The Lesbian Who Outed Scientology’s Homophobia
Michelle LeClair claims the Church of Scientology, which she gave around $5 million to as a member, viciously turned on her after she came out. The church denies her story.
One of Michelle LeClair’s twin children, aged almost 10, wrote in a recent class project, “I want to be a lawyer so I can fight for my family.”
LeClair, 45, teared up recalling this to The Daily Beast, and it wasn’t the only time she would do so in an interview in which she told her long and complicated story about being gay and feeling persecuted by the Church of Scientology, where she was a member for over 20 years, from age 18 to 40.
The Church denies any notion that it is homophobic, and claims LeClair is “manufacturing controversies to divert attention from the fact that she bilked millions of dollars” from investors in a Ponzi scheme.
In her revealing book Perfectly Clear: Escaping Scientology and Fighting for the Woman I Love (Berkley, $27, written with Robin Gaby Fisher), LeClair tells the story of a church that, she claimed, did not seek to help her escape from what she alleges was an abusive heterosexual marriage; and one which allegedly turned against her when she made it clear she was in love with Tena, the woman she fell for.
The “witch-hunt” against her (LeClair’s words) began after she left the church in 2012, after she says it sought to discourage her from being gay within hostile “auditing” counseling sessions, in which she was allegedly told by a church counselor that she would lose everything, personally and professionally, if she was gay and in a relationship with a woman.
She estimates she ended up giving $5 million to the church.
“I don’t know how the Church of Scientology can come out and say it’s not homophobic,” LeClair told The Daily Beast. “If they don’t agree with gay relationships they should let people know before they join the church. They are applying their version of gay conversion therapy.
“I can only tell you for me being gay was never an option inside the church, even when I thought I was a big enough donor and high enough in the church. I thought I could bring the church into the 21st century and be a rainbow-flag waving Scientologist. They were not having it.”
‘Homosexuals get sick easily. They get AIDS... Is that the group you want to be part of?’
As LeClair told NBC’s Megyn Kelly, she originally joined the church, following her mother, after a bad car accident. She married her now ex-husband at 21, and they had four children. She said that she was first outed as a lesbian in a report to the church’s “ethics department,” after years of “auditing,” a kind of in-house psychological counseling.
One ethics officer told her, she writes in the book: “‘Gay’ is a psych term that makes homosexuality less of a crime. Homosexuals get sick easily. They get AIDS. They cannot procreate. Many have committed crimes of sexual deviance. You don’t know one because they hide their crimes. Is that the group you want to be part of?”
No, LeClair recalled replying, her eyes welling with tears. She claims the male ethics officers was more interested in her infidelity with another woman than in her now ex-husband’s alleged infidelity with another woman.
“Do you fantasize about women when you masturbate?” the ethics officer asked LeClair. “What exactly is your fantasy?”
That ethics officer told LeClair she had a choice. “Did I really want to be part of a damned culture, one prone to promiscuity, AIDS and a lifetime of sickness and misery?”
She said a church official said that the church would not accept it, that she would not have a normal life, that her kids would end up getting sick, and her business would fail. This was terribly hard for LeClair to hear: as a Scientologist, she describes in the book how engaged for a long time she was with the desired path for members on "the Bridge to Total Freedom" to reach "clear"—the most positive psychological state.
In their counseling sessions, LeClair writes, she had to promise to her now ex-husband that she “would be a good heterosexual wife,” make a list of policies to prevent the same transgression (of having same-sex relations) again; “avoid all association with homosexuals”; and “seek forgiveness” from heterosexual Scientologists.”
This, at the time, she did.
A spokesperson for the Church of Scientology denied LeClair’s accounts. “Ms. LeClair’s false claims that the church knew about and ignored spousal abuse by her husband are belied by the church’s policy to report such abuse. That the church forbade Ms. Clair from divorcing an abusive spouse is ridiculous. Divorce is no less common in Scientology than in the general population.”
Her ex-husband denied all the accusations LeClair made about his behavior and their marriage in an interview with The Daily Beast. They met in 1992, married in 1994, separated in 2008, and were finally divorced in 2010.
He said he had not read the book, but claimed he had never physically or emotionally abused LeClair.
“Nothing could be further from the truth, those stories aren’t true at all,” he said.
He also said the church had not forced them to stay married in any way. The counseling sessions had been open-minded, and at the end of every one they had decided to stay together, he said.
He claimed his ex-wife’s book and publicity is “just a ruse. She is trying to use the #MeToo movement to help sales of the book. She is trying to get people to feel sorry for her. It’s the only reason I can think of that she is bringing these false allegations up.”
In response, LeClair said: “I’ve never known an abuser who admits to the abuse or who doesn’t deflect blame onto his victims.” In 2012, she was granted a restraining order against her ex-husband.
When she finally fell in love with a woman, LeClair says her relationship with Tena (called Charley in the book) was exposed to fellow members of the church. She doesn’t know how news of her relationship with Tena was leaked.
For a while after her coming out, LeClair said, the Church seemed OK with her. Another woman approached LeClair to say she had inspired her to tell her own husband that she was gay.
Then LeClair discovered a report had been written on her, saying she had tried to “convert” that woman into a lesbian.
LeClair says this is a total lie; that young woman, she writes, was ordered to be “cured” at Flag, the spiritual headquarters of the Church of Scientology in Clearwater, Florida.
LeClair was then taken “into session,” and “made to read policies on what L. Ron Hubbard said. You are made to believe you are in the wrong body, the wrong lifetime. There had to be something wrong in the marriage, or I had done something wrong to the opposite sex to have an attraction to the same sex. You feel so degraded.
“There is so much questioning within ourselves as gay people that you believe you are doing something wrong.”
Originally, LeClair had believed in the church and in her love for Tena. She thought she could “have it all.” Now she thinks she was naïve, but at the time she thought she had “looked good” for the role the church wanted her to play, as a spokesperson for youth for human rights. She donated a lot of money to the church.
LeClair doesn’t know if it was divine intervention or the fact that her love was so strong for Tena, but it was “a lightning bolt” that woke her up.
“I have learned there is an instinctual guttural feeling we have as human beings, and when you don’t follow that your gut you make some wrong choices. At that time, my gut was telling me to run from the church and run to Tena, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
She said she made the mistake of telling her former business partner Dror Soref about her same-sex relationship; she suspects Soref and/or his wife told the church about her sexuality. (In an interview with The Daily Beast, Soref denied all the allegations LeClair makes against him.)
LeClair said she was told that if she left the church she would get cancer, or suffer car accidents, that somehow they universe would attack her if she ever left Scientology.
A Church of Scientology spokesperson would not address LeClair’s specific allegations of the church’s anti-gay speech and actions towards her.
A spokesperson said, “It should be clear that we dispute what she is contending, but we elect not to be diverted by what is a total red herring on her part.”
The church meant that, for them, the focus should be on LeClair’s legal prosecution, not its attitude to LGBT people. It even sent The Daily Beast a detailed timeline of LeClair’s legal travails, as well as a collection of court documents relating to it, which it had compiled.
LeClair claims that after she left the church, she was followed. One day, there was a woman sitting in a van outside her house. Her mother asked the woman what she was doing. The woman said she was a cleaner on a lunch break. But LeClair says she was in fact from some kind of unspecified “investigatory office.”
“Can I tell you she was from the Church of Scientology? I cannot, but having used similar tactics against other people I can only make that assumption,” said LeClair.
From the first time she was raided by police in 2014, LeClair writes in her book, “My life unspooled as if I were a character in a suspense novel. Strange cars idle at the curb outside my home at all hours of the day. Men wearing dark glasses follow me to the grocery store, the airport and my kids’ school. My computer and phone have been hacked.”
The church vociferously denies it had any involvement in any such activities, as does the individual named by the pseudonym “Celeste” in the book, a Scientologist who was LeClair’s assistant and whom LeClair suspected of acting as a spy for the Church.
The church sent The Daily Beast a statement from Josefina Dobin, the assistant known as “Celeste” in the book, denying doing anything nefarious while she was LeClair’s assistant. Dobin also denied that the church was anti-gay towards LeClair. She considered LeClair’s portrait of her “false and defamatory.”
“I feel like my life was stolen,” said LeClair of her time in Scientology. “I’m not formally educated. I made the decision, through the pressure of the church, to be educated by the church. I feel that if I was better educated I would not have made some of the decisions I made in my life.
“I feel the opportunity to explore my sexuality was stolen from me, and I feel I was forced to live a heterosexual life which became extremely abusive. I felt the church condoned the abuse, and did nothing about that abuse when I begged for their help. I was not allowed to go to the police, and not allowed to go see a psychiatrist. I was not allowed to do anything to protect myself outside of what the church offered.”
“I feel the church did many things to me. It’s important to let the public know that this is a group that will consume your entire life, and push out anyone on the outside that is helping you see clearly.”
Now, she said, there is nothing more she can do other than tell her story, and hope to inspire others, especially LGBT people who, if they are considering joining the Church of Scientology, she recommends: “I would say, ‘Run as far as you can.’ This is not a church.
“Whether you are gay or straight, do not set foot near people on the sidewalk asking you to do stress or personality tests. I think adults should tell children when they are young not just not to talk to strangers, but also about cults and the Church of Scientology.”
‘We are outraged by her attempt to slander the Church’
“Michelle LeClair’s story is pure fiction from a scam artist,” a spokesperson from the Church of Scientology told The Daily Beast. “We are outraged by her attempt to slander the church by falsely stating that she was discriminated against because of her homosexuality.
“It is well-known that the church takes no position on sexual orientation and Ms. LeClair’s claims are completely invented. If you are going to forward such claims, there are other religions who do take a strong position on the subject, but this is just not our issue at all. The fact that the church had any issue with her sexuality is untrue.”
In a further statement sent to The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology said, “The church is not homophobic. It strongly espouses human rights for all individuals, regardless of race, faith, nationality, or sexual preference.”
However, the spokesperson would not clarify the church’s views on specific LGBT-related issues when asked by The Daily Beast to substantiate what this general statement precisely, and practically, entailed.
A spokesperson declined to comment on whether the church specifically supported marriage equality for LGBT people, anti-discrimination provisions for LGBT people, federal or state bans on conversion therapy, and whether LGBT couples should be allowed to foster or adopt children. Instead, it referred a reporter twice to the church’s general statement.
A spokesperson further declined to say if the church supported the idea and principle of conversion therapy.
The church’s contention that it is open to, and accepting of LGBT, people is in stark contrast to how L. Ron Hubbard, the church’s founder, saw LGBT people.
Quite to the contrary of having “no position” on homosexuality, the church of Scientology, at least historically, did—thanks to Hubbard.
In his 1951 book Science of Survival, Hubbard originated what Scientologists call the “tone scale,” by which people’s emotional health is measured. Gay people are found at 1.1, between “fear” (at 1.0) and “anger” (at 1.5), and alongside “the level of the pervert, the hypocrite, the turncoat, ...the subversive.” 1.1 also houses “general promiscuity.”
The film director Paul Haggis referred to this classification when he resigned from the church in protest, after the San Diego Scientology church signed an online petition in 2008 in support of Proposition 8, which—when passed—acted as California’s de-facto same-sex marriage ban.
In a letter to Tommy Davis, the chief spokesperson for the Church of Scientology International—quoted in an extensive feature on Haggis and the Church itself by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker in February 2011—Haggis wrote that “public sponsorship of Proposition 8, which succeeded in taking away the civil rights of gay and lesbian citizens of California—rights that were granted them by the Supreme Court of our state—is a stain on the integrity of our organization and a stain on us personally. Our public association with that hate-filled legislation shames us.”
In his letter, Haggis added: “I feel strongly about this for a number of reasons. You and I both know there has been a hidden anti-gay sentiment in the church for a long time. I have been shocked on too many occasions to hear Scientologists make derogatory remarks about gay people, and then quote L.R.H. (L. Ron Hubbard) in their defense.”
Haggis, wrote Wright, had also related a story about his daughter Katy, who had lost the friendship of a fellow Scientologist after revealing that she was a lesbian.
The friend told others, “Katy is ‘1.1’”—the number on the Tone Scale, referenced above by Hubbard, which also includes gay people.
As Wright (author of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief) put it: “A person classified ‘1.1’ was, Hubbard said, ‘Covertly Hostile’—‘the most dangerous and wicked level’—and he noted that people in this state engaged in such things as casual sex, sadism, and homosexual activity.”
Hubbard had more to say on gay people. In Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (1950), he wrote, “The sexual pervert (and by this term Dianetics, to be brief, includes any and all forms of deviation in dynamic two such as homosexuality, lesbianism, sexual sadism, etc., and all down the catalog of Ellis and Krafft-Ebing) is actually quite ill physically.”
In Science of Survival, Hubbard said that “people on this level…are intensely dangerous in the society, since aberration is contagious. A society which reaches this level is on its way out of history, as went the Greeks, as went the Romans, as goes modern European and American culture. Here is a flaming danger signal which must be heeded if a race is to go forward.”
“Such people should be taken from the society as rapidly as possible and uniformly institutionalized; for here is the level of the contagion of immorality, and the destruction of ethics…”
Hubbard continued: “The only answers would seem to be the permanent quarantine of such persons from society to avoid the contagion of their insanities and the general turbulence which they bring to any order, thus forcing it lower on the scale, or processing such persons until they have attained a level on the tone scale which gives them value.”
Hubbard added that those, like gay people, housed from 2.0 down on the Tone Scale, could either be raised in the numbered chart “by un-enturbulating some of their theta [analogous to the idea of one’s soul] by any one of three valid processes. The other is to dispose of them quietly and without sorrow.”
The Daily Beast asked the Church of Scientology if it still subscribed to Hubbard’s anti-gay writings, and if so how that sat next to its professed belief today in equality.
In response, a Church of Scientology spokesperson denied that Hubbard was homophobic.
“While you can parse through the 75 million words of Mr. Hubbard’s writings and lectures concerning his observations on the human condition for material you believe supports one political position over another, it would be dishonest.
“It would be equally dishonest to extract from the Bible exhortations to violence and murder to create prejudice and bigotry against Christians. No rational person would tolerate such an exercise in sophistry. The same should be true with respect to the Church of Scientology.
“Church policy and practice on this issue was firmly articulated by L. Ron Hubbard in 1967, when he wrote the following: ‘It has never been any part of my plans to regulate or attempt to regulate the private lives of individuals. Whenever this has occurred, it has not resulted in any improved condition. ... Therefore: all former rules, regulations and policies relating to the [sexual] activities of students, preclears, staff and Scientologists are cancelled.’”
LeClair dismissed the Church’s defense of its attitudes to LGBT people.
“L Ron Hubbard’s writing on gay people speaks for itself,” she told The Daily Beast in a written statement. “Hubbard’s Chart of Human Evaluation, the Church of Scientology’s numerical measure of one’s emotional state, places homosexuals at 1.1. According to Hubbard people at that level are considered ‘evil and untrustworthy, a criminal.’”
In Science of Survival, LeClair said, Hubbard wrote of “disposing” of those in 1.1 “quietly and without sorrow.” The Church of Scientology’s “Fair Game” policy also lays out what to do with anyone who speaks out against the church, she said. “They [defectors] may be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.” LeClair added: “The Church of Scientology is built on lies and known for its destructive behavior.”
LeClair and the alleged Ponzi scheme
In September 2012, the Department of Corporations filed a civil action against LeClair (then known as Michelle Seward) and her producing partner, Dror Soref, for state securities fraud.
Today, the Department of Business Oversight (DBO) is the successor agency to the Department of Corporations. On July 1, 2013, the Department of Corporations merged with the Department of Financial Institutions to form the Department of Business Oversight.
The DBO told The Daily Beast that LeClair and Soref promised investors that their monies would be invested in movie projects, including the direct-to-video Not Forgotten, and promised steady, high-interest returns. But some investors lost their life savings in the scheme when the movie projects failed to materialize or yield profits, according to the DBO.
LeClair said an anonymous letter had started the investigation process into her business; she firmly believes it was from a scientologist; the church said it was not.
The DBO said the case was based on victim complaints, investor documents, and records obtained from the defendants through discovery.
The DBO claimed LeClair had defrauded approximately 100 Californians (most of whom were seniors, living on fixed incomes) out of $23.1 million in retirement savings in connection with their alleged Ponzi scheme.
LeClair said she had lost millions of dollars, and would devote the rest of her life to making sure her clients recoup their losses. She added that she feels that the church turned “something that happened in my business, a man taking money from me, and made it look as if I did it.”
In 2014, the DBO entered into a settlement agreement with LeClair and Soref and both stipulated to a permanent injunction for securities fraud and agreed to repay $17.4 million in investor restitution. The Department of Insurance revoked LeClair’s insurance license.
In September 2015, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office filed a 72-count criminal indictment against LeClair and Soref. LeClair agreed to repay investors $1.2 million in ill-gotten gains (commissions) and agreed to testify at trial against her co-defendant and former producing partner, Soref, as part of a plea deal with the district attorney.
In November 2016, a judge deemed the state case against Soref was time barred under the statute of limitations.
In exchange for the state dismissing its criminal case against her, LeClair repaid investors $1.2 million in March 2017. The same month the state dismissed 70 of the 72 charges against Soref based on the statute of limitations, and another two were dropped through lack of proof of intent to defraud.
Lila Mirrashidi, deputy commissioner, policy, at the DBO told The Daily Beast: “LeClair was not cleared of any criminal charges. The statute of limitations just ran out. Any claim of innocence by LeClair, or that she fought successfully to clear herself of all charges, has no basis in facts or the evidence.
“The notion that this case had anything to do with Scientology is patently false, just like the claim she made to investors in her Ponzi scheme. LeClair conned Californians who were mostly seniors out of their life savings and she got caught.”
“The Church of Scientology had nothing to do with the case,” said Mirrashidi.
“I am not a Scientologist or connected to Scientology in any way,” added Mirrashidi. “Also, no one connected to this enforcement action from DBO—including Commissioner Owen—is a Scientologist or has any connections to Scientology. The claim that DBO’s actions in this case are rooted in anything other than fulfilling our duty to hold LeClair accountable for breaking the law and bringing justice to her victims is pure fantasy.”
In response, LeClair told The Daily Beast: “It is extremely concerning that the California Department of Business Oversight is making outright false and slanderous statements. The public court record speaks for itself. I maintained my innocence throughout the criminal investigation.
“I voluntarily submitted to an extensive interview with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and agreed to testify as a witness for the prosecution. As a result, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office dismissed all criminal charges against me in the interests of justice pursuant to Penal Code 1385. It saddens me that after all charges have been dropped, I am still having to defend myself. My experiences with the Church of Scientology are well documented in Perfectly Clear and I stand by my account.”
“I’ve never come out and said that I think the Church of Scientology was in collusion with the state,” LeClair told The Daily Beast in an interview. “I want to make that very clear. What I know for a fact, is that the moment I started a close relationship with a gay woman, an internal investigation was started on me by the church’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA). I was pulled in for questioning, so were my friends.”
Did LeClair accept she committed wrongdoing, that she was guilty of professional misconduct, The Daily Beast asked her.
“I look at that moment of my life every day and feel regretful. I was successful in one industry in life insurance. I got myself educated. I sopped up every single thing, and created an extra successful business. I didn’t need that man [Soref].”
“I lost my business, my livelihood, my license,” LeClair told The Daily Beast. “The moment I had any suspicion that the man was doing something wrong I contacted my clients immediately. I created a trust for them against the advice of my counsel. I made sure those people—my family, my clients—were taken care of before I was. I also fought to prove my innocence for three years, and the charges were dismissed. I will continue to work hard for them until they are paid, and the day they are paid I will have a great night’s sleep.”
LeClair hopes to get her life insurance license back again, and is also launching a line of beauty products.
A spokesperson for the church said, “It is shocking that an individual who narrowly escaped jail time for masterminding a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme would be deemed a credible source. Not shocking, however, is her new scheme to monetize her delusions at the expense of her former religion. Sadly, Ms. LeClair has turned the bitterness growing out of her financial malfeasance into an excuse to spread hate and bigotry for cash.”
Soref vehemently denied that he was responsible for the Ponzi scheme, and claimed LeClair was.
He first sent The Daily Beast a statement his lawyer, Bryan Altman, wrote: “Mr. Soref was absolved of all the criminal charges because of a lack of sufficient proof and based on the statute of limitations.
“He had no role in any of the fraudulent misrepresentations made by Michelle Seward or by anyone else acting at her direction to the victims of her crimes. In every case with every victim Mr. Soref had no interaction.
“Ms. Seward’s attempts to pin her criminal actions on Mr. Soref or to somehow tie them to the Church of Scientology ring hollow and are simply self-serving and entirely implausible.”
Altman continued: “If, as Ms. Seward maintains, the Church of Scientology prompted the criminal investigation into her actions as a result of some alleged disapproval of her lifestyle choice or sexual preference, how do you explain the fact that the exact same charges were alleged against Mr. Soref about whom the Church of Scientology has no concern or interest?
“How do you explain the fact that Ms. Seward’s fraudulent actions and the investigation of the same began and continued well before she indicated any sexual preference for women to anyone?
“If, as Ms. Seward maintains, the investigation and charges arose from some action on the part of the Church of Scientology, how do you explain the fact that none of the dozens of elderly and infirm victims—who were defrauded by Ms. Seward who herself received millions of dollars from her fraudulent actions—mentioned the Church of Scientology in any of their statements to investigating authorities or in their testimony in court or appeared to have any connection whatsoever to the church?”
Soref said he wasn’t presently attending the Church of Scientology, but declined to say why or for how long he had not.
In an interview, Soref told The Daily Beast that it was “absolutely ridiculous” that the church was homophobic. He said that when LeClair told him she was gay, he was accepting of it.
Soref claimed LeClair was creating “a fashionable cause célèbre” by claiming the church was homophobic. She had merged two separate issues—her own legal travails and Scientology’s alleged homophobia—for her own good, Soref said.
It wasn’t LeClair who left their business partnership after discovering his misdeeds, Soref said, but he who left her.
Soref also said there were “very famous people” who were gay who were Scientologists, but would not divulge their names.
In response to Soref’s claims, LeClair told the Daily Beast: “I knew in writing a book about my escape from Scientology, I would have to relive painful moments, defend my character, and prove my accounts. In Perfectly Clear, I do exactly that. I chose to write my story with a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, Robin Gaby Fisher, because I knew that her fact-checking of my experiences would require thorough documentation and corroboration.
“Over the past three years, Robin interviewed dozens of witnesses including attorneys and investigators, viewed emails and restraining orders, read reports written on me from church members and witnessed firsthand the cars and people sitting outside my home. Nothing made the final version of Perfectly Clear that Robin couldn’t independently verify.
“I’m not surprised to hear Soref and the Church of Scientology have banded together and are once again doubling down on the lies about me that they have desperately peddled for years. I stand by every word of Perfectly Clear, and I never expected the Church of Scientology or Soref to throw me a book party. If they’re unhappy with reading the truth, then they should stop attacking people who aren’t afraid to speak up and fight back.”
“Grace, truth, and love will always prevail,” said LeClair.
Of course, LeClair could have run the scheme as the DBO contended, and been treated badly by the Church of Scientology because she was gay; the two are not mutually exclusive.
“The Church of Scientology is built on lies,” said LeClair of the Church’s pushback. “Anything they have to say doesn’t bother me in the least.”
‘I was broken down to a pulp. Scientology is good at making you think you’ve gone crazy’
Today, LeClair is happily settled in Atlanta. She is from Oklahoma, Tena is from Mississippi. “We can say ‘y’all,’ and eat fried okra and not feel bad about it,” she told The Daily Beast. LeClair’s four children enjoy it, running around outside and riding bikes on the family farm.
The women feel accepted as a gay couple. They have many friends. It’s a warm and inviting home, they hope. Her 17-year-old son, who lives mainly with her ex-husband, has applied to study at colleges near his mother.
LeClair also has an 11-year-old daughter, and 10-year old twins.
Her smaller children, LeClair said, have lived their whole lives going through what she has gone through. LeClair hopes it has made them “stronger and more accepting children.”
She has asked her oldest son not to read the book, but knowing that he may choose to read it when he gets older. LeClair writes graphically of the physical and mental abuse she claims his father put her through, and which he adamantly denies.
“My son is very aware of Scientology element and he has no concern with that. He is not supportive of the church, but has his own relationship with his father.”
LeClair's ex-husband, who has been with his present fiancée for seven years and with whom he has had a child, told The Daily Beast: "My life has been so negatively impacted by Michelle. I love my kids more than anything. It's been so difficult. It wasn't a happy marriage. I wish it had been. When I grew up all I wanted was to meet one person and be with that one person all my life, like my parents.
"It's very difficult to find out this person was nothing like I thought they were, even though we were married for so long. And it's hard on my kids. I hate what this does to them."
“Hindsight is always easy,” said LeClair when asked why she didn’t see the warning signs of being involved with the church that she now sees in such negative terms.
“The same thing applies to people in abusive relationships as it does to people in cults,” she said. “I was trained to justify every single bad thing happening to me as my fault. All I had known since I was 18 years old was Scientology, and they had an answer for everything. I would go to my mom and all her answers were Scientology answers.”
LeClair denies she stayed in the church for business reasons; she said that she didn’t use the church to build work relationships, though she did donate $5 million to it. Every waking moment not devoted to her business was devoted to the church, LeClair said.
“Your best friends, your co-workers are all under one roof. You’re trained to second-guess yourself, and so I was led to ask myself if I was being a bad wife to make my husband treat me in the way he did. They may have looked like bells and whistles going off at various points, but they were whispers to me at that point. Now, looking back, they seem like huge alarms. I was broken down to a pulp. Scientology is good at making you think you’ve gone crazy.”
The turning point came when she was “told that I would have to leave Tena, the love of my life, the purest thing outside of my having children.”
‘I’m thankful for the strength love has given me’
“I don’t feel the Church’s presence,” LeClair said of her life today. She thinks her ex-husband realizes that if he took his children to a Scientology church it would be against the custody agreement they had signed.
Her oldest son has told her Scientology has no presence in the children’s lives.
“I want my oldest son to grow up to be a compassionate man who has a huge amount of respect for women. And I think that he will. I think he knows that plenty of things have gone on, but I don’t want him to force him to read that stuff.
“He said to me the other day, ‘Mom, I do want to read the book. But I don’t want to read the stuff about Dad.’ And I said, ‘Well I’ll rip out those pages and you can read the rest of it.’”
Her ex-husband knows he is under “strict watch,” LeClair said.
The children are old enough now that they can speak out, said LeClair, and her oldest son is very protective of his younger siblings.
In the past, she said, her mark of success was how much money she had made and how much money she had donated to the church. Today she treasures the moments of watching her children play outside, and measures success on telling Tena that she loves her and kissing her children on their foreheads “and valuing kindness, humility, gratitude, and rebuilding a better foundation. I’m better educated, and working with people I know better and making sure the things I do make a difference.”
Her mother left the church in 2013, having been a devoted and faithful member for years. LeClair thinks she was spurred by the example of her and Tena finding love. “I believe she has always been searching for love. My grandparents had it for 62 years, and I think she saw it with Tena and me and our kids.”
Now, LeClair laughed, her mother is a “Google sponge,” who has a morning coffee, surveys the world online and excitedly asks her daughter, “I’m watching this show called Will and Grace.” She’s trying to “embrace her new life, having been shut away from the real world for 20 years. Now she sits out on her porch with a glass of wine, watches the hummingbirds, and has a little dog.
“Her body and mind were out through hell, and if Tena and I can give my mom the next half of her life a life of calm, then that will make me happy.”
LeClair compares the Church of Scientology as it is today to the moment in The Wizard of Oz where the curtain is pulled back, and “it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. I think they have a lot of money and buildings but a dwindling membership.
“People like Paul Haggis, Leah Remini, and Mike Rinder have shone a huge spotlight on the reality of the church. Whenever anyone comes out with a personal story, it’s a direct hit on membership and the group.”
While LeClair believes Scientology membership is falling, “we should be careful to see what it morphs into. They say they have the secret to universe. Why not share that secret or fund hospitals or donate money to cancer causes?”
After LeClair left the church she had therapy briefly, but felt it was “diving too deep into areas and making me weak.”
She cries much easier today than before. “I have been beaten down, scared for my life, scared for my children’s lives. I know I am safe now, but I am having to relive these very painful experiences. But if one person, reading my book, in an abusive relationship finds strength to leave; if it stops one person joining the church; if one person in the church reads this and recognizes I am leading a great life; if one person is depressed and worried about losing anything, I can tell them I understand and you can always make it back.”
She sees the years of 18 to 40 a “wasted” time, but equally, had it not been for Scientology she doesn’t know if she would have met Tena or had her children.
“I’m not thankful to Scientology, but I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve gone through in life. I’m thankful for not being resentful. I’m thankful for having come out the other side and thankful for the strength love has given me. I don’t give Scientology any credit for getting me to this place. I give love credit for getting me to this place.”
She and Tena are engaged and plan to marry next year at their friend, the TV writer and producer Norman Lear’s place in Vermont.
“I would like to hope that I would have found my way out of the church. I would like to think my gut instinct would have taken over somehow, but I do believe Tena was a gift from God.”
She teared up. “I don’t know where I found the strength, maybe through my children. They were part of it, but she and I have one of the most unbelievable relationships. After almost 10 years now, there is not a moment where I don’t want to touch her and tell her how much I love her and how grateful I am for her. I hope I would have gotten out, but I do look at her as making my life perfectly clear.”
Tena (about to publish a book of her own about her own colorful history), is “funny, sexy, smart, with a great southern side to her.”
She stood by LeClair through all her various travails, and supported her to make her own decision when it came to the church.
Tena came out at 21, and LeClair admires her strength and resilience. “She never makes excuses for who she is.”
One Sunday, Tena took Michelle to her Episcopal church, All Saints in Pasadena, and Michelle felt “a huge sense of familiarity and overwhelming sense of coming home.” She called her father, who told her she’d been christened Episcopal. The pastor there was a huge support through her legal problems, and she felt no judgment (quite the opposite) around her sexuality.
“Faith is extremely important to me,” LeClair said. “Believing in something bigger than us is important to me.” Scientology didn’t put her off of faith. “I’ve always been a spiritual person, so couldn’t see not having spirituality in my life, but I don’t believe in only one religion, one word and I couldn’t be with a group preaching anything against love and LGBT people.
“I feel very comfortable and accepted in the Episcopal Church, and I teach my children that there are religions that are safe, good, honest, and loving. The children know Judaism, Buddhism and other religions are very good. Anything is fine as long as it’s not a cult.” LeClair laughed.
There is a 19-year age difference between her and Tena (who is 64), but LeClair says she is the “old soul,” and Tena “the young one.” LeClair also feels her “real life experience” has come in the 10 years since she left the church. “It is all fake before that.”
She wants her children to go to school and university, to enjoy their life experiences, especially in light of her giving herself to Scientology from the age of 18. She wants them to make their decisions on the basis of “goodness and heart,” never money, and to explore their lives and sexuality and have different friends around the world.
After feeling so menaced, LeClair doesn’t feel under any threat now.
“I have high-security cameras and alarms. I’m smart about it. But at the same time if people want to come and sit outside and watch a loving, happy family, they can come watch. We live in a community that’s very protective and loving. They check on us all the time.
"With the book, it feels nice to be on the offense. My intention wasn’t to strike back at the church, but to shine a spotlight on a very homophobic group, and I think I have done that pretty well.
“I’m proud of our family. I’m proud to be in the skin I’ve wanted to be in for so many years. I’m proud to show a happy, beautiful family and a loving relationship. I hope what I have everybody can find. My voice isn’t very silent now, and that’s very empowering.”