A prominent member of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) is under fire for publishing an essay in which he argues that Africans were fortunate to have been sold into slavery, and the civil rights movement was "irrational."
"There is another way, or other ways, to look at the race issue in America," writes Gerald Schoenewolf, a member of NARTH's Science Advisory Committee. "Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle... Life there was savage ... and those brought to America, and other countries, were in many ways better off."
NARTH is a coalition of psychologists who believe it's possible to "cure" homosexuality, a position rejected by the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association. The controversy over Schoenewolf's apology for slavery has battered the so-called "ex-gay" movement with accusations of racial bigotry for the first time. The movement's leaders and their close allies at Christian Right powerhouses like Focus on the Family have failed to condemn Schoenwolf's inflammatory arguments.
Titled "Gay Rights and Political Correctness: A Brief History," Schoenewolf's angry polemic was published on NARTH's website. In addition to his outrageous historical claims about the conditions of life in Africa, he writes that human rights proponents are intellectually stunted. (Schoenewolf draws upon Swiss child psychologist Jean Piaget, who theorized four stages of intellectual development, with the most advanced stage consisting of abstract and complex thinking. "[F]ollowers in the Human Rights Movement," have not reached this stage, according to Schoenewolf.)
Schoenewolf, a psychotherapist who lives in New York City, is director of The Living Center, an online therapy center for people in the arts. He has authored 14 books, among them The Art of Hating, in which he writes, "Many people talk about hate, but few know how to hate well."
When interviewed last week for this article, Schoenewolf stood by his comments on the intellectual inferiority of civil rights movement supporters. "The civil rights movement has from the beginning and today seen itself as good and others are evil, like slaveowners are evil," he said.
During the interview, Schoenewolf lambasted civil rights, women's rights, and gay rights. "All such movements are destructive," he said. He also claimed the American Psychological Association, of which he is a member, "has been taken over by extremist gays."
Schoenewolf's essay first appeared on NARTH's website in the fall of 2005, but apparently went unnoticed by critics until mid-September, around the time the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a black gay and lesbian advocacy organization, delivered to NARTH a formal letter of protest.
"In the name of propriety, respect, common decency and professional integrity, the National Black Justice Coalition strongly urges NARTH to issue a public apology on the front page of its website for publishing such an outrageous and offensive article," wrote H. Alexander Robinson. "We also hope that you reevaluate your relationship with Dr. Schoenewolf, whose peculiar views have no place in civilized discourse."
Then, in late September, the gay rights group Truth Wins Out called on Focus on the Family to cancel a speaking appearance by NARTH executive director Joseph Nicolosi scheduled for a Focus on the Family conference held September 23 in Palm Springs, Calif.
Nicolosi appeared as planned. But the Schoenewolf essay was erased from NARTH's website the same day as the Focus on the Family conference. Then, on October 6, NARTH posted this statement to its website: "NARTH regrets the comments made by Dr. Schoenwolf about slavery which have been misconstrued by some of our readers. It should go without saying that we do not wish to minimize the suffering of those who have been mistreated because of race, sex, religious beliefs or sexual orientation." The statement makes no mention of the civil rights movement.
Nicolosi has yet to publicly address the future of Schoenewolf's relationship with NARTH. He also did not respond to multiple voice mail messages and E-mails seeking comment for this article. Michael Haley, manager of Focus on the Family's homosexuality and gender department, likewise did not respond. Calls and E-mails to Focus on the Family press managers went unanswered.
For now, Schoenewolf remains a member of NARTH's Science Advisory Committee. This committee has "the authority of opinion and the authority of their recommendations," over what is published by NARTH, according to former committee member David Blakeslee, who resigned in protest over the Schoenewolf essay Sept. 29.
"Whenever a scientific organization speaks inaccurately about science and conflates it with politics, the general public can be significantly misled and harmed," he wrote in his letter of resigation.
Interviewed by the Report, Blakeslee added: "Schoenewolf's article was so over the line that it justifiably outraged a number of people."
Even so, other NARTH members have leapt to Schoenewolf's defense on the organization's official blog, whose administrator, "Sojourneer," summed up the outcry over the essay as "lies and distortion, in an attempt to discredit Narth [sic] and Dr. Shoenewolf [sic]."
"Just because Schoenewolf said some good can come out of a bad situation [slavery] does not make him a racist," the NARTH administrator wrote. "It was just his opinion and does not reflect Narth's [sic] position on the topic."
So what exactly is NARTH's position on equal rights for non-whites? On the NARTH website, the section marked "NARTH and Civil Rights" states: "It is NARTH's position that science, not activism, should inform legal decisions and public policies," a position that could easily be read to support Schoenewolf's hostility towards the civil rights movement. NARTH's position statement is particularly ironic in light of the organization's close relationship with Focus on the Family, which clearly engages in political activism.
Blakeslee isn't the only NARTH supporter to sever ties with the organization over its failure to denounce Schoenewolf.
"This was a slam dunk. They should have said, 'These are not our views.' People have asked them to clarify what they meant by this and [instead] they've in fact defended it," says Warren Throckmorton, a professor of psychology at Grove City College and a former member of NARTH.
Before the Schoenewolf controversy, Throckmorton was slated to present at NARTH's annual conference in November in Orlando, Fla. Now, he's pulled out, and wants nothing to do with the group.
"This stuff about political correctness and slavery is very far outfield," he said. "I'm appalled by it, and a lot of people within NARTH are as well, but they don't have the authority to speak out on it. And those who do have the authority aren't."