Love In Action: One Ex-Ex-Gay’s Story

CULT: quasi-religious group, often living in a colony, with a charismatic
leader who indoctrinates members with unorthodox or extremist views, practices
or beliefs. –Webster’s New World Dictionary.

“I would rather you commit suicide than have you leave Love In Action
wanting to return to the gay lifestyle. In a physical death you could still
have a spiritual resurrection; whereas, returning to homosexuality you are
yielding yourself to a spiritual death from which there is no recovery.”
–The Final Indoctrination from John Smid, Director, Love In Action (LIA),
San Rafael’s “ex-gay” clan.

“That’s exactly how he put it,” states Tom Ottosen, 24, an
expressive, articulate two year ex-LIA group member.

Ottosen says he clearly recalls that experience. He says it occurred
in October of last year during his last one-on-one conference with John
Smid, LIA’s Executive Director, who claims to be able to change gay men
into straight men through a live-in rigidly controlled indoctrination program
Smid calls “reparative therapy.”

Ottosen says Smid clearly and emphatically warned him, “It would
be better if I were to commit suicide than go back into the world and become
a homosexual again. He felt that a physical death–with my soul intact–was
much preferable to a spiritual death, which would happen if I were to leave
the group and go back to being gay.” claims Ottosen.

Ottosen further states that Smid said this at a time when Smid clearly
was aware he had strong suicidal feelings and was going through periods
of extreme depression, guilt and loneliness.

Ottosen recalls his depression had been building for several months during
his second year at LIA, primarily because of a warm and emotional relationship
he was experiencing with another group member. “It wasn’t sexual at
all, but it was strictly forbidden and I was kept from even talking to him
for several months.”

Also, earlier in July, “Another house member, who was in his fourth
year with the group and in a position of authority, became depressed and
attempted suicide” and was sent away for observation. “He was
taken from his position of leadership and then he just kind of disappeared.”
Ottosen admits that he too, within a few months was at point where he had
never been before. “I couldn’t work. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t do

He says he was so depressed and stressed that he knew he had to do something
different if he was going to survive. “When I found myself calling
the suicide hot line, I knew it was time to get out.” If it weren’t
for Lea Brown, a staff member from Spectrum, Marin County’s pro-gay and lesbian
counseling and information center, Ottosen says he doubts he would have

Smid responds that Ottosen’s specific reference that he recommended suicide
is “totally untrue,” however Smid does not deny that a private
meeting took place between he and Ottosen in October and confirms other
details of Ottosen’s account.

It has been reported that former cult members who have been under the
intense intimidation of guilt-centered religious indoctrination, such as
those who escaped the mass-suicide poisoning at Jim Jones “Jonestown”
and the firestorm of self-destruction at the Waco Branch Davidian compound,
often spend years in intensive therapy trying to overcome the psychological
damage which a cult’s rigid and uncompromising brainwashing can cause.

The same kind of psychological damage can happen in the case of sexual
orientation indoctrination, agrees Brown, Spectrum’s programs manager.
“In this case, the heavy doses of deception and dishonesty which are
necessary to try to purge strong feelings of love and compassion from a
person’s natural affection needs can cause serious problems. What groups
like LIA try to do is force people to choose between serving God and living
their lives. That’s not a choice that anyone should have to make.”

On the other hand, Psychotherapist Robert Norton, also Sonoma County’s
Project 10 co-director who provides professional counseling to clients such
as Tom Ottosen, strongly condemns Smid’s tactics. Norton says he was “shocked
and horrified” when he learned of this charge. One wonders “how
many other clients [Smid] has told to commit suicide?” Norton sternly
blasts these “cult-like organizations,” and reminds them that
telling a client to commit suicide is clearly “a breach of ethical

Easing off slightly, Norton says, “The religious right wants people
to believe that homosexuality is only a behavior and therefore can be changed.
However, it is not just a behavior, it is also a psychosexual and emotional
development which is at the core of an individual’s self; and just like
heterosexual development it can not be altered or changed.”

Ottosen now understands this, and recalls during his last year at LIA
at least 75 percent of the original participants had either left the program
because it wasn’t working for them or reported many “sexual falls”
(homosexual experiences including fantasies and masturbation). Many were
“forced from the group” when they began having serious doubts
about the program’s effectiveness in their life. “They tell them they
must leave because the doubters become a threat to the other members. But
then on the outside, most ostracized members still feel intense loyalty
to LIA, and feel like they are betraying the group if they say anything
to anyone about their experience.” Ottosen says he was lucky because
when he was told to leave, he immediately started seeing a licensed counselor
on a regular basis, “…but most are having a very difficult time on
their own.”

Ottosen reveals that like most cults, the indoctrination program at LIA
is very effective at fostering feelings of intense loyalty because all group
members are isolated within the group homes and all contacts outside the
group are extremely limited. “Due the fact that members are not allowed
to question anything the hierarchy says, most members who were forced out
or who have left on their own end up extremely guilt-ridden, very confused,
dogged by the religious dogma given them by the groups, and most end up
worse than ever before,” Ottosen said.

Article Reprinted With Permission