Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka defended conversion therapy and claimed that sexual assault can cause homosexuality, all in a wide-ranging interview with televangelist Andrew Wommack.
Gazelka, who once sent a child of his to a clinic run by Marcus Bachmann, husband of anti-LGBTQ former congresswoman and presidential aspirant Michele Bachmann, gave the interview in November to Wommack’s Truth & Liberty Coalition, which has an online broadcast. But it gained widespread attention Thursday, when the Minnesota Reformer newspaper published a story about it.
The senator, a Republican, recalled hearing the story of “a lady that was lesbian, and [a counselor] said before you judge her, let me just tell you her backstory. … He said she was chained to a toilet as a like 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-year-old girl and raped by her dad, for years and years. How do you think she’s gonna feel? In other words, he’s trying to get you to realize that there’s a deeper backstory, and if you understand that, you can love them while you’re … bringing truth and trying to help them.”
He also contended that lack of closeness to a parent of the same sex can cause a person to be gay. In a conversation with a gay man, Gazelka said he asked if the man was raised by a mother and father or just by his mother; it turned out the man was brought up by his mother and grandmother. “We actually had a conversation that we could talk about the issues around the why and the what,” the senator said.
Both theories, of course, are rejected by mental health professionals. “Homosexuality was once thought to be the result of troubled family dynamics or faulty psychological development,” the American Psychiatric Association notes on its website. “Those assumptions are now understood to have been based on misinformation and prejudice. … No specific psychosocial or family dynamic cause for homosexuality has been identified, including histories of childhood sexual abuse. Sexual abuse does not appear to be more prevalent in children who grow up to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, than in children who identify as heterosexual.”
Last year Gazelka helped defeat legislation that would have barred licensed mental health counselors in Minnesota from subjecting minors to so-called conversion therapy, a widely discredited and harmful practice that is designed to turn LGBTQ people straight or cisgender. In his interview with Wommack, he claimed the bill would muzzle counselors.
“I think the best place to land is let the church have the total freedom to do as they please, and then for professional counselors, if an adolescent comes into their office, says I have unwanted same-sex attraction, I’m hoping that counselor can say ‘How can I help you?’” Gazelka told Wommack.
Genna Gazelka, one of the senator’s five children, came out as a lesbian as a teenager and now identifies as bi-gender. Genna, who uses they/them pronouns, said in an interview last year that the family sent them to conversion therapy at Marcus Bachmann’s clinic and elsewhere. Conversion therapy “is harassment, and it is tantamount to what could be said of torture or sexual torture,” they told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“I went from having a somewhat supportive youth pastor counselor who was aware it was highly likely I was lesbian to being sent to Bachmann’s clinic,” Genna Gazelka continued, adding that the sessions at the clinic created feelings of shame. Genna’s parents also encouraged sessions with Janet Boynes Ministries, which offers help to people “who are trapped in the sin of homosexuality and yearn to be set free,” as its website states.
Paul Gazelka denied that he and his wife sent Genna for conversion therapy, saying it was for “healing” from various mental health problems. Genna acknowledged having been in emotional turmoil as a teen but said they were sent to therapy only after their parents suspected same-sex attraction. Bachmann, citing patient confidentiality, declined to discuss Genna’s case “but said his practice has never used the techniques commonly associated with gay conversion,” particularly anything abusive, according to the Star Tribune. But undercover activists have caught counselors at Bachmann’s clinics condemning homosexuality.
Among other comments in the interview with Wommack, Paul Gazelka claimed that rural people are self-reliant while urban residents make greater use of government aid. “Rural people like to take care of themselves,” he said Gazelka. “They’re not interested in government helping them. That’s their last resort. In the inner city, it’s definitely — there’s higher concentrations of people that are on welfare, that are used to that, and our welfare system has basically entrapped them.” That assertion, which plays into racist stereotypes, is questionable at best.
Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, as the Democratic Party is known in the state, issued a statement Thursday condemning Gazelka’s remarks. “The bigoted beliefs Gazelka expressed in this interview are exactly the attitudes that made it so difficult for me to come out and still make it hard for LGBT Minnesotans to simply be who we are,” said DFL communications director Brian Evans. “Paul Gazelka cannot claim to love the LGBT community while fueling the homophobia that causes our community to face heightened rates of depression and suicidal ideation. ... How can Minnesota’s LGBT community expect compassion from a man who turned his back on his own child?”