Psychologist Joseph Nicolosi, who stood for decades as one of the most stalwart defenders of ex-gay therapy, died on Wednesday from complications with the flu. He was 70. Nicolosi’s death was confirmed yesterday on Facebook by the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in Encino, California.
"Joe was certainly a larger-than-life, one-of-a-kind guy. Never worried about political correctness, he was happy to swim against the cultural tide when he was sure the culture was going in the wrong direction,” his wife, Linda Nicolosi, wrote in the announcement.
“That got him into trouble quite a few times,” she added.
Considered the father of conversion therapy, also known as “ex-gay” or “reparative therapy,” Nicolosi believed a person could change their sexual orientation through a barrage of bizarre –– and often severe –– psychological treatments. But, as his wife noted, that belief was increasingly at odds with both science and culture. His beliefs were dismissed by almost every major medical and psychological authority, and many expressed concern that conversion therapy caused harm.
Most strikingly, in 2006, the American Psychological Association (APA) stated, “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.” The APA added, “Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”
Nicolosi had a long history of defending the discredited therapy.
In 1992, he founded the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) with Charles Socarides and Benjamin Kaufman, themselves controversial figures. The three doctors claimed he were starting NARTH because, they believed, the American Psychiatric Association’s declassification of homosexuality in 1973 was due to political correctness and avoided an honest discussion of the topic.
Based in Nicolosi’s Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in California, NARTH claimed its work was based on scientific facts, and treated many members of the LGBT community. But as the law began to slowly acknowledge LGBT rights, and the U.S. Supreme Court recognizing same-sex marriage in 2015, Nicolosi and conversion therapy came under scrutiny.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, along with other attorneys, brought a consumer fraud lawsuit against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH (formerly known as Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality). During the trial a superior court judge barred six experts from testifying, including Nicolosi. “[T]he theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it instead is outdated and refuted,” Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. said.
While the anti-LGBT movement, which defended conversion therapy as justification for their opposition, was largely silent in response to Nicolosi’s death, opponents of conversion therapy took to social media to respond with anger and pain.
“Joseph Nicolosi died the way he lived: in sadness. It’s a pain many of us know all too well. He managed to turn his into a multi-million dollar industry of self-hatred, from which the casualties are too many to count,” Twitter user Sam Ames wrote on Thursday. “There is no part of this story that is not heartbreaking.”
Ames continued, “Tonight, I’ll be lighting a candle for every person this man hurt, turned against their own heart, or made to believe was born anything other than perfect — starting with himself. May his unhappy ending be the last of its kind.”