By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com November 22 2013 2:13 PM ET
The U.S. Air Force Academy has been in full damage-control mode since LGBT blogger John Aravosis revealed earlier this week that the academy, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., has placed a prominent supporter of "ex-gay" therapy in charge of its "Leadership and Character" cadet counseling program.
Aravosis first broke the story on AmericaBlog, reporting that Mike Rosebush, Ph.D., was hired to serve as the chief of character and leadership coaching at the academy. Rosebush has a long history of involvement in antigay organizations, including as a former vice president of Focus on the Family, which has its headquarters just a few miles from the academy's entry gate. According to books Rosebush coauthored and his own publicly available research material, he has spent the past two decades of his career advocating for the scientifically discredited, harmful practice of "ex-gay" or "reparative" therapy that aims to turn gay people straight.
According to Rosebush's own website, he successfully underwent "reparative therapy" to rid himself of unwanted same-sex desires. Rosebush has spent the past two decades "helping" other men "overcome" their homosexual desires — most recently as a private counseling "coach" where, for $125 an hour, Rosebush would work to "cure" gay men and other "sex addicts." Rosebush is also a former clinical member of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which promotes junk science that claims sexual orientation can be changed through prayer, therapy, and willpower. Every major medical and psychological organization in the U.S. has condemned such therapy, with the American Psychological Association calling the practice harmful, dangerous, and likely to increase stigma against an already marginalized population. Both California and New Jersey have now outlawed the scientifically debunked practice for licensed therapists working with minors.
In response to Aravosis's scathing report, academy officials held a meeting with gay and lesbian cadets who are part of the academy's LGBQ affinity group, Spectrum. Academy officials told Aravosis that the conversation — held between top-ranking commanders and presumably lower-level cadets who are open about being LGBQ — consisted of cadets expressing pride in the Air Force, contending the academy "is a safe and welcoming place to be LGBQ," and being frustrated with "articles disparaging USAFA."
On Friday, the academy released a statement implying that it was investigating the allegations that it's failing to adhere to federal law, which stipulates that members of the military may not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, since the 2011 repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
"The Air Force is comprised of a rich workforce whose backgrounds reflect various races, origins, orientations, ethnicities, languages, cultures and life experiences," it reads the statement from Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning and Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force chief of staff. "We promote an atmosphere of inclusion throughout our ranks and strive to ensure every Airman is treated with dignity and respect."
The Air Force has confirmed that Rosebush leads the counseling program, though it was quick to note that he does not directly counsel cadets. Nevertheless, participation in the counseling program is mandatory for cadets, and Rosebush manages the team of counselors who do directly counsel cadets. And as Aravosis points out, Rosebush "developed the entire character and leadership building coaching program the academy uses, called 'MOSAIC Personal Coaching.'"
But an anonymous letter from a gay cadet published by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation destroys the academy's talking points as a "self-serving" "crock." The cadet is a current client of the founation, which aims to maintain the separation between church and state in U.S. military institutions.
"I saw USAFA's self serving press release today about how 'happy' all the gay cadets are here," writes the gay cadet. "How nice of all of the powers that be to meet with the Spectrum Club all of the sudden now that they're in the shits with the media and getting jacked up everywhere for hiring Rosebush. Of course to be in Spectrum you have to out yourself. If I and the many other cadets I know who are LGB came out it would be devastating for our cadet and future Air Force careers. I could never stay on my intercollegiate team. Being LGB here is like not being an 'all in' Christian. You're finished."
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation affirmed the cadet's allegation that Christian proselytizing within academy ranks is widely accepted, and rarely punished. An email from an athletic trainer at the academy to the foundation's founder promised that the staffer "will talk about Jesus Christ my Lord and savior to everyone that I work with."
A statement emailed to the Jewish Telegraph Agency from the Air Force disavowed this staffer, saying he "does not speak for the Air Force's Academy and we absolutely do not tolerate proselytizing among our ranks."
Out MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow dove into the controversy at length on her show Thursday. Watch that revealing segment below.