David Matheson has quit the “ex-gay” movement and is seeking to date men, according to the organization Truth Wins Out (TWO), which revealed Matheson’s plans in a Jan. 20 press release at its website.
TWO is a think tank and advocacy organization that works against right-wing extremism and anti-LGBT prejudice and has also spent years tracking the ex-gay movement. “Conversion” or “ex-gay” therapy is the harmful and pseudoscientific practice of attempting to make homosexual or bisexual people heterosexual and to keep trans people from affirming the gender with which they identify.
According to TWO, Matheson's fellow ex-gay leader Rich Wyler announced his exit in a post to a private Facebook group that TWO acquired. Wyler is director and founder of the infamous ex-gay program “Journey into Manhood,” which Matheson helped design. The think tank said Wyler wrote, “David … says that living a single, celibate life just isn’t feasible for him, so he’s seeking a male partner. He has gone from bisexuality to exclusively gay.”
Matheson did not respond to a request for comment from Hatewatch, but in a Jan. 21 post on his Facebook page, he stated, “A year ago I realized I had to make substantial changes in my life. I realized I couldn’t stay in my marriage [to a woman] any longer. And I realized that it was time for me to affirm myself as gay.”
Further on in the statement, Matheson took both the right and left to task, noticing “how my coming out has been co-opted by people and groups with agendas on both ends of the ideological spectrum.” It’s sad, he continued, “to think about how impoverished these adamantly ideological groups remain because they don’t know how to dialogue.”
I used to be caught in an ideological prison of my own. I know my work helped many, many people because they’ve told me so. But I’m sure I’ve hurt some people too. Not that I would excuse myself, but any shortcoming I had as a therapist came from too narrow a view of what ‘emotionally healthy’ can look like. They came from my own homophobia and narrow mindedness. I am truly sorry for those flaws and the harm they have surely caused some people. And I’m sorry for the confusion and pain my choice may be causing others.
“What you can take from this,” Matheson continued, “is that my time in a straight marriage and in the ‘ex-gay’ world was genuine and sincere and a rich blessing to me.” But, he said, he had quit growing and had to change.
Matheson joins a growing list of prominent people who have left the ex-gay movement. Those include Michael Bussee, one of the original founders of the well-known ex-gay group Exodus (the U.S. branch shut down in 2013); John Paulk, the poster-child for ex-gay group Love Won Out; John Smid, former director of ex-gay group Love In Action and Tim Rymel, former outreach director at Love In Action. Alan Chambers, former head of Exodus U.S., announced in 2013 that he was shutting the ministry down and apologized to LGBT communities for the pain and hurt the organization had caused through its attempts to change them.
Matheson began his professional training in ex-gay therapy in the early 1990s when he worked in Utah with ex-gay Mormon organization Evergreen International. He would later open a practice in the New York City area in 2002, but he returned to Utah in 2007. (The Gender Wholeness site linked in this paragraph was working earlier this week but by Tuesday appears to have been closed; an archived version still exists on archive.org.)
He holds a master’s degree in counseling and guidance from Brigham Young University, and trained under the late Joseph Nicolosi, a prominent ex-gay therapist who spent his life pushing conversion therapy. Nicolosi, who believed that male homosexuality was a developmental disorder caused by childhood trauma and “gender confusion,” was a founder and past president of the National Association of the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), perhaps the best-known secular organization pushing conversion therapy in the U.S.
NARTH rebranded in 2014 as conversion therapy came under more public scrutiny and criticism. Now the NARTH Institute, it’s embedded within the ex-gay organization Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, which launched about the same time as the NARTH rebrand.
Matheson’s emphasis was on developing “gender wholeness,” according to a 2007 New York Times article. One of the underlying premises of ex-gay therapy is that LGBT people need to act in accordance with a strict gender binary, which will help them be heterosexual. Matheson’s website called “Gender Wholeness,” which was supposed to help members of the LDS faith struggling with being gay or bisexual, launched in 2013.
Matheson is also a co-creator of the infamous “Journey into Manhood ” program, which involves taking groups of men “struggling with same-sex attraction” on retreats into the woods, though the program claims it’s for any man “who wants to address unresolved issues around men and masculinity in a safe, supportive yet challenging group environment.”
Matheson’s 2013 book, Becoming a Whole Man, purports to help men struggling with homosexuality to “reach their masculine potential” and to “enjoy community with other men.” At the website for that book, Matheson states:
This may beg the question, “Are you saying that wholeness will cure homosexuality?” No, I’m not. I haven’t found anything that “cures” homosexuality. Cure implies getting rid of a disease. Homosexuality is not a disease. Nor is it, in my experience, something one simply gets rid of. But it is something one can diminish, give different meaning to, and move to the sidelines in one’s life. This is why I use the term “resolve” when I speak of journeying with unwanted same-sex attraction. “Resolve” can imply clearing something up, reaching a decision, or creating consonance out of dissonance. That’s a good way to think of the kinds of changes that wholeness can bring to your journey. It’s vital, though, that we view resolving same-sex attraction as an imperfect and ongoing process–not as a short path leading to a final conclusion. In this way it’s much like many other character traits a person might want to change.
The ex-gay industry suffers setbacks, but rebrands and keeps going
The ex-gay industry has taken several hits in recent years, including the loss of prominent leaders and groups. Exodus U.S. shut down in 2013 and soon after that, an SPLC-brought lawsuit against ex-gay group JONAH (Jews Organizing for New Alternatives to Homosexuality; later Jews Organizing for New Alternatives to Healing) shut it down in 2015 after a jury ruled that the group’s practices amounted to consumer fraud.
Conversion therapy has been targeted on the political front, as well. Currently, fifteen states, the District of Columbia, and several municipalities have banned the practice for minors.
None of this has ended the practice. Conversion therapy practitioners and supporters are simply rebranding under new names like the Restored Hope Network and the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Integrity while JONAH allegedly re-launched under a different name in violation of a court order to shut down. There are also attempts to rebrand the practice itself.
Joseph Nicolosi Jr. (the son of the late Joseph Nicolosi), for example, has re-packaged conversion therapy under something called “reintegrative therapy,” which Nicolosi Jr. insists is “entirely separate from” conversion therapy, and rather is an approach that is not unlike established counseling approaches to address trauma and addiction. Nicolosi Jr.’s website claims that “as these dynamics are resolved, the client’s sexuality can sometimes change on its own.”
Anti-LGBT and ex-gay groups have also begun using “religious liberty” and “free speech” arguments to promote and defend conversion therapy and, in 2018, started calling bans “must stay gay” bills, rebranding the practice as “individual choice” while negating the practice’s harmful history. Currently, a conversion therapy app is available on Google Play, despite backlash and the fact that both Apple and Amazon refuse to carry it.
Update: David Matheson gave an exclusive interview to the U.K.'s Channel 4 News published Jan. 31. He told interviewer Minnie Stephenson that he looked back on his participation in the ex-gay movement as “horrifying” and added that the pseudoscientific treatment “creates a lot of sorrow.” Matheson said, "I regret my part in perpetuating those ideas. Perpetuating the idea that being gay is a pathology, a disorder, perpetuating the idea that God is not okay with people being gay." He also repudiated the idea that therapy can change a person's sexual orientation and, according to Stephenson, pulled his book, Becoming a Whole Man, from publication.
Matheson told Stephenson, "Any therapy that is based on the idea that being gay is a psychological disorder, which it's not, that believes that being gay is wrong or bad, which it's not, and that it can be changed and ought to be changed – any therapy based on that idea has a great potential of harming people. And that kind of therapy should be stopped."
Photo credit Hume Clinic