In 2006, a story about Michele Bachmann in the Minneapolis City Pages delved into husband Marcus’s involvement in the ex-gay movement. The piece quoted Curt Prins, an attendee at a conservative conference where Marcus, a therapist who runs a Christian counseling practice, gave a presentation, “The Truth About the Homosexual Agenda,” arguing that homosexuality is both a choice and a threat. As a finale, he brought up three people, including a prominent ex-gay activist named Janet Boynes, who testified about leaving homosexuality behind. “One of them said, 'If I was born gay, then I'll have to be born again,'" Prins recalled. "The crowd went crazy."
Yet when the City Pages reporter asked Marcus if his clinic performs so-called reparative therapy—a widely discredited technique meant to turn gay people straight—Marcus denied it. And over the years he has kept denying it, despite plenty of evidence that both he and Michele are deeply committed to the idea that homosexuality can be cured.
If there was any doubt that he was lying, it disappeared on Friday, when The Nation broke news of an investigation by Truth Wins Out, a group devoted to combating the ex-gay movement. “Undeniably, 100 percent, the Bachmann clinic practices reparative therapy, which tries to cure gay people of their homosexuality,” says Wayne Besen, Truth Wins Out’s founder.
Responding to queries about Bachmann’s clinic from reporters—myself among them—Besen recently put out a call for former Bachmann patients, and a young man named Andrew Ramirez responded. As Ramirez told The Nation, after he came out in 2004, the summer before his senior year, his evangelical stepfather had dragged him to Bachmann & Associates. There, a therapist told him he should renounce his sexual orientation. “He basically said being gay was not an acceptable lifestyle in God’s eyes,” said Ramirez.
To prove that reparative therapy continues at Bachmann’s clinic to this day, Truth Wins Out sent a 26-year-old staffer, John Becker, to pose as a patient there. Armed with hidden cameras, Becker attended five sessions with therapist Timothy Wiertzema, who assured him that it’s possible to rid himself of same-sex attractions. “I think it’s possible to be totally free of them,” Wiertzema says in a transcript of the sessions provided to The Daily Beast. “[I]t’s happened to a number of people. I don’t know how many, but…that’s for sure.”
A key tenet of ex-gay ideology is that there’s no such thing as homosexuality, only homosexual feelings and acts. Echoing this idea, Wiertzema told Becker, “[W]e’re all heterosexuals, but we have different challenges.” To overcome his particular challenges, Wiertzema instructed Becker to attend the ex-gay Outpost Ministry, to “further develop your own sense of masculinity,” and to cultivate an attraction to females by paying attention to beautiful women and acknowledging “the fact, like okay, God made her this way, you know, that’s awesome.”
In the transcripts, Wiertzema comes off as caring and not particularly dogmatic. When Becker asks him for advice about a possible invitation to a friend’s same-sex wedding, the therapist says that, in his place, he wouldn’t go, but he leaves the choice up to his client. (Should Becker decide to attend, Wiertzema suggests, he should bring a straight, Christian friend along to hold him accountable.) He clearly means well.
But reparative therapy is dangerous no matter how good the intentions behind it. It doesn’t work, and it exacerbates the self-loathing that leads gays and lesbians to seek it out in the first place. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “The potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.” The American Psychological Association condemned reparative therapy in a 1997 resolution, affirming the principle that “psychologists do not make false or deceptive statements concerning...the scientific or clinical basis for...their services.”
So Bachmann’s clinic, which has received $137,000 in Medicaid funds, is subjecting people to psychologically damaging techniques with no scientific basis. Wiertzema’s approach is not unique there. Indeed, the clinic sells copies of Janet Boynes book Called Out: A Former Lesbian’s Discovery of Freedom, which argues, “Homosexuality, like any sin, separates us from God, for He cannot tolerate sin in His presence.” Becker photographed stacks of the books in the Bachmann & Associates office. Hanging above them was a typed endorsement from Marcus Bachmann saying, “Janet is a friend. I recommend this book as she speaks to the heart of the matter and gives practical insights of truth to set people free.”
Neither Bachmann nor many of his therapists, it’s important to note, have serious psychological training. His Ph.D. comes from the Union Institute, a Cincinnati-based correspondence school; in 2002, it was cited by the Ohio Board of Regents, which said, “Expectations for student scholarship at the doctoral level were not as rigorous as is common for doctoral work.” As Politico has reported, he’s not licensed with any of the boards that certify mental-health professionals in Minnesota, one of the few states that allows unlicensed people to practice mental-health care. Similarly, Wiertzema’s M.A. comes from Argosy University, a for-profit diploma mill.
Why does any of this matter? Bachmann may be dishonest about his practice, but he’s not the one running for president. Yet in describing herself as a small-business owner, Michele Bachmann clearly takes partial credit for Bachmann & Associates, and so its activities reflect on her. Besides, she’s made it clear that Marcus exerts authority over her, telling one church audience that she bowed to her husband’s instructions to study tax law because “the Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.” That means his character and beliefs are more germane to her candidacy than those of other political spouses. He’s the head of the woman who wants to be the head of country. He’s also a man with dubious qualifications running a clinic whose counseling techniques can ruin lives.