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Air Force Academy employs Focus alum and 'conversion therapy' champion

Strange bedfellows

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When Lt. Josh Seefried recently learned that a conversion therapy practitioner works at the Air Force Academy, he picked up the phone.

"I called to ask him [about] his past with ex-gay therapy and his current teachings with cadets," says Seefried, a 2009 academy grad who helped found OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an association of LGBT active-duty personnel, veterans and military families."I was directed to his book and told of ways to deal with my struggles with same-sex attraction."

That book, Sanctification Coaching: Sexual Purity and Peace for Christian Men with Same-Sex Attractions, was self-published under the Xulon imprint for Christian books by Dr. Mike Rosebush in 2009. That's the same year the academy hired the former Focus on the Family vice president to work in its "plans and programs directorate," which develops institutional policy, plans and assessment strategies for commanders.

It's also the same year the American Psychological Association debunked conversion or "reparative" therapy, saying not only that it's unproven, but that it can cause depression and suicidal thoughts.

In 2011, Rosebush transferred to the academy's Center for Character and Leadership Development. The academy defends his continued presence, noting one of the programs he's designed won the Jon C. Dalton Institute's Best Practice Award for "outstanding practice ... relevant to the field of college student character and values development." And the academy adds via email that Rosebush — who declined to be interviewed for this story — doesn't work directly with cadets.

Dealing with 'sga'

Rosebush has actually spent a good share of his career at the academy. After graduating from there in 1975, he taught a core psychology course on campus from 1982 to 1985, the academy says via email. In 1989, he completed a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of North Carolina, which included a dissertation titled, "Behavioral observation scale for a subordinate appraisal of supervisory performance at the U.S. Air Force Academy."

He then returned to the academy from 1988 to 1992, teaching courses on leadership and marriage and family. He was named an "outstanding instructor" during that time, the academy reports.

In 1990, he became a Licensed Professional Counselor in Colorado; he would often practice over the phone. In 1995, he retired from the military and joined Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs-based Christian organization notorious for LGBT intolerance.

During 10 years there, he was a vice president and directed a college program in the Focus on the Family Institute, according to biographies issued by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals (NARTH) and the website strengthinweakness.org.

A bio used in 2012 by NARTH, a faith-based group that claims to help those with unwanted same-sex attractions, said Rosebush served as president of Coaching Confidant, "a counseling ministry for Christian men who struggle with unwanted same-gender attractions (sga) and/or sexual addiction." NARTH also noted Rosebush had "successfully dealt with his own sga." He also oversaw qualifications and training of "Exodus International-approved counsellors," and coordinated Exodus' counseling ministry with other Christian and secular organizations worldwide.

Rosebush left Focus in 2005 and published Sanctification Coaching in 2009. The book advises "homoerotically-capable single men who ... do not presently have a heteroerotic capability to either pursue acquiring that capability, or else learn to be content with being single." It included a supporting blurb by Exodus International then-president Alan Chambers, who wrote, "This book is going to assist countless men who are struggling with same-sex attractions."

By 2013, Chambers was singing a different tune. In June, Chambers shut Exodus down and apologized to the gay community for the "trauma" that its reparative therapy programs caused, saying, "I understand why I am distrusted and why Exodus is hated," Christianity Today reported.

'Pretty bad news'

Rosebush's working at the academy raises questions for Marsha McDonough, a psychologist in Austin, Texas, who co-authored a chapter in the ethics section of the 2012 Handbook of LGBT-Affirmative Couple and Family Therapy.

She notes that just in the last year, there's been a "cascade of promising developments," including the repudiation by Robert Spitzer of his own 2003 study that was interpreted by many as bolstering reparative therapy. In addition, two states — California and New Jersey — have adopted laws outlawing "conversion therapy" for minors.

McDonough says she's unaware of Rosebush having written any articles on sexual-orientation change efforts for journals sponsored by mainstream mental health professionals: "Dr. Rosebush's telephone conferencing for conversion therapy is unethical and it's not scientifically supported and not supported by any mental health association." (See "Out of the mainstream," below.)

McDonough says change efforts are driven by right-wing Christians, and that they've come to dominate the military chaplaincy. That trend gave rise to the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, of which she is a member; it advocates for free and diverse religious expression and denominational balance and symmetry within the Chaplain Corps consistent with national demographics.

Forum Co-Chair Tom Carpenter, a Naval Academy grad, says he won't take action until he knows more about Rosebush's role at the academy. (Carpenter says a source of his is meeting with cadets.) But he adds, "The problem in my mind is that the Air Force Academy hired him in the first place. It's like you talk about desegregation and you hire someone from the KKK. It is disturbing." Especially, he says, given the academy's track record of allegations that cadets are pressured to embrace fundamental Christianity.

"Knowing where the country was headed with the [September 2011] repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and knowing that openly gay and lesbian people could serve, you'd think the Air Force Academy would be very sensitive to that," he says. "But that's not indicated by the hiring of Rosebush."

Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, calls hiring Rosebush "a total scandal and outrage." MRFF, formed in 2005 amid claims of religious bias at the academy, has 27 LGBT clients at the school, he says.

"They said it's like living in a North Korean prisoner camp," Weinstein says. "You walk on eggshells in fear of being outed, because of this approved tidal wave of Christianity ... being told you're not good enough, you're sinning because you made a choice to be a sinner, you're lying about being born that way. It strikes at the very core of their being."

Katie Miller, a lesbian, knows that feeling. She resigned from the Military Academy at West Point in August 2010 to protest Don't Ask Don't Tell, and joined the OutServe group. She's since graduated from Yale and works as a researcher at the Center for American Progress.

"This is pretty bad news," Miller says, noting that the presence of someone with Rosebush's beliefs can say plenty to malleable cadets living in an insular environment. "You're learning institutional values," she says. "It's not just a matter of someone who has strong religious beliefs teaching at the Air Force Academy, but many of the beliefs held by Dr. Rosebush are actively harmful to a number of people and to LGBT cadets specifically."

Seefried, the 2009 AFA grad, says the problem is compounded by Rosebush's assignment to the character program. The academy says his MOSAIC program "allows cadets to explore and commit to their own personal development around ethical values/virtues."

zubeck@csindy.com

Out of the mainstream

— Pam Zubeck

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