Scientology's Homophobia: Even the Church's Token Gay Guy Was Disgusted
One of Scientology's enduring mysteries is that it has attracted Hollywood stars when it has such a reputation for homophobia. The sexual orientation of its top celebrities is always a matter of popular speculation, and even those with the barest understanding of Scientology seem to know that if celebrity members are gay, they have to keep quiet about it.
Scientology is going through several serious crises right now, but its treatment of homosexuals is never far behind its other more immediate troubles. It was the San Diego church's support of California's homophobic Proposition 8 in 2008, for example, that became the last straw for director Paul Haggis, who famously quit the church and then told his story to the New Yorker last year. (He's not gay, but he has two lesbian daughters.)
Now, we have a remarkable story about a man named Keith Relkin who for several years became a sort of unofficial spokesman for queer Scientology. He was the church's token gay guy in West Hollywood, insisting to the public that Scientology was actually friendly to homosexuality.
On February 3, Relkin died. And now, his friends have shared with the Voice some of his e-mails and other writings which show that behind the scenes, Relkin was actually very frustrated with the deep-seated homophobia of his church.
At one time, Relkin had convinced some officials in the church that Scientology needed to reach out to the gay community in a big way. He talked the church into printing thousands of booklets to hand out in West Hollywood and other gay enclaves. But just before that happened, higher-level executives learned about the plan and quashed it, telling actress Anne Archer that she would not, in fact, appear at a launch party for the new pamphlet.
Relkin was crushed. He spent the next year and a half going through intense Scientology interrogations that convinced him the entire debacle had been his own fault. Then, over the last four years of his life, he continued to struggle through his church training, trying to understand where he'd gone wrong.
Two days before he died, Relkin sent a short e-mail to a friend.
"I think my new policy when talking to Flag staff will be to just blurt out 'I'm gay.' And watch them run," he wrote, referring to executives at Scientology's spiritual Mecca in Clearwater, Florida, known as "Flag Land Base" or just "Flag."
"Thought you might care to pass this on," he added as he concluded his note.
Now, months after Relkin's death, his friends have done just that, passing on to the Voice his writings.
1. Hubbard and the queers
We've written before about the source of Scientology's homophobia. The organization was founded in the 1950s and in some ways is preserved in amber: Scientology is still guided by the words of L. Ron Hubbard, and his books and policy letters are not to be altered in any way even though he's been dead for 26 years. So when Hubbard called homosexuality a "perversion" in his 1950 book Dianetics, and then a year later characterized homosexuality as "covert hostility" on his chart of human emotion, which he called the Tone Scale, those words tended to be set in concrete for Scientologists.
Covert hostility registers at 1.1 on Hubbard's Tone Scale -- for non-Scientologists, your emotional state can go from 0 (death) on the low end to 4 (enthusiasm) on the high end. (Only Scientologists can reach the top end of the full scale -- Tone 40, which equals "serenity of beingness.")
Hubbard taught that people can move up the Tone Scale with his processing (called "auditing"), and to this day gay members are told they need to "handle" their homosexuality through auditing, which will raise them above 1.1 to higher states on the scale.
In other words, Scientology believes in gay therapy. If a homosexual moves above 1.1 on the scale, they'll be happier, and they will no longer be gay.
"It's a cure, that's right," former Scientology executive Claire Headley told me for a story in May. "If you're auditing, you're going to move up the Tone Scale, and so you won't be 1.1 anymore."
In Scientology's highest circles of executive power, former officials tell me, that thinking is pervasive. It was only at smaller, local facilities in more gay-friendly locations that there seemed to be a more liberal attitude about gay members joining Scientology. Such was the case in parts of Los Angeles, where Keith Relkin had been spending a lot of time in the church.
Relkin worked in the movie industry -- his niche was researching rights for production companies. That work brought him into contact with a lot of people in various levels of the movie business.
In November 2000, Relkin came out publicly as a gay Scientologist in a big way. A publication by the name of Fab! had written about the church's legendary homophobia, and Relkin asked to write a rebuttal, saying that Scientology's invasion of West Hollywood was actually a good thing:
In fact, there are quite a few of us happy little Scientologists here. And considering that this community is confronted by the same problems of drugs, unhappy relationships and the stress of living which all communities are faced with, Scientology is likely to continue to catch on here... because those are the things Scientology addresses and has answers to.
Relkin asserted that Scientology was actually a leader in human rights, the Beverly Hills mission in particular was welcoming to gays, and that it was his mission to help Scientology reach out to the gay community.
Less than two years later, however, Relkin wrote a very different kind of report, this one for Scientology's Office of Special Affairs.
OSA is Scientology's intelligence-gathering and covert operations wing. In May, 2002, Relkin submitted a "knowledge report" to an OSA official, handing over a list of names in the movie business, people who had told him derogatory things about Scientology. Some knew he was in the church, others didn't.
Relkin, in other words, was spying on his friends.
"My boss at Disney...VP of Casting Administration, and a good friend...[said] 'Scientology discriminates against gay people!' Don't know where she heard this," Relkin writes.
"Casting Director...with whom I worked on a TV show a few years ago, lots of ideas that Scientology didn't let gay people in. That Cruise and/or Travolta were forced to 'convert.' She claimed to have personal knowledge of this. Even after she knew that I was gay she remained skeptical!"
"One of my selectees...(A Disney employee and an actor) was getting auditing at B.H. [Beverly Hills] Mission, then someone (I think a psych) showed him the data in DMSMH [Hubbard's book Dianetics] on homosexuality. He didn't want to continue. At that time I was not openly gay, so I couldn't easily handle him."
"My friend...a Variety reporter, has commented that he thinks Cruise is gay and hiding it. Not sure where he got this data though I've seen comments like this in gay publications. (Travolta too)."
(I've removed the names from the report out of fairness to the people named in it. Also, every source I've talked to who knows Cruise well says the man is not gay. I can't say the same for Travolta.)
Relkin lists several other cases of friends in the movie business complaining about Scientology's homophobia. Then he turns to examples that he's experienced himself.
"Being openly gay in Scientology has been very difficult and I have run into a great deal of suppression as a result. I was told by numerous terminals [Scientology's word for people] in Orgs that I couldn't be gay and be in Scientology."
Relkin writes that in the 1980s, the "Master at Arms" at Scientology's "advanced org" in Los Angeles had required him to be "bonded and waivered" twice before he could receive Scientology services as a gay man. "These bonds had to be signed by a notary public. I destroyed these several years ago, but I suspect there are others out there in the public and these (if they fell into enemy hands) would be very clear proof that the Church bars gay people."
I asked one of Relkin's friends what these "bonds" was a reference to. "What he's talking about is that when the church does allow gay people to get auditing, they have to agree that during their time in the church, they would not engage in any homosexual acts," says the friend, a gay man who has his own extensive history in the church.
Relkin continues down his list of grievances in his report. At one time, he had been married. An official at Flag, in Florida, had told his ex-wife that he was "1.1 and I would never get on my OT Levels if gay," meaning that Relkin would never reach Scientology's vaunted higher levels of spiritual enlightenment, the Operating Thetan or OT teachings.
Another official in LA had told him the same thing, that he would never attain OT as a gay man.
But trouble for him had started much earlier, Relkin points out.
"I was routed off staff at Seattle Mission in 1980 for having gay thoughts, not even actively gay at all. I was told these thoughts were 'succumb postulates'," he writes.
He was punished for admitting in 1985 to going to a gay bar. His progress in his Scientology training at the Celebrity Centre in Hollywood was repeatedly interrupted, he writes, because he was "harangued" about his "aberrated" sexuality.
"I personally was not accepted at Flag for auditing 5 years ago and was told part of the reason was that I was gay," he writes. "I have not been back since, nor do I have any plans to go there any time soon."
He received a "derogatory letter" from a Scientology official "suggesting my auditing activities in the gay community were wrong, asking 'Why are you helping gay people?' etc." he writes.
He goes on to detail several additional experiences by other people who were denied services or were otherwise treated badly because of their homosexuality.
Relkin's lengthy report about the rotten state of things in the church apparently won him at least some support from OSA and other officials. Within a few years, he had formed a couple of gay Scientology groups and had received permission to make a big outreach program on behalf of the church.
Relkin seemed about to change the image of the church in West Hollywood.
2. The Gay Way to Happiness
In 2006, Relkin got permission to have the church print up thousands of special gay-themed copies of L. Ron Hubbard's booklet, The Way to Happiness.
Hubbard wrote the collection of generic life advice in 1980, at a time when Scientology was still reeling from the prosecutions of some of its top officials for engineering a years-long infiltration of federal agencies in order to steal documents critical of Hubbard. Hubbard himself had been hiding out in case the FBI also wanted to bring him in for questioning as his own wife went to prison for her part in the plot. Hubbard's booklet contains such generic advice as "set a good example" and "do not murder." At a time when Scientology's image was particularly tainted, the booklet seemed an obvious move for good PR.
As obvious as the booklet's advice seems to be, the church puts great stock in it and hands it out in bulk at the sites of natural disasters, for example.
In 2006, Relkin had convinced some church officials to print two special editions of it -- one with a cover featuring two silhouetted men holding hands, the another with two women.
"I took meetings with him and the leaders of the Los Angeles Org, and OSA was there. They approved the gay Way to Happiness," says another of Relkin's close friends who spent many years in the church.
Like Relkin's other good friend, this former Scientologist still has close ties with family members in the church, and asked not to be named for this article. He says that he is hoping to identify himself in a future article when his situation has changed.
He says he had met Relkin during Scientology training about the time Relkin had made his knowledge report to OSA in 2002, and had then started up two gay outreach groups, Affinity International and Clear Rainbow. I asked him what Relkin was like.
"Actually, he was kind of grumpy and grouchy and curt. He tried to be polite, but that would go away here and there," he says. "He had control issues, anger issues. He would have a hard time in a group. He had big problems with himself, and he thought Scientology was the only way he could handle it."
Relkin would talk about being gay and Jewish and a Scientologist, someone who suffered triple the persecution that others went through. "I think he kind of liked to suffer sometimes. He would really get into it," his friend says. "And he did realize that they were mistreating him in the church. He absolutely did."
But in the summer of 2006, Relkin seemed to have convinced the church to take a major leap forward. After getting the permission of certain OSA officials, thousands of copies of the special edition of The Way to Happiness had been printed, a launch party had been scheduled at the Beverly Hills art gallery of Isadore M. Chait (a wealthy Scientologist), and actress Anne Archer (a longtime church member) was scheduled to appear.
"The first indication that something weird was going on happened within a week of the party, when we heard that Anne Archer couldn't make it," Relkin's friend tells me. "He had to cross out her name on all the invitations."
Then, suddenly, the Chait gallery was out. As Relkin was making calls to find out what was happening, he was told by OSA that not only the event had been cancelled, but the booklets were being recalled and had to be destroyed.
"He called me and he was all freaked out," Relkin's friend says. "He was devastated."
Marty Rathbun was once the second-highest ranking official in Scientology until he left the church in 2004. But he tells me that he is familiar with the incident, and tells me there's no question that it was church leader David Miscavige who told OSA to cancel the event and the planned distribution of booklets.
"I knew that it was OK'd at OSA level, and I know the only person who orders into OSA is Miscavige. For 22 years, nobody ordered into OSA except Miscavige," Rathbun says.
Whatever caused the sudden change of mind, Relkin was suddenly a problem, and he needed to be handled.
For the next year and a half, his friend says, Relkin talked about intense "sec-checking" he was going through to "handle" the incident. "Security checking" is Scientology's version of interrogation.
"It breaks you down," his friend says. (And it's expensive. Scientologists pay up to a thousand dollars an hour for auditing, but they also pay exorbitant rates for being sec-checked. I recently talked to a 40-year Scientologist, still in the church, who tells me over his career he's paid half a million dollars just for the sec-checking he's received in that time.)
"Keith lost a lot of weight over that year and a half," his friend says. "I would tell him, 'Keith, you don't deserve this. What you were trying to do was good.' And he would flip. 'You don't know what you're talking about! You don't know what evil intention I had to pull this in!' he'd yell at me.
Ten months after the cancelled event, in May 2007, Relkin received two letters from Scientology officials.
The first was from Gwenda Byrne, Director of Corporate Affairs at ABLE -- the Association for Better Living and Education, Scientology's non-profit that oversees its "social betterment" programs, one of which is The Way to Happiness Foundation, the entity that produces and distributes the booklet.
"I want to make it clear that the approval that was given for the cover at the time was given in error, hence I am writing to you to dispel any idea that the approval was correct," the letter says.
Three weeks later, Relkin received a letter from Guillaume Lesevre, the Executive Director International of the Church of Scientology International. Lesevre's letter is in response to a request from Relkin that his "cycle with OSA" be cancelled -- in other words, that the intense interrogations he was going through end. But Lesevre says he can't do that.
Lesevre's letter to Relkin
We now know disturbing new details about both ABLE and Lesevre. After the defection of a number of high level executives, news began to leak after 2008 of a bizarre office-prison at Scientology's secretive International Base east of Los Angeles. In reports at the Tampa Bay Times in 2009 and in our stories since, details about this prison for church officials, known as "The Hole," have leaked out, and we've heard about high-ranking executives made to live in hellish conditions for years, unable to leave, fed slop, and made to endure mass confessions day after day. As we reported recently, eyewitness reports place the president of ABLE, Rena Weinberg, in The Hole since at least 2007. Lesevre, despite his high-ranking title, has been in and out of the office-prison since 2004, according to others who were held in it.
Relkin apparently didn't know that the people telling him he was a failure and a fuckup were themselves subjected to a bizarre regime that put executives through an Orwellian program of blaming themselves for everything that went wrong for Scientology.
Relkin's friends say that as a good Scientologist, he continued to believe he had somehow done something wrong by trying to improve the church's image with the gay community.
In August 2011, just a few months before he died, Relkin sent a copy of the 2006 announcement of the party at the Chait gallery with these words...
"We sent out a few thousand. Lol. What a mess, had to cancel the event, call everyone... etc. etc. Get back ALL the books. I'm not even saying that that was not a correct handling, considering the amount of HE&R [human emotion and reaction] that was being generated. An idea that was perhaps a little before it's time? Who knew..."
His friends say Relkin was in poor health his final few months. He'd lost weight. But he still talked about getting up the Bridge and handling his problems through Scientology.
But doing so would mean getting the officials at Flag Land Base in Clearwater to accept him as he was.
On February 1, he sent the e-mail to a friend, saying that he considered that pretty much an impossible task.
Two days later, he suddenly died in his home of natural causes.
By then, the friend who had gone with Relkin to get approval for the booklet from OSA says he had left Scientology, and Relkin had been forced to "disconnect" from him.
If he didn't shun his friend, Relkin would have had to be sec-checked, and he would have had to pay for it.
"It's always something you pulled in," the friend says, meaning that you are always told in Scientology that you are at fault for the problems in your life. "It's something in your case that needs to be handled -- and something you have to pay for.
"It's a brilliant way to extort money out of people," he says.
For its part, the church denies that it is homophobic. In the wake of Paul Haggis's defection and statements about Scientology's support of Proposition 8, the church's then spokesman, Tommy Davis (Anne Archer's son, who we hear has now left the organization) uttered this for MSNBC's benefit in 2009:
"The church supports civil rights for everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, race, color or creed. We are a minority, too; we understand what it's like to be persecuted, so to the extent that anything prohibits or inhibits on civil rights, we don't agree with it."
Vanity Fair Has More On Tom Cruise Wife Auditions
There have been several stories over the years about the way, post-Penelope Cruz, new possible mates were "auditioned" for Tom Cruise by Scientology. Specifically by Shelly Miscavige -- the wife of church leader David Miscavige, who has been scarce lately -- and witnessed by Marc Headley. Wasn't it Andrew Morton who made this screening process for Cruise girlfriends part of his 2008 book about Tom?
Anyway, Vanity Fair teased its October issue yesterday by announcing that Maureen Orth has a story about Nazanin Boniadi, an Iranian-born, London-raised actress and human rights advocate who spent a few months trying out to be Cruise's wife #3 before she was shoved aside and Katie Holmes entered the picture.
Boniadi has wanted to tell her story for years, we'd heard, but she's bound by multiple non-disclosure agreements from doing so. We hear that Orth managed to do a classic "write-around," putting together Boniadi's story without help from Boniadi herself. And judging from what was teased at Vanity Fair's website, she has some very juicy stuff.
Meanwhile, last night Marty Rathbun announced on his website that he's very protective of Nazanin -- we hear she was one of the first people he helped after his own defection from the church -- and he made it clear that he's ready to correct the record if Orth got anything wrong.
Well, we can't wait to see what Vanity Fair has!
UPDATE: Roger Friedman has a stunning statement from director Paul Haggis. Tonight -- Sunday evening -- Friedman posted an e-mail from Haggis saying that he knows and supports Nazanin Boniadi, and confirms that she was treated shamefully by the Church of Scientology.
I've met quite a number of people who have been treated shamefully but are afraid to speak out. This story will draw attention because of our fascination with celebrity. Most of the others are just ordinary people whose stories, if told, would not appear in a magazine. They live in fear of retribution, legal, financial or personal, even some famous ones. They fear an incredibly wealthy organization that boasts that it seeks truth, empowers people, brings families together, encourages independent thought and free speech, and champions human rights. I would like to say that i don't know how its members, many of them good and intelligent people, can remain so purposely blind when they are faced with evidence like this every day, but then I am no one to talk. I was happily blind for many years, so I know the shame that Naz feels.
Go to Roger's site to get the full statement. This is remarkable backup from a big name, and adds to what should be a landmark piece published in Vanity Fair.
UPDATE, Monday afternoon: As promised, Marty Rathbun is providing corrections on the Nazanin Boniadi story -- and he's doing it even before Orth's full story has appeared in Vanity Fair!
At his blog today, Rathbun writes that NBC, on its Today show, incorrectly gave the impression that the Cruise-Boniadi relationship lasted only three months before Cruise "tired" of the young actress. Instead, Rathbun says, the reason the relationship ended was that she got too close to the truth -- that it was all a put-up job engineered by Scientology leader David Miscavige. Writes Rathbun:
Of course, we now know that Naz was right on the money. And apparently Naz' nearly finding that out that sent Top Gun into orbit. Miscavige came to the rescue to have Naz hauled into Scientology Inc premises for behavior modification in the form of weeks of intense, overwhelming, and introverting forced confessions interspersed with hard, demeaning labor.
Fascinating. I don't know what's more entertaining, watching various news organizations trying to report Orth's story before it's actually out, or watching Rathbun scold them for getting it wrong. What a show!
On the next page, our countdown, and Sunday Funnies!