cohenscuddle NARTHs Richard Cohen Conundrum

On March 19, 2007 Sexual Reorientation Life Coach Richard Cohen appeared with me on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Little did he know, that as a result of this show he would become a punchline — and when the dust settled his allies would turn him into a punching bag. Once they saw the episode air, the entire “ex-gay” industry dropped Cohen.

When one watches this clip, it is difficult to believe that the clownish Cohen was an integral part of the “ex-gay” industry and aligned with several of their key organizations. At the time this devastating video was shown, Cohen was the board president of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX). What most people don’t realize, however, is that he was also a key member of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).

For example, in 2000 Cohen was a prime time presenter at the group’s annual convention in Washington, DC. (NARTH board member George Rekers, of Rent Boy fame, was given an award)

According to NARTH’s records:

On Saturday and Sunday, November 18 and 19, 2000 NARTH held its ninth annual conference at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. This was the best-attended conference in NARTH’s history, with 110 participants from all parts of the nation. One-and-a-half days of intense, educational workshops were provided for therapists, religious leaders, spouses, parents, and others, as well as those struggling personally with same-sex attraction.

cohenbook NARTHs Richard Cohen Conundrum  A wide variety of topics were covered. It was noted that although there is more research-based information about homosexuality now being accepted in professional journals than ever before, there is still a great need for more research that is unbiased by the values and poltical aims of the researchers, particularly in the area of gay parenting and adoption.

Presenters from broadly different disciplines came together at this conference to discuss their approaches. Some described work based on a spiritual approach, while others described work which deals with homosexuality from a secular perspective.

The presenters’ work is directly opposed to those in the profession who are saying that not only is it impossible to change, but it is professionally unethical to treat someone who is homosexual who asks for help to overcome his or her homosexuality.

Counselor Richard Cohen, Director of International Healing Foundation, described the importance of mentoring and healing touch, said that we are a touch-deprived culture. He also explained the etiology of what he terms “Same-Sex Attachment Disorder (SSAD).

The NARTH Sigmund Freud Award was presented in absentia to George Rekers, Ph.D. of the South Carolina School of Medicine. Dr. Rekers is well-known as the author of several respected clinical works on childhood gender-identity disorder.

At the conference, Cohen set up a booth and peddled his new book, Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality. He also sold his creepy “ex-gay” children’s book, Alfie’s Home, where a child is molested by a relative, goes into “ex-gay” therapy, and eventually becomes heterosexual and marries. This book exemplifies the very reason that California needed to pass SB 1172 banning “ex-gay” therapy for minors. It is crucial that we keep the quacks away from LGBT kids.

Here is a glimpse of Cohen’s skin crawling book.

Alfie1 NARTHs Richard Cohen Conundrum

Alfie2 NARTHs Richard Cohen Conundrum

Alfie3 NARTHs Richard Cohen Conundrum

Alfie4 NARTHs Richard Cohen Conundrum

NARTH was more than well-aware of Cohen’s creepy children’s book and bizarre theories as witnessed on The Daily Show, because they were vividly illustrated in both of his books that were on sale and celebrated at the 2000 conference. Indeed, Cohen’s peculiar presentation was not in a breakout session in bowels of the Mayflower Hotel, but on the main stage of the ballroom. I was at this conference and this is how I described it in my book, Anything But Straight:

Cohen was talking about the importance of gay men who are “transitioning into heterosexuality,” finding straight male mentors to help them discover the “man within.” The largely middle-aged crowd was with him, nodding their heads in approval, when he broadsided them with this little personal nugget from his past: “I solicited all three of my straight male mentors,” Cohen recalled. “‘Would you like me to service you? I’m really good at it,’ I told each one of them. When they rejected me, I knew they loved me for who I am, not just for the sex, like so many other men who had left me before.”

With this revelation, the elderly and middle-aged men and women — and, not incidentally, a smattering of teenagers — suddenly looked as if they had just downed a bad fish, an apparent case of mass nausea. Seemingly oblivious to the inappropriateness of Cohen’s remarks — not to mention the audience’s reaction — Joe Nicolosi, NARTH’s executive director, looked on, snickering with noticeable delight.

Following his riveting autobiography, Cohen had the crowd stand up and split into groups of seven so he could demonstrate “touch therapy.” Suddenly, the lights dimmed and New Age music played from the portable sound system. Cohen ordered each group to stand in single file lines so that each person could begin massaging the person directly in front of him or her. “Relax, relax,” Cohen whispered into the microphone in a soothing baritone. “I almost forgot, take off your shoes. This is what we call nonsexual touch. We are getting in touch, through touch, but remember it is nonsexual. No sex here. Touch yes! Sex no! he bellowed.

I have to give Cohen credit. Here we were in the middle of Washington, with more than 100 shoeless archconservatives massaging heterosexuality into one another, while humming to what they would have considered pagan music only moments earlier. On top of this, he got to tell folks from the heartland lewd tales about his past sexual trysts. If I had tried to get away with this I would have been tarred and feathered. No doubt about it, this guy was smooth.

As you can vividly see, NARTH fully embraced and celebrated the antics of Richard Cohen. They even stood by him when Truth Wins Out revealed in 2003 that he had been expelled for life from the American Counseling Association for multiple ethics violations. They supported him and sold his book even as he made a fool of himself on national TV:

It was not until the Daily Show that NARTH, PFOX, and the rest of the “ex-gay” industry had seen enough. However, this had nothing to do with Cohen’s quack-like therapy, because PFOX and NARTH had long endorsed Cohen’s work. Their disenchantment with Cohen had everything to do with the fact that America had seen firsthand the therapy that Cohen and NARTH provide for clients. It was one thing for such quackery to occur in the shadows, and quite another for it to be broadcast in the living rooms of mainstream Americans.

Yesterday, NARTH and its co-founder Dr. Joseph Nicolosi sued the state of California to overturn a new law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, to prohibit reparative therapy for minors. The organization will try to present itself as professional and portray its work as grounded in science. But how can it justify and defend its strong links to Cohen?

Of course, the organization will say it cut ties to Cohen in 2007. But this does not adequately explain how it found Cohen’s work credible from 2000-2006 when they were fully aware of his outlandish methods and techniques. The fact that NARTH ever found Cohen suitable to teach a training seminar at its annual conference and sold his book on its website puts the group’s credibility, judgment and credentials into serious question. We can only hope this troubling relationship is further explored in the legal case and Cohen is called to testify on the witness stand.

Cohen personifies quackery and is the most vivid proof that NARTH is a pseudo-scientific organization that presents a clear and present danger to LGBT youth. Cohen’s methods were just as bizarre in 2000 as they are today. The onus is on NARTH to explain in court why they found such quackery acceptable and why the state of California should entrust the mental health of children to a group that embraced and enthusiastically endorsed Richard Cohen for so many years.