Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Republican presidential hopeful from Minnesota, wants you to know that if you’re gay, she might not love you just the way you are.
An undercover investigation conducted by Truth Wins Out found that Bachmann & Associates — the counseling firm owned by Bachmann’s husband Marcus — employs therapists offering “reparative” ex-gay therapy that promises to wash that gay away. Awkwardly for Michele, the anti-government Tea Partyer, not everyone who seeks the clinic’s services enjoys coverage from an insurance plan sponsored by a private employer, meaning that the clinic may have billed the government’s Medicaid program for thousands of dollars in reimbursements for counseling services aimed at turning gay people straight.
Subjecting gay people to pseudoscientific “therapy” (and billing Medicaid for it) does more than put Dr. Bachmann’s unlicensed clinic in the crosshairs of an investigation into both his psychotherapy credentials and his wife’s anti-government bonafides. Ex-gay therapy of the kind practiced by Bachmann & Associates isn’t just hypocritical and widely discredited as ineffective — it’s dangerous. Professional associations such as the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychiatric Association have all condemned reparative therapy. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “the potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior.”
The good doctor Bachmann isn’t alone in his professed belief that gay people are “barbarians” in need of discipline and punishment. This attitude feeds pervasive discrimination against gay (and transgender) people and their families in employment, relationship recognition, health care, education, and housing. The constant stress of coping with this discrimination contributes to significant health issues for gay and transgender people, including higher rates of substance use, anxiety, depression, and suicide.
Beliefs that gay people need to be “cured” of their sexual orientation also contribute to harassment and violence against gay people and anyone else who doesn’t conform to rigid stereotypes of gender and sexuality. In 2008, more than 2,400 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people were victims of crimes perpetrated against them on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Significant underreporting means that the actual number of hate crimes against gay and transgender people is probably much higher than the statistics show.
Ex-gay therapy tears at the mental health of gay people while contributing to the poisonous attitudes that mark them as targets for violence and discrimination. And for this “therapy,” it’s society as a whole that foots the bill: every blow at the ability of gay people to take care of themselves and their families has its costs, whether in the loss of a job because of harassment, days missed at school because of bullying, or medical bills for dealing with depression or the aftermath of violence.
And while we all pay, Dr. Bachmann profits.
The ex-gay therapy practiced by Bachmann & Associates isn’t just a boondoggle on Medicaid or an engaging tabloid sideshow to the Republican presidential contest. As this year’s annual report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs shows, intolerant attitudes toward homosexuality and gender variance fuel a culture of anti-gay and anti-transgender violence across the U.S. This violence divides gay and transgender people from their families, makes streets unsafe for LGBT people, particularly people of color, and leads gay and transgender people, particularly young people, to hurt themselves out of the belief that something must be wrong with them. Ex-gay therapy doesn’t help — it hurts.