Recent reports that the therapy clinic co-owned by Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann offers “ex-gay” therapy are raising questions about the extent to which federal dollars are subsidizing the widely discredited practice.
John Becker, a gay activist with Truth Wins Out, an LGBT group dedicated to fighting “ex-gay” conversion therapy, posted a report last week detailing his experience seeking reparative therapy with Bachmann & Associates, a Minnesota-based clinic operated by Bachmann’s spouse, Marcus Bachmann.
Feigning a desire to change his sexual orientation, Becker caught on tape sessions with counselor Timothy Wiertzema, who told him he could change from being gay to straight. Major psychological and other medical organizations have refuted the idea that people can change their sexual orientation.
According to Becker, he was asked whether he suffered any child abuse that could have caused his sexual orientation, was advised to find a heterosexual “accountability buddy” and was recommended ministry at the discredited “ex-gay” group Exodus International as a potential place for worship.
Marcus Bachmann has said he doesn’t try to convert gay people who say “they want to stay homosexual.”
The Bachmann campaign didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the “ex-gay” services offered at Bachmann & Associates. In an interview with a local ABC News affiliate, Michelle Bachmann said she’s “very proud of the business” that she runs with her husband, but dodged questions about the practices there.
“I’m running for the presidency of the United States,” she said. “As I said, again, we’re very proud of our business, and we’re proud of all our job creators in the United States. That’s what people really care about, and that’s what people are talking to me about all across Iowa.”
But the report that Bachmann & Associates offers reparative therapy has additional significance because the clinic has reportedly been the beneficiary of state and federal funds.
According to NBC News, the clinic has been collecting annual Medicaid payments totaling more than $137,000 for the treatment of patients since 2005. These payments are on top of the $24,000 in federal and state funds that Bachmann & Associates received in recent years under a state grant to train its employees. The figures were reportedly provided late last month in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to comment when asked if the administration has a problem with federal money going to a clinic that engages in “ex-gay” therapy.
“I confess I do not have an answer to that question, sorry,” Carney said.
A White House spokesperson deferred a response to comment further from the Washington Blade to the Department of Health & Human Services. The department, in turn, deferred comment to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
“States make the determination about which services to cover, within federal law and guidelines,” Brian Cook, a Medicaid spokesperson, told the Blade. “State law and regulations govern the licensing of counselors and the scope of their practice.”
The Minnesota Department of Health couldn’t be reached for comment due to the state government’s shutdown this week.
Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, said “more information” is needed on whether these federal funds are contributing to the “ex-gay” practices at Bachmann & Associates, or if they’re going to other services rendered at the clinic.
“It’s conceivable that they received federal funds that are in connection with an appropriate reimbursement for some services rendered,” Socarides said. “It’s possible, but I don’t know, but one would hope that there are no federal funds that are being used to pay for reparative therapy, which has been shown to do terrible damage.”
Socarides said the Department of Health & Human Services should make clear that using Medicaid funds for reparative therapy “is not an appropriate use of federal money, if it’s not already clear.”
Equality Matters has called for an executive order from the president that would spell out the federal government won’t use money to discriminate against LGBT Americans.
Socarides said such an executive order would create assurances that the federal government won’t support “ex-gay” therapy with federal funds.
“I would say that certainly an executive order which made it clear that you could not use federal funds to discriminate or hurt LGBT Americans would make this point all the more clear,” Socarides said. “But it should already be clear that this is something that federal funds should not be used for because federal funds should not be used for quack medicine.”