In His Own Words: How I Went Undercover at Bachmann's Clinic

BY Advocate Contributors

July 09 2011 12:35 PM ET

The date was Thursday, June 30, 2011. I turned on the television and
listened half-heartedly to the commercials as I busied about doing other
things. All of a sudden I heard a voice saying, “Over the past few
days, NBC News has learned how Republican presidential candidate Michele
Bachmann and her family have benefited from the very government
programs she denounces.”

At the mention of Bachmann’s name I stopped what I was doing and
looked up. The speaker was the Rev. Al Sharpton, who was guest hosting
The Ed Show. Rev. Sharpton continued talking about the counseling clinic
run by Bachmann’s husband: “As the Minnesota Independent
reports, the clinic has been previously accused of engaging in
reparative therapy, or treatment aimed at changing one’s sexual
orientation. Dr. Marcus Bachmann denies this…”

I chuckled when Rev. Sharpton said this. He won’t be able to deny it for much longer,
I thought. After all, I was watching this broadcast from a basement in
Eden Prairie, Minnesota, having spent the previous eight days undercover
in the Twin Cities receiving reparative therapy sessions at Marcus
Bachmann’s clinic.

The organization I work for, Truth Wins Out (TWO), fights anti-LGBT
religious extremism and the “ex-gay” myth. We’d been receiving questions
about the Bachmann clinic and reparative therapy for months, and they
only grew more intense after the June 13 GOP presidential debate in New
Hampshire. Like everyone else, we were aware of the rumors and that no
one had yet been able to independently verify them. TWO Executive
Director Wayne Besen decided that we were going to obtain that
verification: I was to go undercover to Bachmann & Associates in
Lake Elmo, MN posing as someone seeking counseling for homosexuality,
schedule as many appointments as I could, and document what went on
during my appointments with hidden cameras.

When I called Bachmann & Associates to schedule my initial
appointment, I told the receptionist who answered the phone that I was
struggling with homosexuality. She referred me to Timothy Wiertzema, a
counselor at the clinic, and scheduled me for a June 23 appointment.

I decided that the wisest course of action was to make my story fit
as closely as possible to my own experience. Of course I’d have to
embellish a bit and make a few things up, but it stood to reason that
the closer the story I told was to the truth, the easier it would be for
me to keep track of what I had said. After all, I was once a
deeply-closeted teenage Catholic boy awakening to my own sexual
orientation, terrified of what it might mean, too ashamed to tell
anyone, and desperate to change it by any means necessary; although
those memories are now far behind me, it was surprisingly easy to bring
them back and put myself in a similar mental and emotional place. Still,
I’d never done anything like this before. As the date of my departure
grew nearer, my excitement and nervousness mounted. Could I pull it off?
Would the cameras be well-hidden enough? Would they figure out what I
was up to? What would we find? I packed my bags, made my social network
profiles unsearchable, bid adieu to Michael, my husband of more than
five years, and boarded a flight to Minneapolis to find out.

Preparing for my first visit was a surreal experience. I couldn’t pay
by check since my checks had my name, my husband’s name, and a Vermont
address. This meant I would be paying with cash and opening my wallet
before each appointment, so I realized I’d have to go through my wallet
and remove or hide anything that would invite suspicion. My Human Rights
Campaign credit card had to go, lest anyone recognize that
organization’s ubiquitous logo. I left our ACLU membership card behind
as well. I also hid my out-of-state debit card and library card, and
took the photo of Michael and me out of my wallet along with the copy of
our marriage certificate that I always keep close. Despite the hot and
humid Minnesota weather, I wore long pants to conceal a tattoo on my
ankle of a pink triangle, the badge of gay prisoners in Nazi
concentration camps and a symbol of the struggle for LGBT equality. At
the last minute, in the parking lot, I remembered that Michael’s picture
was set as the background image on my phone, so I hurriedly changed it.
Finally, I took a deep breath and slipped off my wedding ring, placing
it in a plastic bag inside my satchel, right next to one of the hidden
cameras. My identity as a proud, openly gay, happily married LGBT rights
activist was totally erased. I was ready.

The first session was introductory in nature. Wiertzema introduced
himself as a licensed marriage and family therapist who enjoys working
with men, adolescents, kids, and married couples. I spoke briefly about
my experience and education in music, talked about my recent
(fictitious) move to the Twin Cities from my home state of Wisconsin,
and answered Wiertzema’s detailed questions about my personal and family
medical history, significant life events, religious background, etc.
When asked why I came in for counseling, I said that I had been
struggling with homosexuality for a long time and tried a lot of things,
up to and including suicide, to make it go away – exactly how my
16-year-old self would have responded. I said that I was upset: this
struggle has lasted for so long that I started to wonder if I was doing
it right and decided to seek outside help. All of my sexual experiences,
from age 14 onward, had been with men. What I wanted, though, was to
get rid of my homosexuality and eventually marry a woman. Wiertzema
asked if I had a support system, anyone who I could talk to about this.
My response was that I hadn’t spoken with anyone. We only had time to
briefly touch on my first sexual experience before the session ended.

I felt strangely relieved as I walked to my car that evening. I was
totally emotionally spent – inhabiting and conveying the role of a
troubled, self-loathing man looking to change his sexual orientation was
exhausting, and I missed Michael terribly – but at least I knew I could
do it.

At the start of our second session I went straight to the point: what
could I do? Would I ever be able to be completely rid of homosexuality,
or merely learn to cope with and manage it? Wiertzema’s response was
that it’s situational. Some people have been able to get rid of it
completely over a long time period, others over a shorter time period.
Still others are able to get it to “subside,” down to a “manageable”
level, but it’s still there in the background. He asked me, “Are you
okay with knowing that it might take awhile, and that it might not…
maybe not happen at all? …Obviously, it’s not okay, in a way, but…” I
said that I wanted to give it a go, that it was better to try than to
not try.

Interestingly, this exchange was the only time during all of my
sessions at Bachmann & Associates that Wiertzema or anyone else ever
brought up the risk of this treatment failing. In later sessions he
would say that he “…think[s] it’s possible to be totally free of
[same-sex attraction]. For sure.” and that “It’s happened! It really has
happened to people.” I was never told that every professional medical
and mental health association rejects “ex-gay” therapy including the American Medical Association, American PsychologicalAssociation, American Psychiatric Association, and the American Counseling Association,
or that the treatment I was seeking was totally unsupported by
research. I was never informed about possible alternative treatment
options such as gay-affirmative therapy. Nobody ever told me about the
potential for harmful side effects like depression and suicidal
thoughts. And although I was asked to sign a treatment plan outlining my
problem, desired outcome, and treatment strategy, I was never given nor
asked to sign any kind of informed consent document that disclosed the above information about “ex-gay” therapy. As such, I believe Bachmann & Associates to be practicing unethically, even by the standards of the American Association of Christian Counselors. This is particularly disconcerting given the fact that Marcus Bachmann’s clinic has received significant funding from the State of Minnesota and the federal government.

In the second session, Wiertzema also began what amounted to an
extended fishing expedition to find a “cause” for my homosexuality,
asking me if I had experienced any physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
In later sessions we would turn again and again to my first sexual
experience at age 14. He also insinuated that “there’s maybe a feminine
sort of tie” between my self-consciousness about my high speaking voice
and my sexuality concerns and that I had somehow conditioned myself to
respond sexually to male stimuli by masturbating to gay pornography.
After I mentioned a (fictitious) memory of discovering a hidden stash of
male pornographic images in the bedroom of a friend’s older sibling, he
said that this experience “obviously… had at least a little bit of a
part” in the development of my homosexuality and asked, “What if you
would have saw [sic] female pornography [instead]? Maybe you would be
talking to me right now about your addiction to lust.”

Despite the fact that I never once mentioned having insecurities
surrounding my own masculinity, Wiertzema took it upon himself to
reassure me in our fifth session that “…because you have feelings of
homosexuality, [it] doesn’t mean you don’t have masculinity. I’m just
gonna go ahead and say that.” I was encouraged to further develop my own
sense of masculinity and my personal definition of what it meant to be a
man. When I mentioned that I can objectively acknowledge a woman’s
beauty without having any sexual feelings toward her whatsoever, I was
told that whenever I saw an attractive woman I just needed to reinforce
in my mind that she was, indeed, attractive, and that God made her this
way and made me to notice her. After all, “God designed our eyes to be
attracted to the woman’s body, to be attracted to everything, to be
attracted to her breasts.” Further, according to Wiertzema, “We’re all
heterosexuals, but we have different challenges.” Attraction to the same
sex “is there, and it’s real, but at the core value, in terms of how
God created us, we’re all heterosexual.”

This faulty reasoning parroted the words of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, the
co-founder of the “ex-gay” organization known as the National
Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH): “There is
no such thing as a homosexual, just heterosexuals with a homosexual
problem.”

Here are a few more highlights from my therapy sessions at Bachmann & Associates:

  • - I was advised to find a heterosexual “accountability buddy” as I
    struggled to increase my attraction to women and decrease my attraction
    to men. I was to confide in, pray with, and be held accountable to this
    person.
  • - Bachmann & Associates sells a book written by Twin Cities minister and self-proclaimed “ex-lesbian” Janet Boynes.
    This book chronicles her supposed journey “out of the lesbian
    lifestyle.” Next to the stack of books was a prominently-displayed,
    typewritten note that read, “Janet is a friend. I recommend this book as
    she speaks to the heart of the matter and gives practical insights of
    truth to set people free. – Marcus Bachmann, PhD.”
  • - I pretended to have just told my brother that I was seeking
    counseling to help me deal with homosexuality. My brother’s (fictitious)
    response was that I should just come out, because a person can be happy
    and gay and still go to heaven. My therapist said that my brother
    “didn’t choose his words wisely.”
  • - I mentioned Marcus Bachmann’s by then well-publicized remarks
    calling gays “barbarians” who “need to be educated.” “Am I a barbarian?”
    I said through tears. Rather than contradict his boss’ words, Wiertzema
    opted to doubt the authenticity of the recording I had heard: “It
    sounds like… something that someone just did. It doesn’t sound
    accurate.”
  • - Several sessions after asking for information about
    “ex-gay”-friendly churches, programs, and support groups, Wiertzema
    passed along a colleague’s referral to Outpost Ministries, a
    Robbinsdale, MN-based “founding member ministry” of the discredited
    “ex-gay” group Exodus International.
  • - I mentioned the marriage equality ruling in New York and the
    possibility that some of my close gay friends might now get married.
    When I asked him for advice on whether or not I should attend any future
    same-sex weddings, he acknowledged that it was a tough and highly
    personal decision, but if he were in my situation he wouldn’t go – at
    least not without a heterosexual accountability buddy in tow. When I
    expressed concern for the well-being of my gay, soon-to-be-married
    friends’ eternal souls and asked if they could go to heaven, Wiertzema
    reassured me that indeed they could, “if they repent before the Lord and
    are right with God, later on.” When I sought clarification as to
    whether or not he meant they would need to turn away from homosexuality
    first, he responded in the affirmative.

Based on my experiences at Bachmann & Associates, there can no
longer be any doubt that Marcus Bachmann’s state- and federally-funded
clinic endorses and practices reparative therapy aimed at changing a gay
person’s sexual orientation, despite the fact that such “therapy” is
widely discredited by the scientific and medical communities. It’s time
for Michele and Marcus Bachmann to stop denying, dodging, and
stonewalling. They owe it to all Americans to provide a full and honest
explanation for their embrace of these dangerous and fraudulent
practices.

 

John Becker is the communications and development director for Truth Wins Out, and this account was re-posted with permission from the organization. 

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