Undercover ex-gay group accuses Mason of obstructing alternative therapies
Voice of the Voiceless, an organization advocating for the rights of ex-gay individuals, recently went undercover at the Mason LGBTQ resource center to examine how individuals dealing with unwanted sexual attractions are treated at Virginia universities.
Christopher Doyle, president and co-founder of Voice of the Voiceless, believes LGBTQ resource centers at Virginia universities discriminate against both former homosexuals and individuals with unwanted same-sex attractions who do not identify as LGBTQ.
During his experience at Mason’s LGBTQ resource center, Doyle said he witnessed discrimination in these centers that he thinks has been going on at college campuses across Virginia. Doyle also said he received medically inaccurate advice and biased counseling.
Ric Chollar, the director of the Mason LGBTQ center, disagrees.
“We don’t give students advice, we give options, and I did that with him,” Chollar said.
Doyle’s organization works closely with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, an organization supporting the families and friends of the ex-gay community, which has sent brochures for students questioning their sexuality and interested in changing their sexual orientation to LGBTQ resource centers at Mason, the University of Virginia and other Virginia state-funded universities.
After Doyle conducted the investigation of Mason and other Virginia public universities, he contacted Liberty Counsel, a non-profit, anti-abortion, Christian litigation group that advocates for religious freedom. Doyle said that because Mason is a public university, the LGBTQ center should be value-neutral and treat brochures from ex-gay organizations the same as those from gay-affirming organizations.
Doyle accuses the university of suppressing the ex-gay therapy pamphlets and refusing to give them out to students. Chollar, meanwhile, said that whenever students ask for these materials, he brings them out.
“As soon as someone asks me for information about these groups, I tell them we have the information and if they would like some, I’ll get that for them,” Chollar said. “He and I sat in the office and I turned and I pulled the file drawer out and I have them sitting in my file drawer.”
Doyle said he went into the LGBTQ center at Mason as a graduate student unsure about wanting to be gay.
“Our investigation was an effort to see what a student would experience if they were to go into this office and speak to a counselor, Ric Chollar, who is the director there, and I did that,” Doyle said.
According to Chollar, however, Doyle did not aggressively ask for the ex-gay materials as Doyle said he did in the Voice of the Voiceless press release.
“What groups like his are asking, in fact demanding, is that written information like brochures be displayed publicly,” Chollar said. “I will admit that is not what we do. However he also says that he had to aggressively ask over and over again. That is just not my memory at all.”
Rose Pascarell, the vice president of University Life, said that the restoration therapy supported by the Voice of the Voiceless has been proven null. Several medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association and the American Psychiatric Association have advised against reparative therapy.
“Mainstream medical associations have rejected it and have said that it is not a healthy response to the individuals and their questions and concerns about their sexual orientation,” Pascarell said.
Doyle, however, believes this untrue and cites organizations such as the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality to explain his stance.
“What he told me was that if I tried to change, if I tried to change sexual orientations, I would likely become depressed, disillusioned, anxious and commit suicide,” Doyle said. “That is absolutely and scientifically inaccurate. There is no research data to conclude that people who go through a sexual orientation change over therapy experience what he said that I would experience.”
Pascarell also said that Chollar handled the situation in the gentlest way possible, performing his duties as a licensed clinical social worker by explaining his concerns with reparative therapy.
“The press release is misleading,” Pascarell said. “I think we have a phenomenal LGBTQ resource center that absolutely supports students in all their choices.”
Doyle, himself a psycho-therapist, said that LGBTQ resource centers at public Virginia universities should be value-neutral and present both sides of an issue.
“That is what proper and ethical psychotherapy and counseling is about,” Doyle said. “You take the client’s goals, and you work with their goals and you don’t impose your own values. It’s supposed to be value neutral.”
Pascarell and Chollar believe that Chollar was responsible and acted ethically in handling the situation. According to Chollar, Doyle told him that he was straight and had just recently become aware of his feelings for other men and wanted help as to the direction he should take while at the same time remaining an Evangelical Christian.
Chollar advised Doyle to attend the Metropolitan Community Church, a gay-affirming congregation, and to read a book entitled “The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay.”
“He would have had a different reception with me if from the very beginning he said he didn’t want to [be gay],” Chollar said. “He presented as neutral and unknowing and that he was experiencing these feelings and he didn’t know what to do about them.”
According to Pascarell, prominently displaying the ex-gay resources would interfere with the goal of providing students support and would be giving them information that mainstream associations have said can be harmful to an individual.
“It presents quite a contradiction when we know the information actually can be quite unhealthy in the long run,” Pascarell said. “Every mainstream medical association has said that.”
According to Chollar, the LGBTQ center at Mason works to help all students find their voice, and he believes prominently displaying the ex-gay resources would be contrary to that mission.
“LGBTQ center and neutral are not the same thing,” Chollar said. “An LGBTQ center wants to provide services and is open and available and welcoming to anybody, so all students who are interested in even themselves or their friends or their family can learn about becoming successful, happy, productive lives.”
Liberty Counsel has sent a letter to both Chollar and President Cabrera explaining their position that, because the center is at a state-funded school, all views on homosexuality should be presented. They expect a response by Oct. 25.
“Around that time, we will be making specific policy recommendations for reform,” Doyle said.
According to Doyle, these policy recommendations include sensitivity training and professional development for staff to be more aware of how to treat someone who wants to change sexual orientations.
“They say, if we don’t respond, they will assume that their accusations are true, and they will go forward from there,” Chollar said. “We’re just now trying to educate and fill in our senior staff, so that they are prepared for thinking through the response. Our legal university counsel team is looking this over.”
Chollar said that after receiving the letter from the ex-gay organization, President Cabrera has asked his team for advice. Chollar has spoken with his superiors, including Pascarell.
“I would welcome the chance to talk with Dr. Cabrera directly about this,” Chollar said.
Chollar said that this is not the first time ex-gay groups have demanded their resources be prominently displayed at Mason’s LGBTQ center.
“In the past, one series of events got to this stage. We didn’t respond, and it was followed up with a Freedom of Information Act request that was linked with the beginnings of a threatened lawsuit. In one instance, we complied with the FOIA and that was as far as it went. In another instance we responded saying we will comply, but it will cost you the amount of hours and copying and materials, and we never heard from them again,” Chollar said.
However, Chollar believes this case may be different.
“This time seems to be different in I have been led to believe that the attorneys from different universities that were served these letters have been talking to each other, or that they have reported this to their deputy attorney general. It’s bigger than just one institution,” Chollar said.
Elvira Razzano, the Webmaster at Pride Alliance, an organization that serves as a safe space for LGBTQ students, found the Voice of the Voiceless press release to be surprising.
“Their movement is based on telling people that [being gay] is wrong,” Razanno said. “We’re based on telling people to be who they are. For them to tell us that we are obligated to tell people that’s wrong to have sexual attraction against someone of the same sex is just against what we stand for.”
Chollar is upset that the time and resources that could be spent helping students are being used to deal with this situation.
“I’m guessing that at the heart of this is one person, if not a number of people, who were very badly hurt at some point, and that they are really struggling,” Chollar said. “I wish he and I could have been honest with each other.”
Pascarell said that, as an institution of higher learning, it is important for Mason to help students make healthy choices.
“Whatever your sexual orientation, it’s perfect,” Pascarell said. “The world is imperfect. So let’s work to change the world, rather than to change one’s self-identity, which is completely normal.”