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Former Conversion Therapy Leader Comes Out: 'I Hurt People'

McKrae Game

A former leader in the conversion therapy movement has come out as gay.

McKrae Game, who was executive director of a conversion therapy group for nearly two decades until he was fired in November 2017, came out in June of this year, The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., reports. Now he has given the paper an in-depth interview about his life.

“I was a religious zealot that hurt people,” said Game, who was also an ordained Southern Baptist minister. “People said they attempted suicide over me and the things I said to them. People, I know, are in therapy because of me. Why would I want that to continue?”

“Conversion therapy is not just a lie, but it’s very harmful,” he added. “Because it’s false advertising.” Conversion therapy is designed to turn LGBTQ people straight and cisgender, but it has been discredited by every major medical and mental health organization. Eighteen states, plus many cities and counties, have barred licensed therapists from subjecting minors to the practice, although not Game’s home state of South Carolina, and in any case, faith-based counselors who are not licensed by a state or municipality remain free to provide such therapy to anyone.

Game, now 51, grew up in a Southern Baptist household in Spartanburg, S.C. He was aware of his attraction to other boys by the time he was 11, and he had his first same-sex relationship when he was in his late teens.

But he began having panic attacks and what he describes as a nervous breakdown that lasted two weeks. In 1993, at a conference for evangelical Christians, he prayed for salvation and told fellow attendees about the conflict he felt between his faith and his sexual identity.

“Because, in my mind, homosexuality and Christianity didn’t go together,” he told The Post and Courier. “And the very first thought was ‘now I can go to heaven and not hell.’”

In 1996 he married a woman he’d met through church, but he still had same-sex attractions and at one point had an affair with a man. He went through conversion therapy, worked extensively with the now-defunct conversion therapy group Exodus International, and 1999 founded his own organization, Spartanburg-based Truth Ministry, with Exodus’s blessing. He created a curriculum called Hope for Wholeness, which teaches that being gay is a “developmental disorder.” Truth Ministry was renamed Hope for Wholeness in 2013. It has connections to conversion therapy providers in 15 states, and Game estimates thousands have gone through its program.

“We have harmed generations of people,” he said.

He did not say why he came out at this time. He and his wife, who have two grown children, remain married, and she knows he is gay, he said. She declined to be interviewed by the Charleston paper. Hope for Wholeness also declined comment.

Game published an apology on Facebook in which he called for an end to the conversion therapy movement, although he did say that perhaps groups like Hope for Wholeness could provide a community for people grappling with a conflict between their faith and their sexual orientation.

He has received some criticism from LGBTQ people, and he realizes he’ll have to apologize over and over, he said. Still, “most people in the gay community have treated me ridiculously kind, liking me for me now and not who I was,” he added. “And I hope they just give me the chance to talk to them so I can hear them out and apologize.”

Several people who’ve been leaders in the conversion therapy movement have come out as gay, such as Michael Bussee, one of the founders of Exodus, and John Smid, former executive director of Love in Action, who was portrayed as the character Victor Sykes in the film Boy Erased. Alan Chambers, a former president of Exodus, has condemned conversion therapy, but in a 2015 memoir he declined to call himself gay or bisexual, saying his orientation is toward his wife, Leslie.

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