Homosexuals Anonymous (HA), an ex-gay program based in Reading, Pennsylvania, is a 14-step program modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous. It was founded in 1980 by former Seventh-Day Adventist minister Colin Cook, a charismatic leader who promoted his organization in media appearances, including the Phil Donahue Show. HA believes that homosexuality is “an illusion” that traps people in a “false identity.” It also holds the view that “homosexual activity is not in harmony with the will of God and that the universal creation norm is heterosexuality.”
To the organizations credit, it does not engage in anti-gay political activity or exploit controversial issues to increase its membership. HA says it considers such activism counterproductive because it shifts a client’ energies away from pursuing heterosexuality. As a result of its apolitical stance, HA has drawn relatively little criticism from GLBT organizations, but has also lost media opportunities that would lift the group’ profile.
HA is rather bold in its claims that gay people can turn heterosexual. An advertisement for its annual 2007conference exclaims that the event is for “All who seriously want freedom from homosexuality!” Just like Exodus International, however, HA offers no statistics or evidence supporting the efficacy of its program.
The organization suffered a meltdown in 1986 after it was revealed that Colin Cook was giving clients nude massages to “desensitize” them to the pleasures of male flesh. Cook told the Los Angles Times that he “fell into the delusion” that such therapy was helping clients. He also told the newspaper that, “I allowed myself to hug and hold my counselees thinking I was helping them. But I needed it more than they did.”
Looking for fresh start, Cook moved to Colorado in 1993 and almost immediately got involved with anti-gay organizations. He worked with Colorado for Family Values to pass Amendment 2, a referendum on a state constitutional amendment prohibiting anti-discrimination laws for gays and lesbians. However, his new career was cut short after it was discovered he was engaging in inappropriate hugs and phone sex with his clients.
“It’ like your Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor giving you a drink,” one client remarked about Cook’ improper behavior.
Tragically, the failed organization has endured under the leadership of “John J,” a man who once served time for sexually abusing boys. HA continues to grow and has chapters in twenty states and the District of Columbia, as well as one in Munich, Germany.