How counseling by unqualified therapists and distorted use of a 12-step program brought a young gay couple together at an ‘ex-gay’ camp
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
KC Jansson came out to his parents in ninth grade. His parents sent him to counseling. Then he came out to them again as a high school senior.
“My dad’s a Southern Baptist pastor in Missouri, in a small southern town.” he said. “They said I was either going to be on the streets or do it their way. They were going to pay 10 grand for me to go to this camp.
“I didn’t have a choice but to go there,” he said.
Jansson described the camp as a sort of drug rehab center for being gay. He said he was raised to believe that if he was gay he was going to become an alcoholic and a drug addict and get AIDS and never go to college or love anyone.
Larry Jansson, on the other hand, lived in Southern California and had very accepting parents.
“I never thought I’d marry a small-town guy,” he said. “There was no God in my family. No church.”
But when he was 18 and still struggling with his identity, Larry started doing theater with a Christian group.
“They started doing their work on me,” he said.
He “got saved,” he said, by a group called Harvest Crusade. But from then until he was 26, he lived a double life.
“I was either hanging out with these people who thought that I was a Christian or I was out totally doing the gay thing without them knowing,” Larry said.
Then he found out about Love in Action, a group in Memphis, Tenn., that does “reparative therapy.” He decided that he was going to figure things out and so spent his entire $10,000 savings to attend.
Larry said he convinced himself, “If somebody says that God is the answer and this can be changed, I want to know for myself.”
So Larry’s parents drove him to the program. But his mother kept telling him he didn’t have to go.
KC and Larry arrived at the facility at the same time. This was KC’s first time away from home and his first time to be around other gay people.
The two described the restrictions: No cologne. No clothing by Calvin Klein.
“I had a Nintendo Gameboy. I couldn’t keep that, because it would keep me from being focused on God,” Larry said.
“I played piano,” said KC. “I couldn’t play because they said it would distract me from my therapy.”
And although they described the therapy as based on recovery programs used for addictions, the 12 steps they followed were a very distorted version based on shame, the two men said.
For the first three days, they were not allowed to talk and always had to look at the ground. Each person was assigned a “house brother” who had gone through the program. That person, who was gay, had made it through the first three months to the next stage.
The first night there was a meeting with the four new house members and their “big brothers.” Although they weren’t supposed to look at each other, Larry and KC kept making eye contact.
There were no doors on the rooms and each room had three beds. Larry and KC were assigned to share a room.
Bathroom time was limited to 15 minutes. They had to set a timer to make sure no one was spending too much time locked in there doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing.
The next day they went to church. Larry and KC described the church as Prestonwood Baptist-sized, and said all of the members knew who they were. They were escorted to the first row and felt the condemnation of the crowd as they took their seats.
Each morning they would drive down to the church. They would sit in a circle for “Courage, Honesty and Respect” group.
“You would call someone else out for something they did,” said Larry, and the person being accused couldn’t respond for 24 hours.
“I would say something like, ‘KC, you didn’t set your egg timer this morning and we have rules here and I want you to think about that,’” Larry said. “And KC would get fuming red — but he couldn’t say anything.”
KC regarded the rules as a joke. Larry took them very seriously. He wanted to know if these were the rules that were going to turn him straight.
They had group and individual counseling sessions. A woman in Larry’s group said that she was raped and that she didn’t feel comfortable sitting next to a man.
No one there could help her.
KC said his “counselor” was in college but worked at this house unsupervised. Two others were former drug addicts who had gone through 12-step programs themselves. None was a licensed therapist.
“In individual sessions, I was asked to open up about certain things that only a real counselor could deal with,” Larry said. “I now am seeing a true counselor because they opened up these wounds and never closed them.”
At night, the counselors would discuss the group. In the morning they would come to the meeting and tell each one what they could no longer do.
Larry was a dancer and today teaches two dance classes in Plano. He said when he was nervous he’d begin to tap. One morning he was told he could no longer dance.
“That was one of the most devastating things they could do to me,” he said. “It was like waking up one day and finding out I was paralyzed.”
In order to turn the group into “men,” at 6:30 each morning they had to go to the gym because gay people don’t go to a gym.
But they had Larry play basketball.
“We’re in a gym full of hot bodies and muscles,” said Larry. “One day, they had me play basketball. Just because I’m 6’-2” doesn’t mean I can dunk a damn ball.”
But he did it because he wanted the program to work.
Building a friendship
During the first three months of the program, KC and Larry developed what they both called a genuine friendship.
Whenever they went anywhere, they had to go in groups of three and always had to be within eye contact of each other. Larry said that if one person needed to go to the bathroom, they all had to go.
After three months, Larry and KC graduated to the second part of the program. Their parents attended an actual graduation ceremony, but they simply continued to the next phase of the program.
KC said he had no choice but to stay because his alternative was to return home to rural Missouri. Larry was still determined to see the program through.
During this period, they were allowed to get a job. Larry went to work for the church, and KC got a job at Radio Shack. But the program still tried to monitor every movement.
“But they’re constantly calling you, constantly e-mailing you,” KC said.
“You have to call your house manager when you leave work and they time you to make sure you get home at the right time,” Larry said.
In this part of the program, they had to work on “trigger trips.” They sent the group of four who had started together to places that might trigger sexual feelings.
Their first trip was to the mall — their first shopping trip in three months.
“I remember walking into that mall and hearing angels,” Larry said.
Larry was given a clipboard and had to write down what triggered them.
One member of the group wanted Godiva chocolate but the other three restrained him because apparently only gay people eat Godiva chocolate.
But the biggest test was when the four walked by Abercrombie & Fitch. Larry said that when the four saw the huge poster of the ripped model in the window, they stopped short and fell on top of one another.
Larry and KC had become best friends and once they graduated and were given more freedom, they began doing things together.
“Any time we were allowed to be alone together, we started doing crazy little date things,” Larry said.
But still nothing happened between them. They were just enjoying each other’s company.
“I never even told KC that I thought he had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen,” Larry said, “because I thought God wanted something else for me.”
Over the next five months their friendship developed, but without physical contact between them. “No kiss. No hug. No touch,” Larry said.
Then the church secretary was going out of town and asked Larry to walk her dogs and water her plants. KC began to tag along.
“All of a sudden we had this place to go that was a little more intimate,” Larry said.
Then on the way back one evening, they stopped at Sonic.
“I had my leg propped up where the gearshift was and he put his arm on me,” KC said. “And from that point forward, I knew I was in love with him.”
A few days later they were at the church secretary’s house. Larry could tell something was wrong with KC.
When Larry finally convinced him to talk, KC admitted he had feelings for Larry and both agreed that it was wrong.
KC turned his back to Larry, and Larry put his arms around him. And as they sat on the couch with their arms around each other, they told each other that it was wrong.
They drove back to the house where they were living, conflicted and in silence. But later that night, they had to let the dogs out again, so they went back. And that’s when they had sex for the first time.
Larry said KC told him he loved him before they had sex. KC thought it was after.
But KC said he told Larry, “I love you. I want to be with you. We’ll do whatever it takes.”
Leaving the program
They were in the last month of their program. Larry needed to decide what he was going to do. He thought he might return to California, but whatever he did, it would be whatever Jesus had planned for him.
He knew he loved KC also, but couldn’t say it.
“I was the brainwashed one trying to make this work,” Larry said. “I wouldn’t let myself say it.”
He wondered if he should tell someone what they had done.
On the third day after they had sex, they drove around Memphis looking at houses. Larry drove up to a mansion that he had seen and stopped.
“What are we doing here?” KC asked.
“I’m going to get you that one day,” Larry told him and KC started crying.
They said that was the point they knew they would build their lives together.
“We just needed to find a way to get out of there together,” Larry said.
KC had planned to move to Dallas, live with his brother and go to college. Larry signed up to go on a short missionary trip to Dubai.
At the end of the six months, KC left for Dallas and Larry left for Dubai. Larry had spent all of his savings on the program. KC had some money. He took enough to get to Dallas and left the rest in a drawer at the house for Larry to get when he got back from Dubai.
When Larry got back from the Middle East, he returned to Memphis, gathered up his belongings, collected the money KC had left for him, got in his car and headed to Dallas.
He packed and snuck out of the house at 3 a.m. No one from the program ever called him to find out where he was or what happened.
KC’s brother was married with three children and Larry was not welcome there. So KC rented him a room at a cheap extended-stay motel. KC told his brother that Larry was his accountability partner. Accountability partners are friends that help each other not be gay.
Larry drove into Dallas and met KC at a gas station at Frankford and the Tollway.
“We were excited about beginning our life together,” Larry said.
Larry had already gotten a job in Carrollton with Washington Mutual, the company he had left six months earlier in California to enroll in the program.
After three days, KC couldn’t stand being apart from Larry and he moved in with him. He told his brother, he said, who was more extremely religious than his parents.
“Thanks, con man,” his brother told him. “You better get out of my house before my wife gets home.”
Happily ever after
Larry and KC lived in the extended stay hotel, changing hotels several times until they could afford an apartment. Then three months after moving to Dallas, Larry proposed.
For KC’s birthday, the two drove to Galveston. After checking into their hotel, they went to the beach and walked out onto a rock pier.
Larry got down on one knee, took out a ring and said, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”
But before they were able to get married, Larry got a call in the middle of the night that his mother had been killed in car accident. A drunk driver hit his parents and his father was seriously injured as well.
KC recalled the last time he saw Larry’s mother.
“As we were leaving, she said to me, ‘Promise me you’ll take care of him for the rest of your life,’” she said to him.
They waited for the trial of the drunk driver to be finished before getting married. In September 2009 they legally married in Connecticut and then held a ceremony for friends and family at Cathedral of Hope in December. They had 14 attendants and a lavish reception at the W Hotel.
They invited everyone they knew, and a few they didn’t, including the Obamas and Larry’s favorite TV host, Tyra Banks. While the Obamas didn’t respond, Banks sent her regrets but invited them to participate in a show on same-sex marriage, which they did last June.
By the time the wedding in Dallas took place, KC’s brother had divorced his wife. The brothers had become closer and he served as KC’s best man.
The couple took a honeymoon cruise, and now own a house in Frisco and a little Maltese dog. They decided they wanted the same last name. Because they liked the way KC’s sounded better, with the help of attorney Lorie Burch, they legally became the Janssons.
KC is finishing his degree in accounting at UT Dallas and works full-time managing a salon. Larry is the director of marketing for Boys and Girls Clubs of Collin County.
Mention the Janssons to Dawson Taylor, the pastor who married them at Cathedral of Hope, and he just laughs.
He said he’s never met two people who are so perfect for each other and so in love.
And despite having gone through reparative therapy camp, Larry said, “I want everyone to know we’re good with God.”
Taylor agreed and said that their wedding was as much a worship service as a marriage ceremony.
After dealing with Larry’s mother’s death and the subsequent trial, Taylor said, Larry’s family needed a celebration. Family members came from all over the country and Larry and KC reveled in being the source of joy after so much sadness in the family.
Now, life for the Janssons has settled into a normal routine.
In addition to their jobs and school and a happy suburban life in Frisco, both have returned to activities taken away by Love In Action. Larry teaches dance classes. KC plays the piano.
And once KC finishes school, they’ll begin seriously looking into adoption.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.