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.



Alan Chambers and his wife, Leslie, respond to survivors of ex-gay therapy.


Chambers responds that Exodus remains “a Christian ministry” that will serve a demographic in need — Christians with same-sex desires who nonetheless want to adhere to biblical teachings about sexuality by being celibate, and the small number, like himself, who will enter a heterosexual marriage.

But that demographic, it appears, is diminishing. Exodus’s annual conference, which is going on now, was expected to draw fewer than half the attendees it had three years ago. Some other ex-gay groups have split off from it, finding Chambers’s position too conciliatory.

“As long as there’s prejudice and discrimination, there will be some form of these groups,” says Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, an organization that seeks to combat the ex-gay movement. But Besen (who is not involved in the Our America episode) sees the movement as being significantly weakened, at least in the United States.

In addition to Exodus’s renunciation of reparative therapy, Besen points out, other blows to the movement include psychiatrist Robert Spitzer’s apology last year for a study he did that was used to justify such therapy, research he now says was scientifically unsound; onetime ex-gay spokesman John Paulk’s recent announcement that he is no longer ex-gay; a law enacted last year in California to bar state-licensed professionals from performing reparative therapy on minors (it is currently being challenged in court); and a similar law under consideration in New Jersey. More states will approve such legislation, he says: “I guarantee it.”

Besen, who says the ex-gay movement is now being run by a mix of “charlatans” and “true believers,” spoke with The Advocate as he was on his way to join other LGBT activists to counter an ex-gay conference in Oklahoma City, sponsored by the Restored Hope Network, which broke off from Exodus. Restored Hope Network’s leader is Anne Paulk, the estranged ex-lesbian wife of John Paulk.

“We are winning this battle, indisputably,” Besen says. “We have discredited them.” He adds, however, that the ex-gay movement is gaining strength overseas, particularly in Russia and in many nations of Africa. In Brazil, evangelical lawmakers are pressing to overturn a ban on so-called conversion therapy.

But stateside, he says, “our opposition is weak.”

Ling, a straight woman who has been an LGBT ally since she saw a gay friend bullied and beaten in middle school, says the ex-gay movement “is in the midst of an identity crisis.” She’s not sure what its future holds, but with even onetime advocates like Chambers acknowledging the ineffectiveness of reparative therapy, the movement could fade away.

She calls the “God and Gays” episode “one of the most important shows I’ve ever done” and says she “was honored to be in the room” with the survivors. “I want people who are watching this to understand what these survivors have gone through,” she says. She found them inspiring, and she’s impressed with how some have even strengthened their religious faith after accepting their gay identity. “Watching this episode,” she says, “you’ll have no doubt that people can be gay and Christian at the same time.”


Our America’s “God and Gays” airs Thursday at 10 Eastern/Pacific on OWN. Watch a preview below.


Sneak Peek: Lisa Ling's Special Report - God & Gays

Tags: Religion