It’s a foggy afternoon in Portland, Oregon. I meet Will at the downtown art museum where a cabal of fine printmakers are gathered. He has served in Americorps and we knew each other from South Florida, where we worked in tandem for LGBT community service organizations.
Will works in the field of public health. He is gay.
He is also a survivor of conversion therapy.
I’m meeting Will to talk about the recent revelation by one of the industry’s top therapists, David Matheson. A Mormon, Matheson said he is gay and “sorry for the confusion and pain my choice may be causing others.”
“He’s a dishonest tool,” Will said when first asked about Matheson.
The three sessions cost Will’s parents quite a small fortune. Will described Matheson’s approach “a mind fuck.”
On Jan. 24, the I Am Gay’. In the piece, Matheson apologizes to his clients and said he is seeking a gay partner. “I can no longer live without an intimate partnership with another man,” Matheson told KSL-TV.in Salt Lake City published the following headline: Popular Utah Conversion Therapist Comes Out: ‘
Back in Portland, Will is pissed. As we dined on chicken drumsticks and dessert at the restaurant inside Hilton’s new boutique hotel, Will condemned Matheson’s nonchalant attitude.
“Now he’s saying I’m a white gay man and this doesn’t apply to me anyone,” Will said with a tone that suggests underlying anger.
Will is 28 now. He’s been in Portland for almost two years, studying biology at Portland State University. He’s dated and had relationships with men and knows what awaits Matheson on the gay side.
“This guy is going to be a daddy now,” Will said.
Conversion therapy has become such an issue some states and municipalities havethe practice on minors. Truth Wins Out is a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting anti-gay prejudice. TWO Executive Director Wayne Besen said Matheson has undoubtedly caused harm.
“David Matheson has ruined a lot of lives in Utah,” Besen said. “He has harmed a lot of people. There are people who will want their money back.”
In a statement on Jan. 22, TWO blasted Matheson: “David Matheson seems more invested in his own journey than the people whose lives he’s ruined. May his ‘growth’ bring him to a place where he can help his victims, as well as prevent future harm. Perhaps with time he will become a better human being.”
For his part, Matheson told NBC he planned to remain a Mormon and is still an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“My core faith is unchanged. The core principles, the core concepts in the church, I believe them. I feel them as strongly as I ever did,” Matheson said.
Meanwhile, Will said he is having a hard time reconciling his religious views.
“I get really put off by Christian couples,” he said. And the Mormons – who he once sang in the choir with – bring about sour feelings as well.
“They’re always promoting and staying busy,” he said. “They believe an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. I think those type of people are pathetic. A lot of the judgment and guilt is still enacted.”
Will left the restaurant that night on foot – back to his small apartment in the university district. Reached by telephone a week later and asked why his parents sent him to conversion therapy to begin with, Will struggled for an answer.
“They don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “It’s embarrassing to them.”