An Exodus From the 'Ex-Gay' Movement?

The movement, which suffered the latest blow on Wednesday as Exodus International's board voted to shut down, is the subject of a new installment of Our America With Lisa Ling.



Art (left) and Sean are two of the ex-gay survivors appearing on Our America With Lisa Ling.
Art (left) and Sean are two of the ex-gay survivors appearing on Our America With Lisa Ling.

The nation’s most prominent ex-gay group, Exodus International, announced on its website late Wednesday that it will shut down and reemerge as a new ministry.

The group had for most of its existence insisted gay people can be turned straight. Exactly what its newest iteration will become is unclear from the announcement, and a new website called "Reduce Fear" hasn't even been completed.

Decades after leading U.S. mental health organizations agreed that being gay is not a disorder, a small segment of American society, driven largely by religion, has persisted in saying homosexuality is something that can and should be “cured.” While there has always been ample skepticism about the “ex-gay” movement, recent developments indicate the movement is becoming more marginal than ever — it’s not dead, but it’s certainly in critical condition.

Stories are legion of those who’ve gone through so-called reparative therapy, seeking to turn from gay to straight, only to find the therapy is not only ineffective but downright harmful. Mainstream mental health professionals have condemned it. One state has outlawed it, and others are likely to follow. Even the president of Exodus International has renounced such therapy and says Exodus is no longer part of the ex-gay movement.

That man, Alan Chambers, appears Thursday night on Our America With Lisa Ling, on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, delivering an apology (of sorts) to LGBT people who’ve been harmed by ex-gay efforts. It's timed with a written apology issued this week via the Exodus website. The shift by Chambers and Exodus, however, raises the question of just what the movement is about now — if it doesn’t profess to make gay people straight, is it offering only celibacy or the closet?

A year ago, at Exodus’s annual conference, Chambers announced that the organization was renouncing reparative therapy, saying it offered false hope to those who undergo it and even harms them, while treating homosexuality differently than other “sins.” But he continues to believe that sex should be confined only to monogamous heterosexual marriages.

Recently, Chambers, who had been interviewed for Our America’s “Pray the Gay Away?” episode in 2011, contacted Ling to say he wanted to make a return appearance to issue an apology for the hurt caused by ex-gay therapy. She suggested that people who had left ex-gay groups be present. “I was really surprised that Alan agreed,” she tells The Advocate.

It resulted in a three-hour meeting that “was exhausting emotionally,” Ling says, and that is readily apparent in the portions featured in the new Our America episode, “God and Gays.” Chambers and his wife, Leslie, met with 10 survivors of ex-gay programs, including Michael Bussee, an Exodus founder who eventually left the group and became an out and proud gay man; Jerry, a former pastor who came out of the closet after a 26-year marriage; Catherine, who was a counselor with an ex-gay ministry and calls it “the greatest regret of my life”; Art, who believes his bipolar disorder was brought on by ex-gay therapy; and Christian, whose experience attests to the gender stereotyping and misconceptions about gays that permeate such therapy efforts — he was urged to give up his found-object art projects and pursue more “masculine” activities such as sports and gym workouts. They and the others were enlisted from an online support group run by Bussee.

They gathered in the basement of Hollywood Lutheran Church in Los Angeles, a congregation affiliated with the LGBT-affirming Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ex-gay movement is largely a phenomenon of fundamentalist Christianity, with mainline Protestant Christian denominations accepting gay people as they are. There is also at least one Jewish ex-gay group, and the Roman Catholic Church has a ministry that seeks to help gay people lead celibate lives.

Chambers says of Exodus, “Today we cease to be an ex-gay organization.” He apologizes for the hurt it has caused by promoting efforts to change sexual orientation, and he tells the survivors of ex-gay therapy, “You haven’t ever been my enemy, and I’m sorry I’ve been yours.” He says he recognizes the right of LGBT people to campaign for equality. But he also says he will not apologize for his beliefs about biblical constraints on sexual behavior.

The others in the room confront him about just what Exodus is. “My cynical side would say it’s the recloseting ministry,” says Jerry. He sees Exodus’s new message as “We cannot change you, we cannot give you a happy life, but we can help you get back into the closet more comfortably.”

“No matter what you change, you’re still selling that lie [about changing sexual orientation], and you know it, that’s the worst thing,” says another, Sean, who had been told he was demon-possessed and contemplated suicide because of the pain caused by ex-gay therapy. “You know, deep down inside, Alan, that it is still a bald-faced lie.”

Tags: Religion