Prominent Mormon gay conversion therapist comes out as gay

David Matheson published a book about the ex-gay movement and led gay conversion camps for years before announcing recently that he now chooses to “pursue life as a gay man.” (Photo: David Matheson/Facebook)
David Matheson published a book about the ex-gay movement and led gay conversion camps for years before announcing recently that he now chooses to “pursue life as a gay man.” (Photo: David Matheson/Facebook)

A prominent gay conversion therapist in the Mormon church, who identified for decades as “ex-gay,” announced on Monday that his 30-year marriage to a woman has come to an end, and that he is pursuing life as a gay man again.

David Matheson made the announcement on his Facebook account after a previous announcement on his behalf by his colleague Rich Wyler — founder of Brothers on a Road Less Traveled (formerly People Can Change) — was publicized by Truth Wins Out (TWO), an LGBTQ advocacy group that denounces antigay organizations.

In a Facebook post, Matheson — who, along with Wyler, founded Journey Into Manhood, a gay conversion retreat — explained his decision, while continuing to support the ex-gay movement. He said the realization that he had to “make substantial changes” came about a year ago. “I realized I couldn’t stay in my marriage any longer,” he wrote. “And I realized that it was time for me to affirm myself as gay.”

Matheson — who also authored Becoming a Whole Man, about “unwanted homosexuality” — described his marriage “happy and fulfilling” and said that “being ‘straight’ had become a core part of my identity,” even though he remained attracted to men. Eventually, the same-sex attraction led to “pain and struggle” in the union, and being in an intimate relationship with a man “had become a non-negotiable need.” He described struggling with the decision to end his marriage, which was challenging principles that had become a core part of his faith in the Mormon church — “most notably that same-sex partnerships are sinful,” he wrote.

He even addressed the irony of his path, given his prominence as a gay conversion therapist, and offered an explanation. “I know my work helped many, many people because they’ve told me so,” he wrote. But I’m sure I’ve hurt some people too.” He said that any shortcomings he had as a therapist “came from my own homophobia and narrow mindedness,” and that he is “truly sorry for those flaws and the harm they have surely caused some people. And I’m sorry for the confusion and pain my choice may be causing others.”

In his post, Matheson did not criticize gay conversion therapy, even though he is now choosing to live as a gay man — and that’s where his critics take issue. A representative for TWO called the announcement “surprisingly unrepentant” and said he “failed to apologize for the grave harm he has caused many of his clients.” TWO said Matheson is “living proof that [gay conversion] programs don’t even work for its most vociferous advocates.”

LGBTQ publication Pride wrote,The dissonance between realizing pretending you’re not gay is killing you but not understanding that having devoted your life to telling other men to do the same was harmful is astounding.”

Wyler’s original announcement, which was published in a private Facebook group that was obtained by TWO, noted that after Matheson split from his wife, he realized that “living a single, celibate life just isn’t feasible for him, so he’s seeking a male partner.” In a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle, Wyler said on behalf of Brothers on a Road Less Traveled:

“Our hearts go out to David Matheson and his wife, Peggy, as they grapple with a difficult and painful time in their lives,” he said. “While we are saddened by this turn of events, we are in no position to judge. Both David and Peggy have given deeply of themselves to our community for years, and we will continue to love them, respect them, and to value and benefit from their many contributions.”

In the statement, Wyler added that “nothing in David’s current experience negates the truths he has championed or the counseling he has provided for two decades.”

At least one member of the LGBTQ community is accepting Matheson’s apology — but he’s also urging the ex-ex-gay leader to make amends. “Will you take proactive steps to heal the “harm your own homophobia and narrow mindedness have surely caused some people?'” Facebook commenter Kendall Wilcox, an openly gay Mormon filmmaker, wrote on Matheson’s post. “Will you work with a fervor equal to your previous zeal to heal ‘the confusion and pain’ your choices may have caused others?” Matheson kept the dialogue open, responding, “Let’s talk about what that might look like.”

Matheson had once told ABC’s Nightline that his work with Journey Into Manhood retreats was to help men for whom being gay was simply not an option. “For some people ‘gay’ is never going to work. That kind of life and that kind of living is never going to gel — ever — with their value system,” he said. “For those men, that’s why we exist, so that they can have another way, another approach of dealing with their sexual feelings.”

In light of what he calls his “course change,” Matheson insists he was “not faking it” all those years he was in a straight marriage and advocating for the ex-gay movement — and he said that he’s not abandoning his faith.

“What you can take from this is that my time in a straight marriage and in the ‘ex-gay’ world was genuine and sincere and a rich blessing to me,” he wrote. “But I had stopped growing and I had to change. So I’ve embarked on a new life-giving path that has already started a whole new growth process. If my coming out could change one thing, other than my own life, it would be to encourage people to really own and feel confident about their life path and to pursue it without fear or shame — regardless of what others might think.”

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