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Watch exclusive clips from Tuesday night's episode of Our America With Lisa Ling below.
As a former co-host of The View and host of National Geographic Explorer, Lisa Ling is accustomed to provocative and dangerous terrain. However, where gay viewers are concerned, few territories prove as treacherous as the "ex-gay" movement and its belief that gay people can be "cured," an idea she explores in the latest episode of Our America With Lisa Ling, her new series on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.
Premiering Tuesday night, Pray the Gay Away? examines aspects of the tension between homosexuality and Christianity. Ling interviews "ex-gay" leaders including Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, and Michael Bussee, a cofounder of the group turned vocal critic, in order to help viewers see all sides of the issue. No doubt gay audiences will ask, is there more than one side to the debate where the "ex-gay" movement is concerned?
"I truly think that as a culture we are more evolved if we understand other people's lives and have a better sense of how other people live," Ling told The Advocate in a recent interview. "I think that's something that we could all do a little bit more of -- look at other people's lives with a sense of compassion and the desire to understand."
A self-described "fly on the wall that you can see," Ling, 37, said she approached the subject with an open mind, even as the question mark in the episode title betrayed her skepticism. A marriage equality advocate, she posed for the No H8 campaign in 2009 during the time her younger sister, Laura Ling of Current TV, was detained in North Korea with another American journalist. She said the idea for the episode arose from the bitter experiences some gay friends remembered having with their churches.
"I was very forthright when I was talking to the people at Exodus," she said, noting that the group initially rejected her requests three times. "I called and said, 'Look, I'm going to be honest, I'm a huge gay rights advocate, and I'm a supporter of gay marriage, and some of my best friends are gay. But I want to know why people believe the way they believe, or why people believe what they believe. We have every intention of coming in and just having an open mind and just trying to better understand where you're coming from and what you do at Exodus.' I think they appreciated the sincerity of that."
No matter the point of view, the footage of the "ex-gay" movement speaks for itself during the episode. Chambers of Exodus International admits to still struggling with same-sex attraction although married to a woman, and a young man, Christian, fights the urge to visit gay bars and compares the turmoil to "bleeding out of his eyeballs." Ling also visits with the Naming Project, a faith-based group that encourages young people to accept their sexual orientation and gender identity.
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Ling takes a similar approach throughout the first season of six one-hour
episodes, two of which focus directly on LGBT issues. In an earlier
episode, she explored "Transgender Lives," with visits to the family of a 6-year-old transgender girl, a middle-aged married couple, and Ton, a
weight lifter once known as Tonya. Ling, who is married to a man, admits she
developed a crush on Ton, along with the rest of the women who work on the
"Ton is an extremely good-looking man, and I think because he understands the feminine side, he's almost the perfect man," she said.
According to Ling, gay staff members at OWN provide inputfor the episodes, and her team also consults outside experts. She said that although Winfrey is not always deeply involved with production or story selection, she took a special interest in the transgender episode.
"She's very involved with, when we get to rough cut, she watches all the shows and sends notes and so on," said Ling. "She's involved in different capacities."
While likely to prove far less controversial than any exploration of the "ex-gay" movement, "Transgender Lives" does lack racial diversity among the people interviewed. Ling, a Chinese-American born in California, said the absence is not for lack of trying.
"Trying to get people to talk openly on camera about their lives is challenging enough," she said, explaining that her team reached out to hundreds of families in their search for a transgender child, but only two were interested in going public.
"We were just really compelled by the stories of the people that we profiled," she said. "They had really interesting stories to tell and that's how we chose those people."
That approach seems to work. The second episode of Our America With Lisa Ling attracted 24% more viewers than the premiere last month, and OWN just announced that it has ordered a second season.
"It feels so good to be able to do programming that expands people's consciousness," said Ling. "It really, really makes me very proud."
Lisa Ling will participate in a live chat about the "ex-gay" movement with Gayle King tonight after the show from 10 to 11 p.m. Eastern. Watch a preview below. Click here for more information.[iframe https://www.oprah.com/common/omplayer_embed.html?article_id=
Lisa Ling Takes on "Ex-Gays"" >