DENVER — “I am Luca Di Tolve. I was a gay man. Now I am married to Terry, we have a daughter and I am happy. This is my story …”
So reads Di Tolve’s memoir, I Was Gay Once: I Found Myself in Medjugorje (2019 English translation, Lot Group Queen of Peace, Rome). In the quick read, the 49-year-old Italian recounts his same-sex attraction as a teen and homosexual diagnosis by a psychologist and his years as a celebrity-activist for homosexual rights — he hobnobbed with Gianni Versace, Madonna and Princess Di — after being elected the first “Mr. Gay” of Italy.
The book also relates his eventual conversion to Catholicism and the healing of his gender-identity deficit through reintegrative therapy. Today Di Tolve and his wife, Terry, have a mission to encourage those with unwanted same-sex attraction know that they, too, can find healing in Christ.
To that end, Di Tolve runs the nonprofit Lot Group and spends much time sharing his story in Italy and around the world.
On a recent speaking tour in the United States, Di Tolve spoke to Register correspondent Roxanne King in Denver before addressing several hundred members of the Catholic catechumenate the Neocatechumenal Way. The interview was conducted with the help of a translator. It has been edited for clarity and length.
How did you come to see yourself as gay?
Soon after I was born my mother and father separated. It was an arranged marriage, not true love. They divorced. I started feeling the effects of this lack of a father in my first relationships with my peers. I had a lot of insecurity, very low self-esteem. When I tried to insert myself in a group of my peers, I couldn’t. I was afraid.
Growing up only with a mother, I was coddled. I was very sensitive. My peers realized this. So I was afraid of entering into a group of guys, even though I liked being there. There was like a barrier, a block. I call it defensive detachment. For fear of being wounded, little by little, I lost my masculinity. I missed that beauty of doing what the other guys did together — there was a void in me.
At the age of hormonal development, this caused me to have some sexual and romantic attraction toward other boys. At night I screamed the name of a boy I knew. My mother was worried.
She took me to a psychologist. I was 12 or 13. The psychologist told my mother, “Your son is a homosexual. You need to learn to accept it because it’s normal.” I felt confirmed by a doctor.
I met a guy older than me, very effeminate. He told me, “Don’t worry; there’s many people like you. I’ll take you to wonderful places where you’ll find someone who loves you.” I entered into the world of gay lounges.
I came from a poor family with a single-parent mom, so when they offered me the possibility of making $100 a day for dancing, for a teenager it seemed marvelous. I finally had friends like me.
Later, I found myself participating in the “Mr. Gay” contest. I became the first “Mr. Gay” of Italy. This made me notorious in both the gay and the fashion environment of Milan. I went to the gym. I worked out. At around 20 years old, everything seemed fantastic. I would go to Miami during the winter, and in the summer I would go to Sardinia with famous rich boyfriends and have fun. This is the beginning of how I became gay.
What was your experience of the homosexual lifestyle?
I exchanged Christian values for pleasure: to have financial well-being, nice cars and people with whom to relate. Little by little, this wasn’t enough. I was looking for love. Soon, the relationships didn’t gratify me. I would have a boyfriend but then either I would break up with him or he would break up with me. There was always something that didn’t work.
I started to fight as an activist to obtain rights for homosexuals. I started traveling more and more. Once I saw a billboard for a gay cruise, so I took this idea from the United States and started promoting gay cruises and gay travels to improve relationships with guys and with society.
Around me many guys — friends — started dying from AIDS. Coming back from Miami one day I got a fever. After a month, they discovered I was HIV-positive; it was almost AIDS. If I hadn’t been treated quickly, I would have died. I discovered this the day before my best friend’s funeral. He died at 24 of AIDS. Life became like a downward spiral. I was sick, and I was getting weaker. The world was starting to crumble around me. But I continued the gay lifestyle. I kept going to the gym, taking vitamins. I started drinking more. I started taking more drugs. At night I would arrive home, a beautiful home, after being acclaimed by people, but I didn’t have a person next to me who loved me, except maybe for two nights, a month, two years. I was getting sick of it.
What led to your conversion?
The medicine I was taking for the HIV was making me skinnier, uglier. Within me was the spirit of death, which put me in anguish. One day I said, “Tomorrow I’ll take all these pills, all this medicine and call it quits” — like many other friends of mine who had destroyed themselves with medicine, pills, drugs and alcohol.
My mother had given me some icons of the Virgin Mary, beautiful icons that I’d put in the hallway of my house. I started thinking, “The Virgin Mary exists!” I had a realization: She’s not just a drawing, not a fable. At that moment, I asked for help. I grabbed a rosary. I didn’t know the mysteries, but I knew the prayers. And I began to feel within me a peace, a warmth — so much so that I saw Our Lady in the depths of my conscience. At one point I fell on my knees as if from a heart attack of love. My heart was surrounded by a mother of love. She had her hands out and she said, “Go forward.” She understood my sufferings. She said, “Keep going. Make the next step like a little child beginning to walk. If you fall, my Son will pick you up.” I understood I could keep going.
I had stopped leaving the house — I had become people-phobic and had panic attacks. I thought, “If I leave the house and go to Mass, I’ll make a step like the Virgin said.” I began going to church, and I felt the need to confess. When I gave my confession, it was as if the veil that was covering my eyes — my spiritual blindness — fell.
Finally, I was alive. I felt strong. There began my conversion.
How were you able to reclaim your masculinity and heterosexuality?
I read a book by Joseph Nicolosi, [the late] American professor from California. In it he speaks of clinical studies on homosexuality and about his studies on homosexuality. It was as if I was struck by lightning by what he had written. I felt it was exactly what I had seen with my own eyes. He was saying: You are not a homosexual; you are a heterosexual. You have a homosexual problem. You can return to your heterosexual nature; it’s like you are a latent heterosexual. I saw that I had a problem with male friendships. He said homosexuality is a problem of relation, not of sex. Nicolosi said that was the wound: not to be able to have true intimacy with other men. I called Dr. Nicolosi in the United States immediately. I spoke with him and did a session through Skype.
This was beautiful. I decided I wanted to follow this road. This was 22 years ago.
He introduced me to a psychologist who could work with me in Italy, Andrew Comiskey from the ministry Desert Stream Living Waters [of Grandview, Missouri; Comiskey became Catholic in 2011]. I was told I could reintegrate my masculinity and the homosexual attractions would disappear. For the first time I tasted the possibility that maybe I could have a family. This was beautiful. Thanks to this therapy I began this voyage, and after about two years I started to have more initiative in my work, to make decisions, to be assertive. I made friends. Nicolosi said when you have many healthy friendships the homosexual attractions will crumble. This sounded impossible. What helped me was prayer and faith, because it was very difficult.
I started dedicating my vacations to visiting the most beautiful sanctuaries in Europe. The young Christian groups were a great opportunity to have friendships and to have vacations with prayer. There was a moment when we were at the beach having a good time and I realized that I didn’t feel anything for the guys in swimsuits. At that time I didn’t have an attraction for women yet, but I was happy. So I started praying and asking for a woman [to come into my life]. I was 30. I wanted someone to love me. One day I went to Medjugorje [the pilgrimage site in Bosnia-Herzegovina] to thank Our Lady for what had happened to me. I met some friends; it was the month of May. We decided to return to the youth festival there in August. And there, finally, I met my wife. There was an immediate understanding.
We had the same values. We wanted to do the same things. We became engaged in 2006, and in 2008 we got married.
What message do you have for others who are also struggling with same-sex attraction?
We want to give this joy we’ve received to others who want it. We founded an association (the Lot Group) that helps people who, in freedom, want to change [from homosexuality to heterosexuality]. It’s an association of evangelization. We know many people who have changed their life, have gotten married and had children. We are against gender ideology because we know there is a choice. We want to give hope. The scientific studies say homosexuality is not a genetic condition — you’re not born this way.
What I care about is that people have the freedom to explore [reintegrative therapy]. Instead, today there is an attack on it, even with laws [prohibiting it]. We Christians believe that Jesus can heal our wounds. Together with good psychotherapy, wounded men and women can recover their masculinity and femininity. When these wounds are healed, one’s masculinity or femininity flourishes.
You return to what God had in mind for you since the beginning. You can experience the fullness of joy and completion.
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Therapies and a Book Ban
Reparative, reintegrative and conversion therapy — are they all the same?
Although “LGBTQ” activists lump them together and use the terms interchangeably to refer to treatments that aim to steer individuals from homosexuality to heterosexuality, professionals involved with the processes make clear distinctions about their practices and goals. Here’s a quick look at what the terms refer to and why they have been in the media so much lately.
Earlier in July, pressured by LGBTQ activists who insist that homosexuality is innate and fixed — even though science has yet to find a “gay” gene and scientific consensus shows that sexuality is fluid for some — and who see any therapy outside of affirmation as harmful, online giant Amazon pulled psychologist-author Joseph Nicolosi’s books from its catalogue. Nicolosi, a devout Catholic who died suddenly from flu complications in 2017, pioneered what is called reparative therapy.
Nicolosi promoted the classic understanding of homosexuality as an attachment loss rooted in trauma: A child doesn’t fully identify with the same-sex parent, which causes a defensive detachment they seek to “repair” with same-sex relationships. Nicolosi held that this gender-identity deficit, or “gender wound,” could be healed and overcome.
His specialty was the treatment of men who wished to diminish their same-sex attractions and develop their heterosexual potential. (Client stories are available at JosephNicolosi.com.)
In addition to writing four books about reparative therapy, Nicolosi founded and directed Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in Encino, California, and was a co-founder and former president of the professional organization National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), now called the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice.
Due to the Amazon ban, Nicolosi’s books, including a new one, The Best of Joseph Nicolosi, will soon be available at JosephNicolosi.com. Two of his works, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach and Healing Homosexuality: Case Stories of Reparative Therapy are currently available at Rowman.com.
Nicolosi’s son, Joseph Nicolosi Jr., who is also a clinical psychologist, has built upon his father’s legacy by founding and directing the nonprofit Reintegrative Therapy Association. Reintegrative therapy is a trademarked term referring to treatment that uses evidence-based interventions to resolve trauma and addiction. Providers must be clinical psychotherapists who are trained by and adhere to the association’s ethics code. As providers help clients resolve their trauma and/or addiction, changes in sexuality are often a byproduct, the organization says on its website (ReintegrativeTherapy.com).
Free to Love, an insightful 2018 film produced by the association, features four men who underwent reintegrative therapy. The film may be viewed at FreetoLoveMovie.com.
Conversion therapy is a broad, nonscientific term referring to attempts to change (or “convert”) a person’s sexual orientation. Unfortunately, no licensing or standardized qualifications are required for an individual to set up shop as a “conversion therapist”; therefore, some offering such services are not mental-health professionals and treatments can range from traditional talk therapy to controversial aversion therapy. Since 2012, starting with California, 18 states have banned conversion therapy for minors.
“Contrary to what … activists and their allies at Amazon claim, my father never advocated so-called conversion therapy,” Joseph Nicolosi Jr. wrote in a July 10 opinion piece for The Daily Signal online news and commentary publication. “My father had nothing to do with these or any similar practices, and as a therapist myself I wholeheartedly condemn such a concept.
“[The] book ban by Amazon and radical LGBT activists reveals the blatant hypocrisy of today’s leaders of the LGBT movement: They celebrate exploration of every kind of sexuality they can imagine, unless that exploration happens to lead an individual toward a traditional, heterosexual lifestyle. … My hope is that there will be a large enough outcry from consumers that Amazon will rethink its decision. If it doesn’t, my dad’s books won’t be the last to get blacklisted.”
One homosexual activist was primarily responsible for getting Nicolosi’s books banned from Amazon by using an online petition tool, Change.org. A petition is currently online at LifePetitions.com urging Amazon to reverse its decision to ban books striving to help those with unwanted same-sex attraction.