Side Effects

From quirky to serious, trends in psychology and psychiatry

Closeted Reactionaries

When an anti-gay activist is caught with a male escort ...

Amid all the gasps of disbelief that one can hear over George Alan Rekers—Baptist minister, co-founder of the conservative Family Research Council, and vociferous advocate of ex-gay therapy—getting caught with a male escort after a holiday together in Europe, there are conflicting reports on whether the escort was there to help lift Mr. Rekers' luggage or to receive "the Gospel of Jesus," as the psychiatrist insisted recently.

With Rekers acknowledging that he found his bellhop from the male escort website, and the escort now acknowledging that he was hired to give erotic massages, it's worth considering not only the astonishing disconnect between Rekers' private and professional lives, but also the incalculable damage his words about homosexuality have had on teens and young adults across the nation and beyond.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Until he was recently scrubbed from the organization's Website, Rekers sat on the board of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization dedicated to changing the sexuality of gay people. "Mr. Rekers," the BBC reminds us, also "has testified as an expert in favor of a gay adoption ban in Florida," for which he was paid $87,000 and during which he called gay men mentally unstable and a "deviant segment of society." His published works include Growing up Straight: What Families Should Know about Homosexuality.

While Rekers hardly seems like a good example of NARTH's so-called reparative theory, there's also something quite nauseating about figures like him "weighing in on almost every piece of anti-gay legislation around the country," as CNN puts it, and making the lives of especially young gays and lesbians more difficult, while he hires a male escort for a jaunt around Europe.

Dr. Rekers is now the butt of numerous jokes. And he has, one hopes, destroyed the very basis of reparative therapy for homosexuality—done so beyond any capacity for reform. When a prominent anti-gay activist is caught with a male escort, certain theoretical tenets about homosexuality either fly out the window or come out of the closet.

But Rekers is also, sadly, a textbook case of a long and sordid history of closeted gay men attacking their own while enjoying the same sex behind the scenes: Ted Haggard. Larry Craig. Roy Ashburn. Ed Schrock. To Roy Cohn and beyond. In this case, Rekers helped to write the very textbooks that have been invoked so often as arguing that men and women should be ashamed of being attracted to their own kind.

The shame belongs elsewhere. Rekers owes gay men and women across America a very big apology. If he won't come out of the closet, then he might at least agree to put down his pen.


Christopher Lane, Ph.D., teaches literature and intellectual history at Northwestern University and is the author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness. more...

Subscribe to Side Effects

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.