11 minute read

Prominent Utah Mormon ‘ex-gay’ therapist affirms he is gay

BY MICHAEL AARON

A Mormon Utah man known to the world for his work in the “ex-gay” movement, also known as conversion therapy or reparative therapy, has announced to the world that he is ending his marriage to a woman and seeking a relationship with a man.

David Matheson announced on Facebook that he is gay after Truth Wins Out founder Wayne Besen posted it on their site, which focuses on ‘ex-gay’ therapy.

“A year ago I realized I had to make substantial changes in my life. I realized I couldn’t stay in my marriage any longer. And I realized that it was time for me to affirm myself as gay,” Matheson wrote.

He has deep roots in the reparative therapy movement, including being the author of Becoming a Whole Man: Principles & Archetypes, founder of the Center for Gender Wellness, co-creator of People Can Change and the Journey Into Manhood, and executive director of Evergreen International (now North Star.)

He has been a go-to therapist for gay men who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He did, however, stop practicing therapy for the past few years.

He now says he renounces efforts to change one’s sexual orientation.

MARRIAGE TO A WOMAN

“I enjoyed a happy and fulfilling marriage with my wife for many years,” Matheson wrote. “Overall, it was a beautiful relationship and being ‘straight’ became a core part of my identity. But I also experienced attractions to men. Much of the time these were in the background. But sometimes they were very intense and led to pain and struggle in my marriage.

“Still, the marriage truly did work for us both and I don’t regret it. But things started to change a few years ago. Our personality differences became very pronounced. The relationship dynamic became strained and difficult. Things gradually turned painful.

“Toward the end of this decline, I also realized that being in an intimate relationship with a man was no longer something I wanted to avoid. It had become a non-negotiable need.”

CALLED TO TASK

While many people supported his announcement, many other people called him to task.

“Of course each individual should be free to make their own choices. And I am happy for you and your growth and realizations. And I appreciate your apologies,” wrote Kendall Wilcox of OUT in ZION podcast and former project lead at Utah Commission on LGBTQ Suicide Prevention. “But will you take proactive steps to heal the ‘harm your own homophobia and narrow mindedness have surely caused some people?’ Will you work with a fervor equal to your previous zeal to heal ‘the confusion and pain’ your choices may have caused others?”

Matheson posted on his Facebook wall a very critical video of someone who not only went through his counseling, but participated as an organizer.

Roger Webb spoke about the pain he has carried for decades since his involvement with Matheson’s programs, especially since someone he helped mentor committed suicide toward the end of one of the retreats he was involved in. He said, after watching Boy Erased, he wanted to make it his life’s goal to establish a foundation in James Edward’s name that will “help and support people who are lost and alone because they love someone of the same sex.” “That foundation will do a lot of work to stop those horrible people who teach others that they’re not enough because they love someone.”

“I can tell [Matheson] that myself and a whole bunch of other men love and respect you as our brother, and are grateful that you finally found your peace, but that’s empty without some words of you to say I’m sorry to those people that I hurt.”

“It took about 10 years to heal the wounds that you made in my soul with the work that you did,” Webb continued. “There wasn’t a day that went by during that time that I didn’t go to bed hating myself. Feeling broken. Feeling that I was the biggest disappointment to the universe, to God, to my family, to everybody because of what you guys taught me.”

Matheson, in response to the video, said that Webb gave him “credit/responsibility for things that I actually wasn’t involved in or decisions that weren’t mine,” but he goes on to say, “I was involved in that world and must take responsibility for my part. There are still systems in our culture that cause harm. There are people like Roger who have experienced pain, and we need to work together to correct this.”

CENTER FOR GENDER WHOLENESS

Matheson created the Center for Gender Wholeness to complement his book, Becoming a Whole Man. He allowed the state registration to expire in November of 2016 and its website stopped being updated about that time. But the site remained largely active with some harmful information being presented even just a few months ago.

“You didn’t choose it. But you can choose what you do with it,” was the main promise of the site. “It is possible to stop unwanted behavior, shift sexual desires, and resolve other issues related to unwanted same-sex attraction. Ours is a compassionate approach for men who won’t accept a homosexual life due to conflicting values or life goals. Whether you are simply curious about change, desperate for help, or almost out of hope, we invite you to explore what we have to offer. It’s your life.”

The site, throughout, used the term preferred by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Same-sex Attraction,” or SSA. Even in Matheson’s recent comments, he still uses the term.

On the site, Matheson pointed to eight “causes” of male homosexuality (the organization said it didn’t “have expertise in working with female homosexuality”): Unhealthy childhood relationships with females; distorted concepts of gender; feeling incongruent with one’s gender; problems in relationships with other males; sexual conditioning, including sexual abuse and early exposure to male pornography; biological and physical issues such as being over- or under-weight, having high or low intelligence or being concerned about penis size; and emotional and psychological problems, such as perfectionism and OCD.

The site said that the media and gay rights organizations were to blame for the discouragement of reparative therapy. “As a whole, gay advocacy groups are well funded,” the site read. “By the end of 2012, LGBTQ causes will have spent well over one billion dollars.”

“About a year ago I realized I couldn’t stay in my marriage I also knew I needed to be in a relationship with a man.”

“Throughout this website, we speak of change as a process of growth toward wholeness,” the site read. “It means reclaiming and integrating all of the strengths and capacities that became lost to us through the soul-splintering effects of abuse and trauma.”

“The change process will be life-long. None of us will ever become entirely whole in this life no matter how long we live. But we believe it is a worthy goal to spend our lives in that pursuit.”

PEOPLE CAN CHANGE — JOURNEY INTO MANHOOD, A HEALING WEEKEND.

Matheson was the co-creator of Journey into Manhood, now called Brothers Road, “a 48-hour immersion in intensive emotional-healing work, designed specifically for men who are self-motivated and serious about resolving unwanted homosexual attractions,” according to its website. “All of the exercises are designed to help you identify and process the underlying issues that may be alienating you from your authentic heterosexual masculinity.”

The brochure read that the group was made up of, “Men who have resolved unwanted same-sex attractions supporting others seeking similar change.”

It promised that, of those who attended, “about 75 percent report a decrease in homosexual feelings and behaviors.” It also said the large majority felt “more masculine, more confident and powerful.”

It went on to say that those men who aren’t successful in changing their sexual orientation simply aren’t sincere.

“Many men seeking to overcome same– sex attraction become frustrated and discouraged when they find that their feelings and attractions don’t change as quickly or substantially as they had hoped. We believe these men are getting stuck because they aren’t following the laws, or principles, that allow growth out of same-sex attraction to happen. These men may be very sincere and even committed to the idea of change, but if they don’t follow the right principles, change won’t happen.”

Matheson said there were four principles of “growth”: masculinity, authenticity, need fulfillment, and surrender. He used the acronym MANS to “make them easy to remember.”

The event is still running as “Brothers Road,” with another event happening in Utah in May.

Matheson’s name was scrubbed from the site last December.

EVOLVING BELIEFS

In 2013, Matheson joined a group of seemingly disparate mental health professionals whose goal was to find a set of “clear rules and guidelines to govern the ethics of any treatment protocol.”

The Reconciliation and Growth Project is a Utah group made up of LGBT-affirming psychotherapists and those who worked to resolve issues between homosexuality and their religion. It was started by the LGBTQ-Affirmative Psychotherapist Guild of Utah which sponsored a workshop on respecting religious and sexual/gender identity differences seeking to create a safe space for dialogue about the distress some clients had trying to resolve issues of sexuality and non-traditional gender.

“Current governance of therapies addressing sexual orientation and non-traditional gender is vague and polarized. Therefore, we seek to define a set of standards and practices that are ethical and fair in order to provide guidance for individual mental health providers, provide a framework of ethical practices to guide professional and licensing boards in regulating the work of mental health providers, and de-escalate the polarized battles around legislation and litigation regarding these matters,” the group’s guide reads.

One of the first guidelines to come out of the group was around the terms used in the field that promise “change” in sexual orientation.

“The continued use of terminologies such as ‘reparative,’ ‘conversion,’ ‘sexual orientation change efforts,’ and ‘affirmative’ therapies fuels adversarial tensions among people with different perspectives about sexual orientation and gender identity. This obscures the substantial common ground between diverse perspectives. We advocate leaving such language behind in favor of language that focuses on resolving the individual’s distress with their sexual attractions and/ or gender identity and fosters their ability to thrive.”

The group also agreed on self-determination and to do no harm.

“We call upon society to move beyond adversarial strategies and focus on fostering respectful dialogue and a shared commitment to facilitate individual self-determination and to do no harm,” their statement reads. “The ethical principle of self-determination requires that each individual be seen as a whole person and be supported in their right to explore, define, articulate, and live out their own identity.”

I am an advocate of the proposed legislation to make it illegal to do that kind of therapy to minors.

Though Matheson signed on to the statement, he did not work to change the title of his book, Becoming a Whole Man, which some say alludes to gay and bisexual men being “not whole.”

Matheson became immersed with the group and began moderating panels on interpersonal violence.

TODAY

In an interview with Jeremy Harris of KUTV News, Matheson explained how he got to this point today, and answers some of the criticism levied against him.

“About a year ago I realized I couldn’t stay in my marriage,” Matheson told Harris. “I also knew I needed to be in a relationship with a man.”

“I have been bisexual since my teen years. But since I was bisexual, I could make a relationship with a woman work, and work very, very well. It was a beautiful, authentic relationship for so long. Not always easy, but what relationship is easy all the time. It was difficult at some times, and some of it was because of my same-sex attraction. I just realized that it is time in my life now that I’m not going to be married to a woman, I cannot be alone. That just could not work for me. What I hope for is a solid, monogamous relationship with a man.”

He said that a few years ago, he could not see himself saying such a thing.

He acknowledged his involvement with at least one group of men that sought to minimize their sexual attraction to other men and worried that some of them may feel betrayed by his announcement.

“I am sad for those who feel betrayed, and I guess what I want to say is that the person who I was, the man of faith I was, is still the man of faith I am today. But there is a piece of my life I have to adjust because the discord inside me is just too great. That doesn’t mean that all those things I said over the years were not true, particularly things about my faith.”

Harris asked if he will remain a member of the LDS Church.

“I will stay with the LDS Church. I don’t know if I can remain a member of the LDS Church, which is tremendously sad to me. But even if I am not a member, I know what I feel and what God has manifest in me, and I can’t turn against that.

“I’ll stay with the church even if the church doesn’t stay with me.”

Matheson explained that conversion therapy is therapy that defines being gay as a disorder and it is wrong, and sometimes sinful and that is also based on the idea that it can and should be changed.

“When I started as a therapist 20 years ago, I believed that, because that was the world I grew up in as being a Mormon in Utah.

“I long ago repudiated that whole concept. The idea that it is a disorder, that it is wrong and bad, the idea that it can change, because for some people there are some changes that happen, but for most people, no. And the idea that it must change is absolutely reprehensible to me.

“Most of the therapy I have done [recently] is just standard therapy, but it is done under the rubric of ‘reparative therapy,’ which is what gave it such a bad reputation.” He said that he is now very opposed to reparative therapy.

“I am an advocate of the proposed legislation to make it illegal to do that kind of therapy to minors,” emphasizing the “to minors” part of the statement. “But I do think there needs to be a therapeutic approach that helps a person with a religious background who is LGBTQ to somehow come to a reconciliation within themselves about the conflict that that ideology or religion places in them. Because that is a very painful, difficult thing for them.”

Of the Brother’s Road program, he said he is firmly against what they are doing today.

“Over the years I’ve become disengaged with them. I have some pretty substantial disagreements with them. I, at one point, encouraged them to involve some gay-affirming therapists to help make their weekend safer,” he said. “They have not taken me up on that. I definitely have some concerns about the program.”

“I have been a part of a system, and as I look back on that I see my part in it and what I perpetuated — the homophobia and the shame that my words perpetuated. And for some people it was tremendously healing and for others not,” he told KUTV. But he also said he has changed in recent years.

“I’ve been involved for at least six years with people who are trying to eliminate as much harm from [reparative therapy] as possible, trying to make it safe for people of faith who are LGBTQ to receive help.”

Harris asked if he apologized for some of the work he’s done, to which he said, “Absolutely. I can think of things that I said, I can think of people I said things to, and I can think of specific cases where I can look back and say I really regret having written that, said that, perpetuated that idea.

“I mean, I grew up in the 70s in Utah and the way church leaders sometimes spoke about gay people was unthinkable. I mean, it was inhumane; it was bullying. And I swallowed that stuff, and so that’s the kind of stuff that came out earlier in my career, and for that I’m very sad. I’m

really remorseful about that.” He said that, out of all of this, his coming out, he hopes that conservative religions “can think about how we look at LGBTQ people and do we give them a place? Do we communicate to them that God has a place in this world for them? Or do we want to continue to say that traditional families is what it’s all about, marriage between a man and a woman is what it’s all about, and if you don’t fit that, we don’t even see you. That is a gospel for the 99 and not a gospel for the one.”

“I recognize that I’ve had a part in perpetuating homophobia in others and in myself,” Matheson wrote in a statement. “And while reconciliation will take years, I accept that I have a role in that process. As a next step toward that, I have taken my book, Becoming A Whole Man, off the virtual bookshelves until I can review and remove content I no longer agree with.” Q