legacies, a documentary by sean weakland on BYU’s sexual aversion techniques
legacies, a documentary by sean weakland
I am not gay. I am happily married, straight, and have two kids. I say that not to indicate that straights are somehow better than gays but so that some of the audience reading this won’t feel as though I am harboring some ill feelings towards the Mormon church because of the sexual preference I was born with (since I was born with the only sexual preference the church smiles upon).
I think some of these stories should make it to a more public forum where non-gay (or gay) LDS may be able to see them. I’m hoping that a few lights will go off in the heads of some members who have been brainwashed into thinking that non-heterosexual people are somehow less than human. The excerpts below do not tell the story as well as the actual documentary. It is much more meaningful to hear it from the mouths of these four honest, respectable individuals that appear in the film than to merely read their words.
I should also say that to my knowledge, the church no longer condones these aversion therapy activities. However, the church is still very anti-homosexual as can be witnessed by several recent proclamations and articles by apostles and the “prophet”. You can see by these accounts, that their aren’t many normal online criminal justice programs that are training people to help out with these programs for Mormons.
As an aside, a half hour after viewing “legacies” for the first time (in 1996), I went to my Sunday church meetings where petitions were being passed around in church (this is practically illegal by the way as the church is a tax-exempt entity and thus not supposed to act as a PAC) to protest the county’s passing of an ordinance to allow equal rights to gays. I wanted to tear the petitions (and there were many being passed around) up as they came to me. It is amazing that a church can speak love and family values out of one side of its mouth and hate and intolerance out of the other half.
Anyway, I’m done with my introduction so on to the excerpts from the documentary…
Rocky (Connell O’Donovan): I was born into the Mormon church. I “came out” to my seminary teacher. I thought that he would be really fair and that he was a friend. I felt like he was a friend that I could go to with a problem and he would somehow help me. If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have done that. I mean he tried really hard, but basically all he did was turn me over to the wolves. He contacted my bishop, my bishop contacted my stake president and that is how it all started…my journey into the belly of the beast–ten years of negotiating my way through the Mormon church’s torturous program for reorienting or curing homosexuals–trying to turn us into heterosexuals.
I think at about the time that I came out to my seminary teacher I had just read Spencer W. Kimball’s book, The Miracle of Forgiveness. It had a chapter in it called I think, “Crime Against Nature”, and it described in very certain terms the evilness and sinfulness of my condition. He used awful words to describe me and my feelings. He stated that my desires were pugnant, evil, disgusting, vial, malicious, and pernicious. Well, I started doing counseling with my bishop and stake president. It was summer and school was out so they told me that I needed to go down to BYU for this program that would help me to become heterosexual. Of course, I jumped at the chance. They told me and had taught me that heterosexual was the only way to be–I wasn’t, so I wanted to become such. I’m like 15 years old, and I didn’t want my parents to know so they arranged it to look like I was going down for some genealogy research camp. I stayed at the dorms on campus and was supposed to go immediately in and meet with the receptionist, fill out the papers, release forms, etc. I sat down and they kind of explained to me what was going to go on, and I was horrified by the whole prospect of what I found out was going to be vomiting-aversion therapy.
They explained to me that they would place a heparin lock in my wrist and hook an I.V. up to that, and I would be put in a room alone with a phlethesmograph on my penis that would measure my physical arousal so that when I got an erection they would know. Then they started showing me gay pornography. I don’t remember if there were films or not, but I do remember stills. I was supposed to go through a stack of photos of nude men and come up with men that I thought were attractive.
Interviewer: Had you seen gay pornography before that?
Rocky: No, I was 15! I was only 15 years old. I mean I’d seen like a Playboy before, but I’d never seen sex before at all. They were going to show me this gay pornography and using the I.V. they would inject a drug into me during the gay pornography to make me start vomiting. Then they would switch the pornography over to heterosexual sex and inject a euphoric drug into me to get me to associate euphoria with heterosexuality. I look back on that and think that I would have taken the electric-shock therapy had I known about it since I’m extremely phobic around vomiting.
I was supposed to come back the next day for treatment, but I just didn’t show up. I called in sick and put them off. They finally said that I had to come down and tell them what was going on. I told them I couldn’t do it, and they gave me a “shame” letter which I had to hand carry back and give to my stake president telling him that I had refused to go through with the Lord’s program for my cure.
That was the same year that Boyd K. Packer gave his talk during priesthood meeting at General Conference. His talk called, “To Young Men Only” which I don’t remember hearing, but it was made into a pamphlet that I was given to read. The talk goes in to the evils of masturbation and it goes into–well, he never calls it homosexuality, but he calls it “physical mischief” between men.
The bishop found out that I returned home from BYU unsuccessfully or whatever, but he kept me in weekly counseling sessions where I would have to meet with him on a weekly basis and report what I was doing and how I was feeling sexually, what my fantasies were about, what I was daydreaming about, etc. I hadn’t had any sexual experiences, but at that point I was masturbating to homosexual fantasies. In Spencer W. Kimball‘s book he states that masturbating leads to homosexuality and so the bishop going on that information told me that I had to stop masturbating.
The way that we figured out for me to do that was for me to create a chart on a piece of paper with all the days of the month on it. If I was successful in not masturbating I would put a little smiley face or a gold star on that day or something, but if I wasn’t successful I had to color the day in red symbolizing the red flames of hell burning me. I was supposed to get as many days in a row of smiley faces as I possibly could. My record was 17 days in a row of not masturbating which wasn’t very good.
[skipping ahead to Rocky’s mission]
The mission rules are all about not touching, going out, socializing, hugging the opposite sex, etc. so anyone with any homosexual tendencies at all in that type of a situation who has to be with a member of the same sex for 24 hours a day, who is the same age, you both come from the same kind of background, same heritage, culture, etc. is bound to produce a sort of sexual tension. It has got to go somewhere.
[Rocky’s thoughts on the church now]
The Mormon church is a patriarchy. Patriarchy subsists on homosociality. It is a very closely nit group of men who spend much time together. They hug each other. They are very emotional. They are homospiritual. Where does that end and it become homoerotic? I think that they are terrified of that line and they try to draw that line very firmly.
I think for Mormonism this will be the most difficult issue they ever face. They have painted themselves into a theological corner. Either Mormon theology is right, and I am just a deviant heterosexual or a lapsed heterosexual. If I am intrinsically queer then Mormon theology is wrong.
Val: Probably around age 12 or 13, I was aware that I was gay or homosexual since I had read the definition. I heard that there were some treatments–allegedly psychologists or psychiatrists could treat it. The things I had heard about indicated that the success was better with younger people. I was wondering if I should tell my parents, but it was totally a secret.
I didn’t do anything [sexual] on my mission, but I did have a very strong attraction to two of my companions. I later found out that one was gay and another one was gay. There was alot of guilt, and I was very paranoid that someone might suspect.
[skipping ahead to a time after Val’s mission]
I first went through about a year and a half of seeing a counselor. This wasn’t aversion therapy. It seemed pointless to me because we just sat there and talked and there was nothing happening. I said that I heard that there were other kinds of therapy like shock or aversion therapy. He referred me to another doctor who was also LDS that was doing something on the order of what they were doing at BYU although what they were doing at BYU seemed alot scarier. This Dr. Card was calling it bio-feedback which involved shocking, but the patient held the button themselves so they shocked themselves. The electricity had a level on it so you could set it yourself. He didn’t really interfere with the level so I always kept the level pretty low or moderately low. He indicated that if you really wanted to change, you’d set the level higher.
Scientifically, I think it is a bogus procedure. Basically, it is the same effect as a cold shower. It was just a stimulus that made you think about something else for a while until the arousal went away.
Drew: I think at the age of 16 I looked in the mirror and said, “you’re gay and it’s not some adolescent thing that you can change”. I didn’t think my feelings could change, but I was hoping I could keep it in check. I looked at my sexuality as something like a handicap that you work with and still do the “right” thing. I was a really devout Mormon. Even as a younger child–my family was very devout. We gathered in a family prayer circle every morning at 6am, had family home evening every week–it was required. Some people might consider that fanatic, but we were just Mormons.
I didn’t have any gay experiences on my mission. Something like masturbation wasn’t something that only gay missionaries had to go confess or whatever. It was an easy time for me to not deal with it and not worry about it.
[skipping ahead to Drew’s “treatments”]
I only saw Dr. Card for about 3 or 4 months. He told me that he was going to hypnotize me each time. He thought that he could slice apart my personality, find the part that was homosexual, and get rid of it somehow. I didn’t believe that I would be able to be hypnotized but I went right under.
The first time he spoke to me he was very provocative and caustic. I don’t know if it was really part of my personality or if I was just trying to subconsciously entertain him. This kind of low, dark, deep voice was responding. My brain was in the back of my head watching it all. It was this confrontational experience like, “are you the part of Drew’s personality that is homosexual?”. It became a big fight, and I was screaming or screeching for some reason so he raised his hand to the square and commanded the devils to depart my soul. Of course nothing happened so he came over and shook me. I came to and I was covered in sweat and I had tears running down my face. I was freaked out about this whole experience and what had just happened to me. He told me that at a younger age when I was nervous about going out and growing up and being timid about life that I had invited Satan into my life, and that is why I am gay and that those spirits are still with me and that is who he had spoken to in this session.
I walked out of the room and saw all the people in the waiting room who had just heard me screaming in the other room just prior to that. I went to my car and bawled for a couple of hours. I went home and thought about it, prayed about it, and then the next week when I went back to see him I told him I thought that he was full of shit.
After that, in subsequent sessions he tried to make friends with my “homosexual side” rather than to try and provoke it. He showed me various heterosexual sex films. Then he would talk to me about the woman’s physique while under hypnosis. I was trying to change so I went along with it. As far as putting a damper on my homosexual self though–there was no effect.
I finally moved away from Salt Lake City in order to have an excuse to get away from him. Before I left, he tried to get me to associate the male physique with bad smells.
He was the one that told me about the shock-treatment therapy and how he and BYU were exposed by some Australian documentary. He told me he wasn’t doing it anymore. I asked him if it was a successful treatment, and he said that he thought that it worked in some cases. I don’t know of anyone that has ever said that they have turned around after being shocked.
Ray: It was in my junior year at BYU. It [the class] was sort of like being an apprentice or learning how to treat patients. One of the things that we could do was to do the electro-shock therapy for those who wanted to change their sexuality. At the time of course, I knew that I was gay. I had experiences and everything. I had no desire myself to change my orientation but I thought it was interesting at the time that there were people that did. I was very closeted at the time even though I had a lover. We did the “therapy” as we called it in the basement of the Smith Family Living Center on the BYU campus.
Alot of times BYU security would catch people in compromising positions on campus. Those people would have the choice to either be kicked out of school and have their families notified about what they had done or they could go through this therapy. We had quite a few people who were going through it. There were others in the therapy who felt so much guilt for being the way they were or they had been promised that if they underwent the therapy they would be able to marry and have children and they would be turned. Of course they had to have the desire to change, and if the therapy failed which it always did, it was their fault for the failure since they didn’t have enough desire.
Anyway, they would come in usually three times a week. I would be behind a glass one-way mirror, and they would be on the other side of it. They had their choice to look at pornographic magazines or watch porno videos. We would tape electrodes to their groin, thigh, chest and armpits. We had another machine that would monitor their breathing and heart rate. If there was a difference in their heart rate when looking at homosexual pornography, we would turn a dial which would send a current to shock them. If they were a new patient, we would use a very low current. From the reaction that I saw there were muscle spasms which looked very painful.
After that was over, we would switch the pornography over so that it was a man and a woman having sex, and we would play very soothing music in the background to try and get the mind to relate to that. For the people that had been doing the therapy longer we turned the voltage way up so that you could see burn marks on the skin and quite often they would also throw up during the therapy. This is speculation, but most of the students at BYU probably hadn’t even seen pornography before [this experience].
After undergoing that kind of pain over a number of months, everyone said that they had completely changed. They kept records for as long as the people were at BYU. After they had graduated, there was no records kept to see what kind of success rate they had. The BYU statistics were wrong because the people were lying. They were desperate to get their degree and get out of the situation. They had been blackmailed into the situation in the first place.
We did have some people who became completely asexual after undergoing the therapy. But no, we never changed anyone from gay to straight.
I had experiences with Robert Card when he was the overseer at BYU. He was not my professor but he would come down to Provo, and I met him several times when he would oversee the results. I met him again in 1983 when he was doing electro-shock therapy on a lover of mine. At that time, I confronted him with what I knew and how it had not worked in the past. He had nothing to say. He simply denied the results and refused to show me any of his proof.
We had several people who committed suicide during the therapy. We had three different people who hung themselves in the Harris Fine Arts Center on BYU campus. In Mormon theology, you will be eternally punished for committing suicide. If you die as a homosexual, you will be punished all the worse. God will get you good if you don’t follow his rules.
Endnotes to the documentary…
Dr. Robert Card declined comment for this project.
No women who endured aversive therapies responded for interview.
On a somewhat related topic, the March 22, 1997 Salt Lake Tribune reports that 42% of BYU students think gays should be banned from school (even if they aren’t engaging in sexual intercourse).
Homosexuality: A Psychiatrist’s Response to LDS Social Services
For those who don’t think you can be gay and make it through BYU click here.