Gay Mormon relates torture
By John Byrne

A counselor placed electrodes on his chest, arms, legs and genitals. Gay pornography graced the white screen of the dark room. Jayce Cox, a desperate gay Mormon teenager, writhed in pain as electricity surged through the half-dozen contact points on his skin.

“He seemed so nice,” Cox recalled of the counselor. “He seemed so together. As a Mormon, you’re taught: trust your leaders.”

Cox’s “treatment” would leave permanent emotional and physical scars. In the MTV documentary produced of his story, which he screened Saturday in the Science Center, he lifts his shirt to reveal six welts which dot his chest like oversized insect bites.

Cox, a survivor of the Mormon-affiliated Evergreen “aversion therapy” program, told a terrifying tale of dehumanizing torture at the hands of one of western United States’ wealthiest institutions: the Mormon Church. The program, which is voluntary, is roundly encouraged within the church for purging same-sex desires.

Tracing his life from a rural, orthodox Mormon household in rural Montana to his present-day life as a special education schoolteacher just outside of Helena, Cox recounted a tale of harrowing self-loathing, often growing teary-eyed in its recollection. His story was produced for last summer’s MTV’s documentary special, “True Life: I’m Coming Out.”

Cox, then 19, had just suffered a panic attack after a sexual encounter with another male college student. Terrified, and whipping himself for desiring men, he retreated to the showers and sobbed.

Quickly thereafter, he found himself searching to “cure” himself of desires he believed were simply irreconcilable with his religion.

“As a Mormon, I felt that my priorities shouldn’t be my education but that it should be my recovery from my homosexuality,” he said. “You knew that it was the sin next to murder,” he added.

Cox discovered a program called Evergreen run by Mormon counselors at Brigham and Young University in Salt Lake City. A counselor, whom he knew as Michael Keates, informed him of the program’s aims.

“They were going to put a negative association with homosexuality,” he said.

Cox volunteered $9,000 — his college savings — for a continuing program that promised to rid him of his homosexuality.

Cox, though, got more than he bargained for. Subjected to electroshock treatment, focus groups and intense browbeating for his inexorable desires, Cox later described his experiences as “spiritual rape.”

“When he would turn on the electricity it would just hurt so much. It would shake me,” Cox said.

Moreover, he was told not to tell anyone of the program, further aggravating his internal struggle and fueling feelings of depression.

“I became so depressed,” Cox said. “I went to the drug store and bought poison.” He says he thought of killing himself many times.

Eventually, he simply stopped going. He says he spent the following two years trying to deal with his homosexuality on his own. His parents set him up with a young woman, Julie, and convinced him to get married. “It wasn’t,” he said, “a terribly optional affair.”

“She was told by her bishop that if she didn’t marry me, she would be condemned,” he recalled.

The wedding was set and the temple booked for June, 1999. Cox says he felt recurrent pangs of anxiety and sensed he wasn’t on the right track. He went to the temple for guidance, and three times he heard the same message echoing in his head: don’t do it.

“I couldn’t stop throwing up,” he recalled. “I was passing out at work. I was tremendously overwhelmed and I knew that I was doing the wrong thing.”

To escape, though, meant excommunication. To give up marriage, to declare his sexual orientation, meant the death of his Mormon family—an ideal he had cherished from his youth.

“I realized that I had to give up that which was really dear to me in order to survive,” he said. He broke off the marriage and came out to his bishop. The bishop announced his homosexuality to the community.

“My brothers and sisters wouldn’t speak to me and my father told me I had three days to leave the house,” he remarked.

Several years later, after navigating through a slew of gay bars, sexual encounters and utter desperation, he found solace with a gay marriage and family counselor in Las Vegas. There, he received free treatment in exchange for telling his story to a reporter. His story appeared in print in the May 12, 2000 Las Vegas Bugle.

Cox also took the time to read a letter from an anonymous friend who went through a similarly torturous process. The friend called a counselor to enroll himself an Evergreen program sometime after Cox.

“She told me this treatment was in its experimental stage, but that they thought that it would work, that it was a winner,” he read. “When I got there…I was given papers to sign that this had nothing to do with the church.”

He was placed in a straitjacket and threatened with excommunication if he breached confidentiality.

“They put what looked like a blood pressure cuff on my penis. Every so often the machine would beep and ammonia was sprayed into my nose. It would only spray ammonia into my nose when I got an erection.”

“I have constant nightmares,” he continued. “I want to kill myself.”

Cox said he believes that aversion therapy has abandoned electroshock treatment for ammonia sprays, but that the such procedures continue today. Because all participants must be over 18 and sign waivers for admission, the programs have avoided lawsuits. Brigham Young University asserts that such treatments ended in the late ’70s, and denies they continue today.

Regardless, he said, BYU continues to discriminate against homosexuals, denying them admission or sending them to aversion therapy if they come out. Cox read from the BYU handbook.

“If you will be honest with us we will refund your tuition,” he read. “We do not want others to be contaminated with your presence.”

In the MTV video, Cox is shown as variably emotional and upbeat. In one scene, he is wearing overalls in front of a temple, dwarfed by the sheer size and majesty of the building.

“I’m ashamed of my people…of our spiritual leaders who would use their powers to spiritually rape us, to financially rape us,” he says.

Cox closed with a Mormon hymn which he read from a small blue prayer book.

“Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side,” he said. “For thorny ways lead to a joyful end.”

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