Rachel Maddow Demolishes Therapist Who Claims He Can Make Her Straight

Editor's Note: The following is the transcript of Rachel Maddow's recent interview with controversial "ex-gay" therapist Richard Cohen on MSNBC. It has been edited for length and clarity. You can watch a video of the interview to the right of the screen.

Rachel Maddow: The subject of the interview is the head of a group called the International Healing Foundation, and all reporting on a proposed law to execute people for being gay in Uganda. We turned up evidence of strong links between conservative U.S. politicians who are part of the secretive religious group, The Family, a.k.a. C Street, and people in Uganda who introduced and are pushing the kill-the-gays bill.

But we also turned up more direct connections between the kill-the-gays bill and other American activists. In March, the International Healing Foundation, which is based in Maryland, sent one of its staffers to Uganda to speak to parliament there and to speak at a conference organized by the main promoter of the kill-the-gays bill.

His message was that gay people are gay by choice and a gay person who wants to be straight can be straight. That speech to parliament and the anti-gay conference took place in March of this year.

After the conference in April, the conference organizer arranged for an anti-homosexuality petition to be delivered to the Ugandan parliament. And within a month, on April 29th, the kill-the-gays bill had been introduced with the anti-gay conference organizer sitting in the gallery for that occasion.

Here is [a clip of] that conference organizer and the lead proponent of the kill-the-gays bill, Stephen Langa, praising the influence and authority of our next guest.

Stephen Langa, Proponent, Kill-the-Gays Bill: Homosexuality is not about sex, but about seeking the love of the father or the mother. OK. It‘s not about sex really. Although sex happens to be in it, but a person really is seeking for the love of the father, love of the mother.

Richard Cohen is one of very authoritative writers who has written on the subject. He himself was a former homosexual. He studied psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy and used himself as a guinea pig and was able to come out of his homosexuality. And today, he‘s a married man with three children. This is him, “Coming Out Straight.” ... Mr. Cohen is also head of the International Healing Foundation, which purports to be able to turn gay people straight. Mr. Cohen, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I really appreciate your time.

Richard Cohen: Thank you for having me, Rachel.

Maddow: First, let me ask you if I‘ve gotten any facts wrong in anything I just said. I know you haven‘t been happy with our coverage.

Cohen: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. I appreciate this opportunity. You know, Uganda got it wrong, and I‘m sorry to say you did too, Rachel. And I‘m grateful to be here to set the record straight about the misrepresentation of our work.

Since the 1950s, the Uganda government has punished people for engaging in homosexual behavior, so this is not new. We were invited in the spring of this year as you said. We sent Caleb Brundage and he shared his wonderful story of change from homosexual to heterosexual.

And he told them to have compassion, love and understanding for all people who experience homosexual feelings. So we do not believe in this legislation. We had no knowledge of it, and we disavow all relationship to it.

We are promoting loving people, loving all homosexual people, people who choose to live a homosexual life or decide to live that, and those who decide to come out straight like myself and Caleb.

Maddow: Are you troubled at all to see Stephen Langa holding your book up and citing “Coming Out Straight” as inspiration. He is the main proponent of the kill-the-gays bill. Does that trouble you at all?

Cohen: Well, if you listen to his words, he only said that I was teaching about some of the causes, what we believe are the causes of homosexuality. We believe that nobody‘s born this way. You keep saying we think people choose to be gay. We do not believe that.

I believe that, psychologically, there are many causes to this phenomena, which means change is possible. So we are not a political organization. We‘re a therapeutic, counseling organization who provides help to men and women with unwanted same-sex attraction and their family members. We do not believe in this legislation, Rachel. We believe in tolerance and love for all people.

Maddow: I understand that you don‘t think of yourself as a political organization. The reason you‘ve been a subject of discussion on this show, and the reason I wanted to talk to you tonight is because your teaching and your activism have been used for a political purpose which is to promote this bill.

Cohen: Yes.

Maddow: I mean, as you said, Uganda has a history, as you said, going back many decades of criminalizing homosexuality.

Cohen: Yes.

Maddow: But you have told them, particularly in your book, “Coming Out Straight,” which I understand you donated multiple copies of to this organization that‘s promoting this bill. You‘re telling them exactly what they need to hear in order to justify the kill-the-gays bill. I mean, your book portrays gay people as predators who must be stopped to protect the innocent.

Cohen: Oh, no, no, no.

Maddow: It doesn‘t?

Cohen: No, no, no. Not at all. And in fact, Caleb told me he, with passion, shared to these people what he experienced as a homosexual man and as you heard Stephen Langa say, that people are searching for love. How could they punish?

It‘s just incomprehensible that they would - like, you know, as you have said over the last few days in this bill, that they would want to incarcerate or to criminally punish these men and women. We are totally against that. We are for your rights and anyone‘s rights to live a homosexual life. And we‘re for the rights for those who seek change and want to come out straight.

Maddow: Let me try to make more comprehensible to you. The legislator who sponsored the bill told the Associated Press today, that he insists these strict measures, which I know you abhor -

Cohen: Yes.

Maddow: But these strict measure they‘re proposing, including execution, are necessary in their country to prevent homosexuals from recruiting school children.

Cohen: Yes.

Maddow: Let me ask - I‘ll just read from your book, OK? Page 49, “Homosexuals are at least 12 times more likely to molest children than heterosexuals. Homosexual teachers are at least seven times more likely to molest a pupil. Homosexual teachers are estimated to have committed at least 25 percent of pupil molestation; 40 percent of molestation assaults were made by those who engage in homosexuality.”

This is the claim that you make in your book that exactly feeds these folks who want to execute people for being gay, what they need in order to justify that. Do you stand by what you said in your book?

Cohen: Actually, you know, that one particular quote, when I do republish it, reprint it, we will extract that from it, because we don‘t want such things to be used against homosexual persons.

Maddow: That quote is cited - you cite somebody named Paul Cameron as the source of that book.

Cohen: Yes.

Maddow: Paul Cameron has been kicked out of the American Psychological Association, the Nebraska Psychological Association, and the Canadian Psychological Association.

Cohen: Yes. Right.

Maddow: Then, he tried to make himself a sociologist. He got kicked out of the American Sociological Association. This is - I know you say you‘re not going to include it in edition three. I‘m reading from the second edition here.

Cohen: Right.

Maddow: But this is made-up information, fake authoritative stuff that, in other countries, is being taken as science and used to justify quite literally killing gay people. Do you see now why you‘re being used in a political context here?

Cohen: I see that they‘re using it, but you took that one little quote out of a 300-page book.

Maddow: Yes.

Cohen: And the thrust and the gist of the text is why people have same-sex attraction and the opportunity for those with unwanted homosexual feelings to come out of homosexuality. There‘s nothing in there against people who experience same-sex attraction.

And again, our teaching in this country, when we went to Uganda and all over the world, because I‘ve helped thousands of people worldwide, Rachel, come out of homosexuality.

And again, our method is one of love and compassion and understanding. Our Web site is “ChangeIsPossible.com.” And people can see our words for ourselves that we‘re about loving people.

Maddow: I‘m happy to help. I mean, I realize I was taking the risk of helping promote you in the way that you think about these things by putting you on the air.

But I do think you‘ve actually got blood on your hands here because of the way that you‘ve been using - your organization has been used and your staffer has been used to make this legislation a reality in Uganda and I do think it‘s going to become law.

So let me just ask you about something that you wanted to be taken in greater context. Your other recent book, “Gay Children, Straight Parents” -

Cohen: Yes.

Maddow: I actually have to say, I sort of particularly resent this book because I think people might pick it up without realizing that it‘s a homosexuality-can-be-cured book...

Cohen: May I stop you for just a moment? Over the last few days, you have been very pejoratively saying we cure the gay away, and it was pray the gay away. We don‘t believe in any of that. We never use the “cure” word at all.

We don‘t tell people to pray this away. That would be ridiculous, because there‘s strong, psychological underpinning for homosexual desires. So we‘re not trying to tell anybody what to do, Rachel. Again, we offer effective counseling, very effective for those with unwanted same sex attraction.

And the “Gay Children, Straight Parents” book is for family members. And whether the kids change or not, we say - in that book, I say, that‘s not the goal of this treatment plan. It‘s to learn to love your children well.

Maddow: I will just quote to you from your own most recent newsletter, “For the past 40 years, members of the gay rights movement have been indoctrinating members of society targeting the youth. As a result of their strategic plan, millions of innocent young children have been enrolled into this false teaching and led into a homosexual lifestyle.”

The idea that you‘re not promoting the idea that gay people are something to be feared or that there‘s any threat from gay people or that you say anything people as belied by your own words. The idea that you‘re not promoting cures when you say that change is possible, changing from homosexuality to heterosexuality is possible, is a matter of semantics.

But I want to raise this issue of what causes homosexuality which, as you point out, is essential to your way of thinking. Your most recent book, “Gay Children, Straight Parents” which, again, says nothing about changing people from being gay on the cover, which I think I resent, regardless.

Page 72 to 74, you say, “Among the list of factors that may lead to homosexual desires - divorce, death of a parent, adoption, religion, race.

Cohen: Race? That‘s not in there.

Maddow: Yes, it is - page 75 of your book with your name on the cover.I have to ask you - every single one of those ideas is insane to me. I mean, the idea that a divorce makes you gay for example - 

Cohen: No, no, no.

Maddow: You described it as a factor that contributes to homosexuality desire, OK?

Cohen: You‘re taking it out of context, Rachel.

Maddow: No, I‘m reading it from your book, Dude.

Cohen: Yes. But read what it says before the factors. It says there are many causes. It‘s never one thing alone. It‘s a confounding of factors that leads anybody to have homosexual feelings.

Maddow: I‘ll read to you, “It is important to understand why your child or loved one experiences same sex attraction.”

Cohen: Correct.

Maddow: “You may ask yourself, ‘What did I do wrong? What did we do wrong? Who did this to our child?‘ Rarely is one thing alone responsible for same sex attraction. It‘s a result of a combination of variables.”

Following is a list of 10 factors that may lead to homosexual desires. And under other factors, number 10 - divorce, death of a parent, adoption, religion, race.

Maddow: How exactly does race make you gay? What are you talking about?

Cohen: Keep reading what the book says.

Maddow: About race?

Cohen: No, about what‘s under that. You just read the heading. Now, read the rest of the text.

Maddow: Divorce, death of a parent, adoption, religion, race, rejection by opposite sex peers. You go into the rejection about - you want me to read the rejection of an opposite-sex peer? I‘m not sure I have the stomach for that. “An adopted child, a boy with a fragile sense of gender identity -“ let me ask you about what you said here. How does race make a person gay? It‘s your book.

Cohen: OK. The main factors that will lead somebody to experience same-sex attraction - again, it‘s multi-factorial. But basically, a boy doesn‘t bond well with his dad, the girl -

Maddow: No. Specifically, I want to ask you why you included race there. How does race make you gay?

Cohen: It doesn‘t.

Maddow: OK. All right. Are you a licensed therapist?

Cohen: I have practiced psychotherapy under the requirements of every state that I‘ve practiced in and resided in over the last 20 years. And I‘ve helped thousands of men and women come out of homosexuality.

Maddow: But you are not licensed?

Cohen: No, I‘m not. But I‘ve always practiced within the legal requirements of every state.

Maddow: The American Counseling Association kicked you out in 2002 or 2003 for ethical reasons. Are you certified as any sort of clinician at all? 

Cohen: The American Counseling Association - actually, I‘m glad you brought that up. I‘m a victim, Rachel, of a hate crime. They took the heinous complaint of one client and used that as an excuse to kick me out of their non-licensing trade organization.

The acting president was a gay man. They don‘t like our work. And it‘s a lack of tolerance on their part. They don‘t allow people the right of self-determination to choose if they wish to come out of homosexuality. So shame on the ACA for their intolerance.

Maddow: I will say that the ACA kicked you out because of ethical concerns about your financial relationship with your clients and using them to promote yourself ...not because that you‘re anti-gay. But I think it‘s important to note though, and I want - just in case this gets heard in Uganda or in any other country where they‘re considering basing anti-gay legislation to remove all human rights from gay people on the basis of your claim that gay people don‘t have to be that way if they don‘t want to be.

If anybody‘s watching this anywhere in the world because you‘re considering using this, I want you to know that Richard Cohen is not licensed by any American or any other licensing body whatsoever. And Ithink you have represented yourself, especially by putting your master‘s degree behind your name on the cover of your book, as if you‘re an authority here, as if you represent some sort of -

Cohen: I am a professional psychotherapist, Rachel. And my credentials are that I came out of homosexuality. I‘ve been married 27 and a half years to my beautiful wife. We have three great children. And again, over 20 years, I‘ve helped thousands of men and women in this country and worldwide come out of homosexuality.

“ChangeIsPossible.com” - we know that people can change if they want to. We do not support this Ugandan legislation. People who have same sex attractions, whether they chose to live a homosexual life like yourself, Rachel, or like me who made a decision to come out of it, we all need to be treated with respect, love and compassion.

Maddow: Because your credentials are not scientific and they‘re not professional -

Cohen: I have a degree in psychotherapy.

Maddow: Wait, wait, wait. You just said, because they are - you‘re not licensed by any accrediting body. And so you just stated that your credentials are your personal experience of not being gay anymore.

If those are the basis of your credentials, I feel like although this is weird for me to ask you, because this is personal. I have to ask you, it‘s the basis on which you are making these claims that are being unfortunately taken seriously all around the world.

Since you have been married, have you been attracted to men?Have you ever had a relationship with a man since you got married?

Cohen: If you read my book, “Coming Out Straight,” and I know you have it. You have been looking at it today, so you know the answer to this question already. You‘re just -

Maddow: What is it?

Cohen: In the beginning of the relationship, I was told before marriage, find the right woman and she‘ll straighten you out, and that was ridiculous. What I learned in my own healing process, and my own journey was that I wasn‘t looking for a sexual relationship with a man.

I was trying to experience the un-obtained bond that never happened with my dad and myself and with other guys in preadolescence. And after puberty, those needs become sexualized. So when I healed those wounds and when I experienced healthy love with guys, my same sex attractions left me, Rachel. And I‘m living my dream today.

Maddow: It should be noted, though, that when other people, like the promoter of the anti-gay, kill-the-gays legislation in Uganda cites you as an inspiration, it‘s not only talking about the things that are in your book that you say that you‘ll now take out.

He‘s also talking about your marriage as evidence of your cure, as the fact that you have come out of homosexuality. You‘ve been cured bythe fact that you‘re married. So the fact that you continued to have same-sex relationships even after getting married -

Cohen: You‘re mischaracterizing that. As I said, I got married stupidly. People who say get married it will take it away are ridiculous.

Maddow: OK.

Cohen: I was only looking for the right kind of love. That‘s one reason I became a therapist because people didn‘t know how to help me then. And so, I was told, like you were saying, “Just pray and God will take it away.” It doesn‘t work like that, because there‘s deep psychological reasons for this.

When I dealt with them since that time, Rachel, I‘m strictly attracted to my wife and to women. It‘s not on my radar screen. Change is really possible.

Maddow: I will just note for the record that all responsible professional authorities in this field report that change is not really possible. There‘s no evidence of what Mr. Cohen suggests.

Cohen: Oh, there are many studies -

Maddow: But nevertheless, he is operating an organization that would like to sell you a lot of products that would convince you that it is true.

Mr. Cohen, I wish you personal good luck. I thank you for taking the time to come on to the show. I know you‘ve been unhappy with our conversation about your work thus far. But I hope at least you feel like you‘ve been treated fairly tonight.

Cohen: Thank you, Rachel. I appreciate it very much.


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