Club Q and Focus on the Family
GAYoda: Today’s global magazine for gay Christians
Focus on the Family would do well to revise its role in conversion therapy, plus repent of its past.
Club Q. Minutes before midnight on Saturday, November 19, Anderson Lee Aldrich began shooting his rifle at the bartenders and patrons in Club Q, an LBGTQ+ establishment in Colorado Springs. Eventually, five innocent people were killed, and 25 others were treated for injuries. And it could have been much worse. Richard Fierro (a former Army soldier) yanked the gunman from behind while Thomas James retrieved the rifle. Fierro then took Aldrich’s sidearm and began beating Aldrich in the face, attempting to disable him. Amazingly soon, police arrived — and discovered a killer being held down by patrons. Literally, “God only knows” how many other patrons could have been killed if those two heroes did not courageously save the others.
A massacre occurred at Club Q — the site intended by the killer.
Club Q was a “home” for many of the patrons. It was their “safe place” to socialize in the relaxed, friendly environment of other LGBTQ+ individuals. In six deadly minutes, LGBTQ+ individuals and their family members were forever scarred with trauma. All because they chose to socialize at a popular gay bar and dance facility.
Vandalization. Furthermore, during the wee hours of Thanksgiving day in Colorado Springs, someone(s) vandalized the Focus on the Family (a.k.a., Focus) building. The black, spray-painted message read, “Their blood is on your hands. Five lives taken.” Vandalization is a serious crime. As of yet, the offenders have not been identified. Furthermore, there is presently no thread of relationship between the Club Q murderer and Focus on the Family. Jim Daly, the President of Focus on the Family, had this statement (in part):
“This is a time for prayer, grieving, and healing, not vandalism and the spreading of hate. Focus on the Family is privileged to be one of many organizations in our city positioned to help and support the needs of struggling individuals and families. The families of the five individuals killed in Saturday night’s senseless attack are in our prayers.”
I fully agree.
Anti-Gay. Focus on the Family, however, has had a well-deserved anti-gay reputation from ~1980–2005. Focus led a national campaign against the “gay agenda,” the “gay lifestyle,” and “gay rights.” These smear campaigns occurred during Dr. James Dobson’s reign as the president of Focus.
I should know; I was a closeted gay vice president of Focus from 1996–2004.
My Insider Story of the “Focus on the Family” v. “Gay Rights” Culture War
I was Focus’s closeted gay vice president
After coming out as gay, I resigned as VP and served as one of their referral counselors from 2004–2008. During that time, Focus referred many people dealing with homosexuality issues to me. Upon becoming convinced that conversion therapy was useless and even harmful, I publicly criticized conversion therapy. Focus “fired” me as a counseling referral because I refused to conduct conversion therapy.
In later years (2019 to present), I became a mentor to thousands of gay Christians. During this era, I received an avalanche of first-hand accounts of how people despised Focus on the Family. Such stories emphasized a common theme: parents of gay kids trusted Focus’ assurances that being gay was a problem caused by a poor relationship with one’s dad. Furthermore, parents were convinced that conversion therapy would eliminate (or significantly reduce) homoerotic and homoromantic desires. Gay men whose parents required them to receive conversion therapy told me of their seething hatred toward Focus on the Family.
Additionally, Focus’ anti-gay political involvement left gays fearing for their livelihood and, at times, their lives.
Fortunately, under Jim Daly’s leadership (who replaced Dr. James Dobson), Focus no longer uses gays as a “punching bag” to get more Republican votes. Still, as you will next read, Focus maintains ties to a bad treatment method: conversion therapy.
Conversion Therapy. Psychiatrists and others in the mental health professions have attempted for decades to change one’s sexual orientation (i.e., eliminating same-sex attractions and gaining opposite-sex attractions). The means for doing so have, at times, been unethical (e.g., shock therapy and lobotomies).
Dr. Joseph Nicolosi was the founder of “Reparative Therapy.” According to this therapy, homosexuality in the male is caused by a lack of proper bonding between the father and the homosexual son. Focus on the Family became a strong advocate of Reparative Therapy.
Conversion therapies also relied upon the cognitive-behavioral practice of homoerotic thought repression. Additionally, clients were often required to confess all homoerotic and homoromantic events (even if such events were merely mental). Other treatments presumed the orientation was demonic — and exorcisms were conducted. Furthermore, other forms of conversion therapy assumed that same-sex attraction could be eliminated or reduced by treating the attraction as an addiction.
In sum, until the 1970s, mental health professionals considered homosexuality a mental disorder. Eventually, psychiatrists determined that gays were not disordered in the brain but socially disordered. Specifically, it was concluded that brain imbalances did not cause the disorders associated with homosexuality (e.g., depression). Rather, they concluded that gay men are often depressed due to the condemnations of society, the church, and families.
Personally, I am against all forms of conversion therapies. And I am not alone.
In America, 25 states have banned conversion therapy for minors. I hope that all 50 states will eventually realize the harms of conversion therapy. Perhaps the biggest damage is that often the gay client is presumed to be “lesser than” straights. As such, the gay client may believe that he is only loved and valued if he represses his homosexuality. In all-too-many cases, Christian clients are led to believe by their church that they are disordered and deplorable unless they change or renounce their orientation. Traditionalist Christian churches often provide forms of punishment if a gay male refuses to receive reorientation therapy.
The outcome of all of this cultural pressure is that LGBTQ+ youth are 4–8 times more likely to attempt suicide (for those in traditionalist, evangelical families). In fact, of the LGBTQ+ youth in evangelical families, 85% felt uncomfortable coming out to their parents; 81% feared being viewed as disgusting by family; 57% feared being disowned by parents. Being disowned is a reality for many gay youths, as a grotesquely disproportionate amount of homeless youth (i.e., 20–40%) identify as LGBTQ+.
I contribute funds toward a homeless shelter in Colorado Springs. The managers of the shelter confided in me that a disproportion of their homeless are LGBTQ+, plus those individuals come from traditionalist evangelical families.
But perhaps the biggest offense of conversion therapy is that it simply does not work. I have asked hundreds of conversion therapy patients whether their same-sex attraction has been eliminated. Literally, no one has succeeded!
Readers, that is a ton of effort and money poured into an enterprise that falsely claims to convert one’s sexuality when the gay client has, at best, repressed certain behaviors — and, at worst, has committed suicide. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s malpractice.
Focus on the Family utilizes a cadre of professional counselors who stand by, ready to respond to a caller’s issue. Once the counselor determines the nature of the case, the phone caller is either referred to Focus’ array of written resources or to a trained professional counselor who specializes in that issue. I know Focus counselors to be dedicated and highly competent in intake interviews.
My first beef is that the materials recommended by the counselors are only written with a Focus on the Family worldview. And Focus’ worldview is that homoromantic and homoerotic behaviors are always wrong — and, of course, so is gay marriage. Focus offers 28 different answers to gay issues. There are no alternative books to read, such as Matthew Vines’ masterpiece “God and the Gay Christian,” or Karen Keen’s scholarly “Scripture, Ethics & the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships,” or Andy Wells’ pragmatic “Tried To Be Straight.”
I agree that Focus has every right to recommend its own materials. But if someone is genuinely wrestling with his sexuality (and what gay teenager isn’t?), then a “fair and balanced” form of support is not being provided by Focus.
My other beef is that the counselors who acquire Focus’ referrals are pre-vetted to ensure they only come from a “gay is wrong” perspective. Generally, professional counselors should understand the client’s presenting issue and then form a feasible game plan for helping the client reach his goal. In contrast, Focus’ referred counselors have already predetermined what is best for every gay person — and then prescribe evangelical repression from a conversion worldview.
Furthermore, from where do Focus’ “gay knowledgeable” counselors generally come? I surmise from “Restored Hope Network” (a.k.a. RHN).
First, a little background on RHN.
From 1976 to 2013, Exodus International was the headquarters for ex-gay people. Ex-gays were self-defined individuals who were formerly plagued by bad experiences as gay people but believed they were converted to being straight. Ex-gays testified how they “overcame their struggle with homosexuality” and now live a gay-less life. Some who testified paraded the fact that they are now married (and, in some cases, naturally produced children). Exodus International provided materials, counseling referrals, local ex-gay ministries, and an annual conference for support.
The problem was that Exodus International and ex-gay ministries were a hoax.
The former president of Exodus International declared that the ministry never truly removed homosexuality from individuals. Even worse, he asserted that thousands of lives had actually been harmed by the ex-gay perspective. Thus, Exodus International closed down in 2013.
And guess who immediately filled the void for ex-gays? Yep, Restored Hope Network.
And guess who supports RHN? Yep, Focus on the Family.
Restored Hope Network’s mission statement reads as follows:
“Restored Hope is a membership-governed, inter-denominational network dedicated to restoring hope to those broken by sexual and relational sin, especially those impacted by homosexuality. We proclaim that Jesus Christ has life-changing power for all who submit to Christ as Lord; we also seek to equip His church to impart that transformation.”
The core assumption of RHN is that homosexuals are broken people. Gays are not whole, just as they are. Their same-sex attraction and desire for homoromantic relationships are faulty. However, the rescue (in all cases) is to turn one’s life over to Jesus.
So, what about the thousands of dedicated Jesus Followers who retain their same-sex attraction? What about the gay Christians who have diligently studied the Bible and determined that God delights in gay marriages? Restored Hope Network would assume that they need to be even more devoted to Jesus and stay the course of sexual repression.
Guess who is the founder and president of RHN? Anne Paulk, a former Focus on the Family employee who identifies as an ex-gay.
Guess where the RHN headquarters is located? In Colorado Springs — the home of Focus on the Family.
Guess who serves on RHN’s “Board of Reference?” Dr. James Dobson (former President of Focus on the Family) and Jim Daly (current President of Focus). One need only read the following proclamation on RHN’s website to know its true colors: “In Memorium and glory … Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, founder of NARTH.” As spoken of earlier, Dr. Nicolosi was the founder of Reparative Therapy.
Restored Hope Network virtually screams that a life change out of homosexuality is possible through the network of RHN-certified counselors — all of whom agree with Reparative Therapy.
Exodus International had 36 years of attempting conversion therapy to “heal” people of their unwanted homosexuality. Their president declared their “Change is Possible” slogan a hoax and their conversion efforts impotent.
So why would Focus on the Family hitch its reputation to Restored Hope Network — the substitute for Exodus International?
Please, Jim Daly — jump ship off of Restored Hope Network and conversion therapy.
Focus on the Family should never be vandalized. However, Focus has an ethical responsibility to follow the lead of Exodus International — and take ownership of being wrong in their presumptions of conversion therapy and their maligning of LGBTQ individuals.
Please repent. It is in your power to change.
Rather than supporting Restored Hope Network, please champion such exemplary programs as Revoice, Posture Shift, and Q Christian Fellowship. Rather than vetting your professional counselors for their alignment with Reparative Therapy, please ensure that you can refer people to those with a gay-affirming perspective.
Focus on the Family has the opportunity to model a posture of love. Imagine the impact it would have if Focus owned its past mistakes and demonstrated repentance to the LGBTQ+ community!
Dr. Mike Rosebush (Ph.D., Counseling Psychology) is the founder/writer for GAYoda: Today’s global magazine for gay Christians. Contact Dr. Rosebush at email@example.com.