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My life away from
Exodus

My life away from
Exodus

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The damage done to the minds of queer youths by "ex-gay" groups like Exodus International can be devastating. David Luc Nguyen had trouble even writing about it.

I remember staring at my reflection in the bathroom mirror six years ago. The hot water was running. I had a razor blade in my hand, and I was prepared to do the unthinkable. I couldn't deal with the war raging inside me any longer. For as long as I could remember I had struggled with the shame and guilt instilled in me by my Christian upbringing.

I had come out to my family a couple of years before, and they pressured me to seek help from a guy named Jason, a counselor with the Portland Fellowship, a ministry of the "ex-gay" group Exodus International. For about three months we prayed together and read scripture, and he shared his own personal struggles with homosexuality. If I stayed in the "homosexual lifestyle," I would always be "dysfunctional, never a whole person, and never know peace," he told me. Our sessions only deepened my sense of self-hatred.

After I gave up the counseling, my family gave up on me. I had to leave home and give up my dreams of going to the University of California, Berkeley. I moved to Seattle because I had a scholarship to the University of Washington. I took a job making minimum wage and sometimes had to choose between paying rent or having lunch. Those years were the loneliest and hardest of my life. I thought maybe God doesn't allow gay people to have happy and prosperous lives.

But in Seattle I learned I was not alone. As I became an active member of my community, I met others who had similar experiences. Chris Williams, 24, also led a troubled life after his encounters with Exodus. "Even after praying and going to my sessions I wasn't able to control my attraction to other men," he recalls. "I decided to give in to my desires by going on the Internet and having anonymous sex. The guilt I would have afterward would be so unbearable. Subconsciously, I wanted to destroy my body, which allowed me to commit the sin." Before long Williams was selling his body and was addicted to crystal meth. Then he contracted HIV.

Williams, like myself, had been "counseled" by people working with Exodus. But even they admit they're not really counselors. Before writing this, I contacted Ron Shaw, who works with Metanoia Ministries, an Exodus group in the Pacific Northwest. A disclaimer at the bottom of Shaw's e-mails states: "Ron Shaw is NOT a state-licensed counselor. All advice given is based on spiritual principles contained in the Bible." Shaw told me that he helps individuals "see the behaviors in their lives that control them, and help them discover how to escape from a pattern of slavishly responding to those triggers."

The advice Shaw gives sounds a lot like science. One of the more dangerous aspects of "reparative therapy" is that it often uses pseudoscientific language, says Matthew Brooks, a mental health professional in Seattle. "This can make it appealing to young people," Brooks says. "This therapy is based on religious and political prejudices. It robs people of the chance to strive for happy productive lives, friendships, and families as healthy gay men and lesbians."

I have struggled greatly because of my experience with Exodus, but I have not let it destroy my life. Chris too has overcome that experience and is now helping other queer youths who struggle with drug addiction and HIV/AIDS. Still, Exodus is with me. I know this may sound crazy, but somewhere deep inside I felt like God was going to punish me if I wrote this piece and spoke out against the church. Fortunately, I'm a lot like my parents. I'm stubborn and determined.

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