As someone who underwent ex-gay therapy for three years -- and not because I was "going undercover" as gay to fancy myself an investigative reporter -- I couldn't care less if a clinic owned by Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and her husband, Marcus, practices ex-gay therapy.
I'm not saying I don't feel sorry for patients who've been subjected to it. But I just don't see why the fact that Bachmann's husband runs a Christian clinic where therapists try to convert gays is any sort of revelation. Given Bachmann's well-documented statements decrying homosexuality as a demonic mental disorder, this doesn't prove to any greater degree than Bachmann has already established that she holds extreme anti-gay views; her bigoted outbursts about gay people have been in plain view for years. That it took an entrapment scheme and the pretense of catching Bachmann's husband in a lie to bring attention to the pair's radicalism just confirms the degree to which even liberal journalism has been Breitbart-ized.
For the past week, the media has been consumed by the results of an investigation by gay-activist group Truth Wins Out, which sent an undercover informant to the Bachmann-owned clinic and videotaped the sessions. The therapist makes statements like "in terms of how God created us, we're all heterosexual" and "God has created you for heterosexuality" -- pretty standard fare for right-wing Christians (though in fairness, the grainy hidden-video footage does add a To-Catch-a-Predator thrill). The Nation used the hit job and the fact that the Bachmanns appeared a few times with a woman who claimed to have rid herself of homosexual attractions to pronounce the Bachmann's "embrace of the controversial ex-gay movement." The story then went viral, prompting segments on all the major news networks (except, predictably, Fox).
The thing is, Bachmann and her husband have long made it clear that they believe homosexuality is a disease that can be cured. Bachmann has said that homosexuality is "part of Satan" and called homosexuality a "sexual identity disorder." She's dismissed anti-gay bullying as the cause of recent, highly publicized gay-teen suicides; these kids, she said, were probably killing themselves because of other family problems or "maybe the fact of what they're doing" -- i.e., "engaging in the lifestyle." When the Family Leader, a conservative group in Iowa, asked GOP presidential hopefuls to sign a "values" pledge that asked candidates to oppose "recognition of intimate unions which are bigamous, polygamous, polyandrous, same-sex, etc.," Bachmann was the first to sign on.
So what's the big deal? According to Daily Beast columnist and Prospect contributing editor Michelle Goldberg, it's that Marcus Bachmann previously said the clinic does not practice ex-gay therapy during an interview with City Pages, a Minneapolis newspaper:
But some observers claim that the mission of the practice includes counseling homosexuals in an effort to "ungay" them. "It is absolutely sincere," adds former school board member Cecconi. "They specialize in 'reparation' regarding sexual orientation."
Marcus Bachmann, who is also 50, denies that is part of his clinic's practice. "That's a false statement," he says, refusing to answer any questions that don't have to do with Bachmann and Associates. "Am I aware that the perception is out there? I can't comment on that." Still, Bachmann offers, "If someone is interested in talking to us about their homosexuality, we are open to talking about that. But if someone comes in a homosexual and they want to stay homosexual, I don't have a problem with that."
From the excerpt, it's actually unclear whether Bachmann is denying that his clinic does ex-gay therapy at all, or whether he's objecting to the statement that the clinic "specializes" in ex-gay therapy. So it's also not clear he was lying, and given the rest of what Marcus Bachmann has said and what the "investigation" revealed, it seems more likely he was not.
Following the flurry of news reports about the clinic, he told the Minnesota Star Tribune: "Is [conversion therapy] a remedy form that I typically would use? ... It is at the client's discretion."
It's in fact true that the practice does not focus on treating gay people who want to change their sexual orientation. As Time magazine's Mark Benajmin points out, the investigation from Truth Wins Out does not show the clinic to be a "conversation therapy mill." "Throughout the transcripts, Becker's therapist came across as somebody who was willing to try to make Becker straight, but didn't usually do that kind of thing for a living," writes Benjamin.
Not only did the informant ask explicitly for ex-gay therapy, he coached the therapist, who admitted he had little experience with reorientation therapy and offered to refer the patient to someone who did. In one exchange, Becker tries to get the therapist to say that homosexuality is a "demon" inside him. "I don't know if that, I don't know if that's quite -- it doesn't sound like that's quite on the right track here," he responds.
The entire story has all the trappings of a contrived scandal; one cannot but draw a parallel to the James O'Keefe ACORN hullabaloo, in which O'Keefe posed as a pimp seeking advice about his prostitution business and then edited the tape to smear the organization. To be sure, all journalism -- on the right as well as the left -- tends toward sensationalism, and no doubt part of the interest in Bachmann coincides with her presidential run.
There's a crucial difference between the ACORN smear campaign and that against the Bachmann clinic, however. O'Keefe twisted evidence to impugn an otherwise upstanding organization; the Bachmanns didn't need a manufactured covert operation to point out how radical their views on homosexuality are. The evidence was readily available. Perhaps it's naïve to think that Bachmann's anti-gay views and the thousands of people who undergo ex-gay therapy are worth talking about in themselves, but pretending that the clinic "exposé" is groundbreaking in any way is too. The larger story about Bachmann and her husband's radical views about homosexuality was out there waiting to be written; it just needed journalists who were not too lazy or uninterested to take notice.