COME TO JESUS
The strangest bedfellows in Colorado's sexual politics are Colin Cook and Kevin Tebedo.
Cook, after an exhausting lifetime of fighting his sexual desires for men, calls himself "redeemed" and uses pornography to teach gay men to be straight by praying to Jesus for their erections and thanking God for "handsome thighs" and "fleshy balls."
And Tebedo, the former director of the Colorado Springs-based Colorado for Family Values (CFV), which championed Amendment 2 and fights against pornography, is Cook's firmest supporter.
Together last week in southeast Denver, they offered a remarkable performance that illuminates the hate--and passion--bubbling up in Colorado's anti-gay movement. The setting was a press conference called by Cook to denounce the Denver Post.
Cook, who operates a one-man counseling service in Arvada, had been CFV's poster boy for sexual redemption, conducting seminars emphasizing that homosexuals are bred, not born, and advocating therapy to "change" them into heterosexuals. Late last month, however, the Post, with the help of gay activists, dredged up his self-admittedly sordid past.
And that past may not be entirely behind him. Since Cook moved to Denver in 1993, two of the men he's counseled claim he has engaged them in highly erotic conversations about "sucking cock," offered interminable, grinding, full-body sensual hugs and exchanged sexual reveries that included Cook's admission that he once molested teenagers.
At his press conference, Cook declares homosexuality a "moral wrong" and accuses the Post of having "a dirty mind" and of being "scurrilous" in revealing his highly charged sexual conversations. He denies that he currently engages in "grinding hugs."
"I'm not into that anymore," Cook says. "I was, but I'm not now...I'm not a lustful monster trying to get his own jollies satisfied."
He acknowledges, however, that he still has deeply sexual conversations with clients--a "misunderstood" technique of "getting denial out in the open" for gay men.
But it's only toward the end of the press conference, after repeated questioning, that Cook finally details this self-taught "technique" for leading men away from homosexual behavior. Tebedo, one of the few Cook supporters present, listens raptly, nodding his head, as Cook describes a typical pornography session with the gay don't-wannabes he counsels.
"Once every three to six months," Cook says, "I'll say, `Bring a piece of pornography into the office.' We'll talk about it and look at it. And if he says, `I feel an erection,' I'll say, `Stay with it. Let's get all denial out in the open.'"
Well, maybe not all denial.
While poring over the porn, Cook says, he tells his client to "begin to express thanks to God for that man's handsomeness. I tell him, `Be explicit. Now, pray for this man, because this man is damaged.'"
Where does this sex talk lead? Cook calls it "bringing my sexuality before God, which involves openness to God during arousal and orgasm to short-circuit lust and fantasy and open the way to making sexuality an innocent and beautiful part of our Christian walk with Jesus Christ, and a healthy drive towards the development of heterosexuality."
This "recovery," Cook says, has to include "an examination of masturbation habits" and "descriptions of how the mind responds to sexually attractive people and how to retrain that response through praise towards God."
"To do this," he adds, "generalities don't cut it. You can't get at sexual addiction and homosexual orientation without talking about sex."
There are times--past and present--when that talk has gotten Cook into deep trouble.
Colin Cook, now 55, is a slightly built, pleasant-sounding fellow who was born in England and migrated to the States more than twenty years ago. By the mid-Eighties, having worked as a Seventh-Day Adventist minister and founded Homosexuals Anonymous, a twelve-step program aimed at "converting" gays, he was one of the most visible figures in the Christian gay-to-straight movement. An admitted practitioner of anonymous bathroom sex with men while a minister in a denomination that denounces homosexuality, Cook claimed he had put that behind him, devised a counseling method to fight his own and others' homosexual desires, and married a woman named Sharon.
Like others in the "change" ministries, Cook says homosexuality stems from the longing for a close relationship with an emotionally distant parent of the same sex. All men, he maintains, are created as heterosexuals; the ones who practice homosexuality are simply damaged and wounded.
But Cook's Quest Counseling Center in Reading, Pennsylvania, funded by the Seventh-Day Adventists, collapsed after it was revealed that he engaged in erotic hugs, nude massages and mutual masturbation with his clients. It was Ron Lawson, a gay Adventist and sociology professor at Queens College in New York, who investigated and unmasked Cook almost ten years ago. Lawson sent a long letter with his findings to church leaders in October 1986, and Cook confessed. The church withdrew its funding, and the counseling center closed.
"I have been very frank and very open about my failures," Cook told the Los Angeles Times back then. "I allowed myself to hug and hold my counselees, thinking I was helping them. But I needed it more than they did."
Cook's wife told the Times that Colin had even fooled her. "I did not fully realize how difficult it was going to be," she said of his homosexual desires. "I thought it was in the past. Certainly, I should have asked a lot more questions."
Cook begged forgiveness of his church and ex-clients and eventually resumed counseling. He and his wife had a second child. And in 1993, the family moved to Colorado, where Cook opened FaithQuest Counseling Center Inc. in Arvada. He got referrals from friendly pastors and spread the word by mailing brochures and selling audiotapes.
Cook insists he's cleaned up his act and has not had sex with men "in nine and a half or ten years."
However, this past summer Lawson obtained transcripts from some of Cook's recent counseling sessions and again went public with evidence indicating that Cook is not "cured." Especially compelling were a series of phone conversations between Cook and a client known as "Eddy."
After being counseled over the phone by Cook, Eddy agreed to visit Denver for personal counseling last June. He kept a diary of what transpired and, with Lawson's help, those materials wound up in the hands of the Post's religion writer, Virginia Culver. The paper published her story on Cook late last month, just after he'd conducted two of his "Lifting the Fog" seminars for CFV.
When Culver's article appeared, gay activists called on CFV and the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family--both of which had welcomed Cook with open arms--to now disavow him. Focus, the biggest Christian media company in the nation, backed off, insisting that it really never was affiliated with Cook, despite evidence to the contrary. But Kevin Tebedo, then still CFV's director, strongly supported Cook, praising him for having "hard things to say about the homosexual lifestyle."
Tebedo resigned his CFV post a week later, however, ostensibly to pursue other interests. (He's reportedly become involved in the patriot movement.) And Will Perkins, CFV's founder, has been considerably more reticent about Cook, a man his group once embraced wholeheartedly.
Lawson has sent detailed letters to Perkins and Focus on the Family leader James Dobson, recounting parts of the transcripts and diaries that didn't make it into the heavily censored Post story on Cook. "I don't hate the guy," says Lawson, who first met Cook more than twenty years ago in New York City. "But I don't want him to keep doing this to people."
Besides, Lawson adds, this so-called reparative therapy can boomerang. Eddy, he says, had had only two significant love affairs--the second with a woman. After his sessions with Cook, however, Eddy told Lawson that he actually "felt more gay."
"I am sure," Lawson says, "talking about my own experience as well, that if you struggle not to be gay, it means you can't possibly form a relationship. Yet you're under such enormous psychological pressure that you break out. You don't carry protection because you're not planning on having sex. But then you do--it's the `good' guys who gets AIDS.
"If you can accept yourself, you can get on with your life and get into a relationship. But until you can accept yourself, you go through these cycles of `I'm never going to do it again, Lord.' You cry, you pray. But you keep breaking out and having sex. Which means that you never have sex with the same person twice. Once I had sex with someone, he knew my shame, and I'd never see him again. And I'd pretend I didn't know him."
Lawson calls it "a story of endless defeat. And God doesn't answer those prayers. It's like a white person praying to God to `please turn me into a black person.' That prayer doesn't get answered."
But Cook claims that "counselees" like Eddy who complained about him didn't give his therapy a chance. "If I made any mistake at all," Cook's statement reads, "it was in introducing these precious truths to men whose fear of themselves and others led them to jump ship before they gave themselves a chance to fully understand the course we were plying."
That "course" struck some of his clients as little more than dirty talk.
Think of Jesus being "in the room with you giving you his love as he gives you an erection," Cook told Eddy over the phone, according to transcripts compiled by Lawson.
During one session, Cook gave instructions on "how to get in touch with your sexual energy while Jesus is there with you...: Take off all your clothes...stroke gently...thank God for your body, your legs, your chest, your arms, your thighs, your stomach, your penis, your balls...Praise him for your erection...for these lovely feelings...let the orgasm take over...The major thing is that you don't fantasize." Eddy was urged "to tell Jesus exactly what you sexually desire. Get by your bedside, naked, maybe with a hard-on. And say, `Jesus, I would like to suck a penis right now...'"
During other conversations, Cook questioned Eddy in detail about his sexual practices with other men--"Have you ever actually handled each other's penises?...Tell me about the heavy times. What did you do when you did heavy stuff?...Did you take each other's clothes off, or unzip the pants and take the penis out?"
At one point, after leading Eddy to admit that he loved the smell of a man, Cook agreed that it "could give you a hard-on just like that, couldn't it?" and reminisced about furtively sniffing the underwear of a straight college roommate he "had the hots for."
When Eddy came to Denver in June, he and Cook spent their first session in hugs that lasted as long as ten minutes, according to Eddy's diary. At a subsequent session, they went through Eddy's favorite pornographic magazine, page by page, as Cook added his own comments, such as, "This man has a nice pubic area." Looking at one photo, Cook asked that Eddy pray, thanking God for the model's handsome appearance. "I said I could not feel comfortable doing so," Eddy wrote in his diary, "so Colin said he would pray for both of us. In his prayer, Colin thanked God for the man's strong penis, his handsome thighs, his broad chest, his attractive pubic hair, his fleshy balls and (again) his firm erection." Eddy added that "for me, this was rather sacrilegious and made me uncomfortable. Then he hugged me...Colin rubbed my neck and whispered pleasant words to me about how I could overcome this porn."
According to Eddy's account, Cook also questioned him as to whether he had fantasies about the two of them: "I felt rather shy," Eddy wrote, "but after some prodding, I said I had briefly entertained sexual images of him, but I quickly repressed them because I knew I shouldn't be thinking such things, and especially with him, of all people. After some insistence on Colin's part to meditate on some fantasies about him, I reluctantly said that I had thought about `rubbing him all over'...Colin then asked if I had any other fantasies, such as `turning him over' after I rubbed his penis. I said no, but I had thought about `you know.' Colin asked me, `What?' and I said, `Doing "you know."' I expressed such embarrassment about describing this sex act to his face (vs. over the phone) that Colin finally demanded that I hold his hands, look in his eyes and tell him what I fantasized. I kept looking away. Colin kept repeating, `Look me in my eyes,' and I finally mumbled, `Fellatio.' That didn't please Colin, and he said, `Oh, that sounds so clinical. Tell me in normal words.' After some more hemming and hawing I finally said, `Sucking your cock'--a phrase that Colin made me repeat twice and then used himself several times to discuss what I fantasized about."
Cook's own fantasies--and past activities--also wound their way into his conversations with Eddy, according to the transcripts. During one soliloquy, Cook confessed that he first became sexually active with teenagers in his congregation while pastoring in England and mused, "I could have been in prison today--a molester."
Another counselee, known as David, says his three phone-counseling sessions earlier this year with Cook focused in part on penis size. David, according to Lawson, complained that he was made into a sex object by gay men because he was known as "the guy with the big cock." Lawson says that Cook, "instead of responding to a cry for help, said, `How big is your cock?' And David said, `But that's not relevant.' And then after a while, Cook said, `How big did you say your cock was?' And when he was told, he said, `Wow, you should thank God for it.'"
Cook, however, continues to adamantly deny that he has "phone sex" with his counselees. "The term `phone sex' wickedly misrepresents the purpose and intent of my phone conversations," Cook says in a written statement he distributes only after he ends his press conference and refuses to answer further questions. "`Phone sex' is a nefarious accusation by men whose own sexual distortion has rendered them incapable of perceiving explicitly healing conversations about sex as anything but wrong and abusive. I do not masturbate over the phone or encourage or allow others to do so. I do not encourage any sexual stimulation for its own sake."
Although Cook refuses to comment specifically on the transcripts, the statement he releases refers obliquely to Eddy--and doesn't deny that such conversations took place. "What mentality of counselee," Cook writes, "except one whose mind was already made up, who presupposed evil intentions, or who was planted...would tape counseling sessions unknown to his counselor and then offer them to the press?"
Who would "do this" to Colin Cook? To Kevin Tebedo, the answer is simple--as all answers are simple. After Cook abruptly ends his press conference, Tebedo rises from his chair and gladly takes on reporters. He accuses the press and gay activists of a grand conspiracy to sabotage Cook's vitally needed counseling services.
All this talk of sucking penises and sniffing underwear doesn't put off Tebedo, the ramrod of Colorado's anti-gay movement. Nothing seems to boil his blood like male homosexual behavior.
The son of conservative Colorado Springs legislator Mary Anne Tebedo, Kevin helped found CFV, the organization that successfully promoted Amendment 2 to voters in the 1992 election. That amendment, the first anti-gay measure of its kind in the country, banned gay-rights ordinances but was struck down by local judges; it's now before the U.S. Supreme Court. CFV has kept busy since the '92 vote. The group sponsors anti-pornography and anti-gay seminars, often in conjunction with Focus on the Family. And it publishes a newsletter that regularly harps on the homosexual "menace" to Western civilization.
At the press conference, Tebedo accuses the Post of "manufacturing" the Eddy tapes. (Even Cook himself doesn't make that allegation, and Post editors stand behind their story, the tapes and the transcripts--which, to the dismay of some gay activists, were highly sanitized before publication.)
Glaring at Boulder gay activist Rick Cendo--Cook's local nemesis--Tebedo intones, "Mr. Cendo is a representative of the people Colin needs to work with." Outside the hotel room where the press conference took place, Tebedo gets more explicit.
"By the way, Rick," Tebedo says, "I'm praying for you."
When Cendo thanks him for that, Tebedo explodes, "You're sick and perverted! You want to have sex with children!"
Cendo calmly replies, "Why would you say that to me? I'm in a loving, monogamous relationship. I love a man. Why should that concern you?"
"Because you're perverted! You're sick!" Tebedo yells. "You're the enemy!"
Not the only enemy. Tebedo roasts everyone--"the Post, the News, Westweird--I can't stand talking to you guys!" But he doesn't shut up until the last light is turned off. And then he waits to argue some more.
"I've talked to seven of Colin's clients who think he does great work!" says Tebedo.
Then how about some interviews with them?
"I won't let you talk to them--any of them!" Tebedo shouts.
"Because I won't--that's why!"
Well, then, even if the tapes were "manufactured," Cook himself has just laid out his counseling technique of sex talk. Does Tebedo really support the concept of thanking Jesus for an erection?
"You weren't listening!" Tebedo scolds. "He told you he brings in the power of Jesus Christ, and you rejected it! You guys always reject it! There is an almighty power, and his name is Jesus Christ, and Colin is being used by him to do it!"
Cook is an unlicensed counselor, untrained in psychology and accountable to no one, and the fact remains that no reputable organization of psychologists or psychiatrists endorses his approach. Included in Lawson's research are numerous affidavits, including one from a therapist who treated one of Cook's victims back in Reading: "There is no professionally accepted treatment today which would advocate that a therapist press his erect genitals up against a client under any circumstances."
That means nothing, Tebedo says, growing angrier. The psychology establishment is biased in favor of homosexuals, he contends, and so is the press.
During his own presentation, Cook agrees, but he shoulders some of the blame himself. He talks about his "journey" and his "failures" and admits that he's "imperfect." Yes, his treatment is "unconventional," but that's a plus. "When someone says I'm unorthodox," he adds, "I put my flag up and say, `Amen.'"
That stance sounds as rigid as Tebedo's, but for Cook it's a brave front. Despite what his brochures claim--that he's married and "we" make decisions together--Cook's wife left him last year. And FaithQuest's "national coordinator," Tom Carrasco, departed from the organization this year. The only person Cook regularly "checks in with" is his pastor, Paul Gibson of the Arvada Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Gibson attends the press conference and passes out Cook's literature. But he's not exactly a cheerleader: As Tebedo takes up the cudgel on Cook's behalf, Gibson moves to the other side of the room and tries to get small. "I want to give Colin some room to work," Gibson says of Cook's counseling services. "It's important what he's doing."
Asked what he thinks of Cook's technique of praising Jesus for erections, Gibson blanches and says that his support of Cook is not unconditional. "I've not made my mind up about that," he adds. "Many Adventists couldn't go along with that."
But it's clear that Kevin Tebedo will not leave Cook, even though it's not always apparent what they have in common.
"I've never been homosexual!" Tebedo volunteers before exiting the hotel. "And I never will be homosexual! Thank the Lord!
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