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Mike Johnson believes homosexuality is a "choice." Did he in fact make one?
The House speaker was deeply involved with "conversion therapy" in years past. Why is he so obsessed with homosexuality?
A report published this morning by Andrew Kaczynski at CNN on Christian nationalist House Speaker Mike Johnson reveals his involvement with Exodus International, the notorious so-called “ex-gay” group that engaged in harmful and bogus “conversion therapy”—now banned in 26 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and more than 100 municipalities—which claims to turn queer people straight.
Exodus International shut down in 2013, apologizing for its dangerous “cure” therapy. It faced lawsuits, but, like other such groups, it also had one other big problem: Just about all of its leaders and others associated with the group consistently left the group and came out as gay. They would often then talk about the psychological harm “conversion therapy” caused, as major medical associations have emphasized, explaining that there is no such thing as “ex-gay.”
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The bottom line: People who are so obsessed with homosexuality, to the point of being deeply involved in promoting “ex-gay” therapy as well as leading such efforts, are often trying to suppress something about themselves.
We’ve seen this with countless anti-gay politicians and preachers, too, from Rep. Ed Shrock and Senator Larry Craig to Ted Haggard and Eddie Long. A study of implicit bias published in 2012 concluded what many of us long thought: the most strident homophobes are often closeted homosexuals.
“This study shows that if you are feeling that kind of visceral reaction to an outgroup, ask yourself, 'Why?'" co-author Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, said in a statement. "Those intense emotions should serve as a call to self-reflection."
"Sometimes people are threatened by gays and lesbians because they are fearing their own impulses, in a sense they 'doth protest too much,'" Ryan told LiveScience.
Johnson, as an attorney for the Christian nationalist Alliance Defense Fund (now called the Alliance Defending Freedom and involved in high-profile anti-LGBTQ cases at the Supreme Court, including an attempt to overturn conversion therapy bans), worked closely with Exodus, in particular on an ADF project called Day of Truth. That was an annual event in which the ADF challenged LGBTQ rights groups by disseminating, as CNN reports, “information about what Johnson described as the ‘dangerous’ gay lifestyle.”
Randy Scobey, a former executive vice president at Exodus who eventually left and came out as gay, worked on the Day of Truth with ADF—and worked directly with Johnson—and described to CNN what it was about:
“It was bullying those who were trying to not be bullied,” said Scobey, who now lives openly as a gay man. “That was one of the public ways that the Alliance Defense Fund worked with us.”
CNN’s Kaczynski reports on “videos put out by Exodus and ADF on their standalone Day of Truth website [that] featured two Exodus staffers speaking about how teens didn’t need to ‘accept’ or ‘embrace’ their homosexuality. The videos featured testimonials of ‘former homosexuals’ and ‘former lesbians.’”
And Johnson himself went so far as to make a video for Exodus:
One video featured Johnson, who was later quoted in a press release on Exodus International’s website ahead of the event, saying, “An open, honest discussion allows truth to rise to the surface.”
Johnson promoted the event heavily in the media—through radio interviews, comments in newspapers, and an editorial.
This comes on top of everything else we’ve learned about Johnson, from his fighting to keep homosexuality criminalized to his attempts while in the Louisiana legislature to allow for discrimination against same-sex couples and his sponsorship and introduction just last year in the House of a federal “don’t say gay” bill that would demonize LGBTQ students, teachers, and parents. As I noted in reporting on that last week, even a Republican Baton Rouge councilman called Johnson a “despicable bigot of the highest order.”
What is underlying this intense focus by Johnson, an all-out obsession with homosexuality? The words he uses to describe sexuality seem to be a key. Back when he was working with the conversion therapy group, Johnson described gay sex as a "behavioral” choice.
“I mean, our race, the size of our feet, the color of our eyes, these are things we’re born with and we cannot change,” Johnson told a radio host in 2008, as reported by CNN. “What these adult advocacy groups like the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network are promoting is a type of behavior. Homosexual behavior is something you do, it’s not something that you are.”
And just last week, in an interview with Sean Hannity, even as Johnson is now trying to do damage control and soften his background as a Christian extremist, he used the same terminology: “I respect the rule of law,” he claimed, referring to the Obergefell marriage equality decision. “I genuinely love all people, regardless of their lifestyle choices."
So he is still calling homosexuality a “choice,” just as when he was promoting ex-gay therapy. Anyone who believes sexual orientation is a choice has made a choice. (In fact, even conversion therapy advocates have expressed that, explaining they are simply controlling or managing “urges.”) They are either bisexual or they’re gay and suppressing it, choosing to do so (even if it’s ultimately futile and damaging). There are simply no two ways about it.
When it comes to human behavior, if you need to work really hard to choose to refrain from doing something—like eating a big bowl of ice cream—then it means you really like it. And when it’s something that religion has taught you is an abomination, you’ll go to extreme lengths, including oppressing others, to battle something deep inside yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with talking about this in regard to Johnson, especially as he is now House speaker and everything about him should be thoroughly vetted. And with so many indicators, journalists should continue doing the investigating—and not shy away from this aspect—and ask questions, including directly asking Johnson.