fact," she says. "It is not an illness, disorder, or emotional problem."But she adds that removing Throckmorton from the advisory panel made it appear that Magellan did not support any sort of therapy for people dealing with any issues related to homosexuality, which is not the company's position. "Individuals have the right to explore a variety of different kinds of treatment for issues that are troubling them," she says. "People have the freedom to see a therapist and get treatment for whatever is troubling them--if they're depressed, if they're stressed, if they're grappling with issues related to sexual orientation."She adds that the company does not advocate one particular form or therapy over another, only that Magellan is committed to making sure gay clients who want access to mental health services get it. "We do not disagree with Dr. Throckmorton on that issue," she says.Throckmorton says his views on reparative therapy to "cure" gays of homosexuality have not been clearly explained by the media. "I'm not a reparative therapist," he says. "I do believe people should have the right to pursue--if they have a same-sex attraction--they absolutely have the right to pursue a heterosexual identity if that's what they want to do. Counselors can work with them. I also believe in the process of doing this, some people do change their feelings and transition from same-sex attraction to opposite-sex attraction to being in line with their moral beliefs or religious beliefs."But Throckmorton says he believes that not all gay people can change their same-sex attraction. "It does happen with some people, but I don't think it's true of everyone I see or everyone who is homosexual," he says. When asked if he urges all gay people to seek such therapy, Throckmorton says, "No. It's not something I advocate for all gay people. Only those who seek it."Besen, however, tells Advocate.com that Throckmorton is being dishonest about his support of reparative therapy. "He is a reparative therapist," Besen says. "He advocates that by his production of I Do Exist. He can split hairs about what he does, but his main purpose in life is to prove that gay people can become straight through therapy. The evidence is clearly there in his video, his enthusiasm for the public stage, and his Internet radio program dedicated to this very topic. I'm not sure who he thinks he's kidding or how stupid he thinks our community is, but the evidence is so overwhelming and damning that I'm shocked he'd even put forth the notion [that he's not a reparative therapist]."