Nicolosi was a featured speaker at the Love Won Out conference--an arm of one of the nation's most influential evangelical groups, Focus on the Family--that drew over a thousand people to Raleigh's Crossroads Ministries on Saturday. From the pulpit of Crossroads' cavernous chapel, Nicolosi preached with scientific authority about a controversial treatment called reparative therapy that labels homosexuality as a "mental disorder."
Nicolosi characterizes the genesis of homosexuality as a Freudian father-son disconnect. To those willing to listen, he evangelizes that the politics of professional psychology have stifled his "good science," until now.
"When a client walks in my office I say, 'You're not a homosexual.' There's no such thing as a homosexual," said Nicolosi, who reminds the flock that this is neither political nor religious information. He assures, "This is scientific information."
No other professional organization--outside of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals (NARTH), which Nicolosi founded in 1992 to "combat scientific censorship"--accepts this rationale. Established medical and educational organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of School Administrators, the American Psychological Association, the National Education Association, and many more reject reparative therapy with serious concern about its potential to do harm.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, "The potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."
Wayne Besen, author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, is more direct in his appraisal of Nicolosi's "whole secular, scientific front." According to Besen, so many ex-gays have failed it's impossible to believe any credible scientific organization would support reparative therapy.
"Dr. Nicolosi is a fundamentalist Catholic, a religious fanatic disguising himself as a secular therapist," Besen told the London Guardian in April. "The vast majority of these therapists come from a religious background. Exodus International, the biggest ex-gay ministry in the world, promotes Nicolosi as a therapist to go to."
"There's good science and there's junk science [used to further an agenda]. That's it," answers Nicolosi. "Go to my website (Narth.com) and you'll find good science, and you'll also find links to junk science: the American Psychiatric Association just published a report that said pedophilia was not harmful to children."
Love Won Out packages Nicolosi's scientific gestalt with a collection of speakers, some with Ph.D.s after their names, all with theological training. Over the course of the day, men and women such as Mike Haley and Melissa Fryrear presented themselves on stage as "ex-gays" with happy homo-to-hetero stories to tell.
"God uses friends and family members to spark change," says Fryrear, an ex-lesbian who admits she is "still getting used to my pumps."
"Perception, despite what is really true, can become reality," added Fryrear. "Accept the reality, but not the homosexuality." Shield your children from the pro-gay message of tolerance, she says.
Dick Carpenter II, "an assistant professor of educational leadership in a major research university system" (but his Web site doesn't say where), focused his critique on the pro-gay agenda found in schools during a session titled, "Why is what they're teaching so dangerous."
Drawing from so many disciplines, the Love Won Out message represents a unified, albeit phobic, argument against homosexuality.
"Ministry is not a substitute for therapy," asserts Nicolosi. "Ministry and science fit together perfectly. The problem is that science is so highly politicized."
In fact, a recent study by Dr. Robert Spitzer, a senior professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, confirmed that behavioral change was possible for homosexuals. Details of the study have only provoked more controversy, though.
Spitzer took 18 months to find 200 people willing to describe themselves as converted, and almost half were found through ex-gay organizations--tantamount to testing a drug on someone recruited by a pharmaceutical company. Further, religion was "extremely" or "very" important to 93 percent of the subjects. Still, some of his subjects had changed their behavior.
At the same time, though, two New York psychologists carried out a study that interviewed 182 people who were trying to change. Dr. Ariel Shidlo told Newsweek, "The stakes were really high for them. Some really thought that if they didn't change, they would literally find themselves in hell...And they still failed."
At Saturday's conference this contrasting voice manifested in protestors, representing Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and even other churches.
"(Love Won Out) is disseminating incorrect information to so many people. Clearly, the goal of Focus on the Family's Love Won Out traveling conference is to deny gay people equal rights." said Gailya Paliga of the Raleigh chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW). "Their message is simple: Since gay people can 'change,' they do not deserve protection from discrimination."
Several Love Won Out volunteers found that message curious enough to approach the two-dozen protestors. A bookstore clerk from Durham named Harlan said his daughter was attending the conference and wanted to know what the protestors could possibly be saying.
Handed a flyer that detailed the reparative therapy debate--information not presented inside--Harlan appeared ambivalent.
"God works through scientists, as well," he said quietly. He then related the story of a preacher whose mangled vocal chords were healed mid-sentence during a sermon only a few days after he had approached suicide. The scar tissue had disappeared--a medical miracle.
Harlan's point seems to be: There's good science and bad science. And there are miracles.