In the summer of 2004, Andrew Ramirez, who was just about to enter his senior year of high school, worked up the nerve to tell his family he was gay. His mother took the news in stride, but his stepfather, a conservative Christian, was outraged. “He said it was wrong, an abomination, that it was something he would not tolerate in his house,” Ramirez recalls. A few weeks later, his parents marched him into the office of Bachmann & Associates, a Christian counseling center in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, which is owned by Michele Bachmann’s husband, Marcus. From the outset, Ramirez says, his therapist—one of roughly twenty employed at the Lake Elmo clinic—made it clear that renouncing his sexual orientation was the only moral choice. “He basically said being gay was not an acceptable lifestyle in God’s eyes,” Ramirez recalls. According to Ramirez, his therapist then set about trying to “cure” him. Among other things, he urged Ramirez to pray and read the Bible, particularly verses that cast homosexuality as an abomination, and referred him to a local church for people who had given up the “gay lifestyle.” He even offered to set Ramirez up with an ex-lesbian mentor.
Ramirez was not impressed. After his second appointment, he resolved not to go back, despite the turmoil it might cause in his family. “I didn’t feel it was something that I wanted to change, and I didn’t think it could be changed,” he says. “I was OK with who I was.”
As Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann has surged in the polls, the spotlight has turned on her husband and main political adviser, Marcus Bachmann, who has a PhD in clinical psychology and owns two Christian counseling centers in Minnesota. There has been a great deal of speculation that his clinics, which have received $161,000 in state and federal funding, try to cure homosexuality—and the chatter has only grown louder since his comments likening gays to “barbarians” who “need to be educated” and “disciplined” surfaced in the blogosphere last week. Marcus Bachmann has denied these allegations. “That’s a false statement,” he replied when the Minneapolis City Pages asked if his clinic tried to cure gays. And until now there was no firm evidence to back these allegations up. But information obtained by The Nation suggests that Bachmann & Associates therapists do, in fact, try to change sexual orientation. It also sheds new light on the Bachmanns’ embrace of the controversial ex-gay movement and related psychological approaches, which portray homosexuality as a disease to be rooted out.
Some of the most potent material was provided by Truth Wins Out, a gay rights group that opposes the ex-gay movement. In late June, a Truth Wins Out activist named John Becker donned two hidden cameras—one embedded in a wristwatch—and attended five treatment sessions at Bachmann’s Lake Elmo clinic. Becker, who is openly gay, presented himself as a committed Christian who was struggling with homosexuality. The video he collected seems to confirm Ramirez’s allegations that staff members at Bachmann & Associates try to change sexual orientation. Becker’s therapist (another of Marcus Bachmann’s employees) repeatedly assured him that homosexuality could be overcome. “At the core value…in terms of how God created us, we’re all heterosexual,” he explained, according to the footage. “God has created you for heterosexuality.” The therapist also mined Becker’s personal history for traumatic experiences that might have turned him gay. To curb Becker’s gay impulses, the therapist urged him to pray and read Scripture and suggested Becker “develop” his masculinity. He also encouraged him to find a “heterosexual guy” to act as an AA-type sponsor. Later, he referred Becker to Outpost Ministries, a church that helps “the sexually and relationally broken”—in other words, homosexuals—“find healing and restoration through relationship with Jesus Christ.”