Former Exodus Staffer Randy Thomas on Identity, Faith, & 'Ex-Gay' Therapy

Former Exodus Staffer Randy Thomas on Identity, Faith, & 'Ex-Gay' Therapy

Following last week’s blog post in which he identified himself as “gay with some level of bisexual tendencies,” former Exodus International employee Randy Thomas says he's received many supportive responses, including some from “gay men and women who extended gracious support, forgiveness, and friendship.”

Thomas responded via email to questions from The Advocate about his history with the now-defunct "ex-gay" organization and the reaction to the post, “A Peaceful Disclosure,” in which he wrote, “The truth is, that my primary sexual attraction is toward men. It is also true that to date the love of my life has been a woman. I was attracted to her in every way. Many people won’t believe me but what I just shared is true. … My relational history has shown that I can indeed have attractions to either gender if the emotional attachment is there.”

Here are his responses to The Advocate’s questions.

The Advocate: In your new post, you identify yourself as “gay with some level of bisexual tendencies.” You say that you've previously identified as bisexual with more of a propensity for men. What is the distinction to you? How has your sense of identity changed with that change of label?
Randy Thomas: In the day-to-day I am primarily attracted to men, but from time to time there are women who come along that I am drawn to as well. Being gay with bisexual tendencies seems to fit what I am actually experiencing in the day to day and from time to time.

Of course, there is so much more to identity, and my primary identity is Christian, [so] being gay with bisexual tendencies does accurately describe that part of my life but isn’t the main filter for my life.

How have you found most people to respond to your latest post? Have you been surprised by either support or criticism?
I did expect some response, but I am truly surprised that my coming-out got the amount of response it did. A majority of the people who have responded have been positive. Many, especially my close friends, were very supportive and encouraging. I also include disagreement (even rebuke) to be positive if it is honest.

Before I became a Christian at the age of 24 I was an out gay man, and while I was a mess, there was a lot of good people in the gay community who tried to help me back then. I was not surprised to see that good come forward again to help and support me after coming out last Monday. The surprise was that the goodness I saw in the gay community has become exponentially greater. The first time I came out in the ’80s it was so much more difficult and hard. This time, while very difficult in different ways, the amount of support has been incredible.

Yes, I got a lot of feedback that I expected (still ongoing from both sides), but I was overwhelmed in a good way with gay men and women who extended gracious support, forgiveness, and friendship.

In an older post supporting marriage equality, you drew a distinction between civil marriage laws and your spiritual beliefs. Does that post still accurately express your feelings about marriage, or has your perspective changed at all?
That post does accurately reflect my support for marriage equality under the law. However, I would add today that I do believe God will bless gay people as individuals and as a couple. Especially if they are seeking to be in relationship with him. Regardless of our sexuality, we are all made in the image of God, and when we embrace that humbling place in creation, we embrace a transcendent part of ourselves that reflects his beauty.

I am only offering an opinion, of course, but I believe that the only answers to the spiritual meaning of marriage that really make a difference is our own. In many cases spiritual language has been hijacked/misused to stigmatize gay people/couples. Civil marriage should be legal for everyone, and the spiritual meaning of marriage should be determined by the individuals who are getting married, not the state and not by a single religious orthodoxy imposing its will through the state.

You apologized for your role with Exodus and said that some groups used different tactics than others — some of which you seemed more critical of than others. What is your feeling now about Exodus and the idea of “ex-gay” therapy? What is your opinion about laws to ban its use on minors?
The specifics of my apology are in the statement on my blog and in the marriage post you mentioned above. Your generalization is very broad, so I could write a book in response — maybe I will someday. But here is my attempt to answer your questions.

Exodus was technically not a “therapy” organization. At our peak we had three networks of around 250 member agencies: church, peer-based support group ministries, and licensed counselors. Most of the licensed counselors were very adamant that they would not describe themselves as “reparative therapists.” That said, reparative therapy started out as just another approach but it quickly infiltrated the counselors and peer based support groups in various ways. That’s why even though technically Exodus was never a RT organization, it was seen that way by the broader public. At first RT was just another concept to consider, but it quickly became an imposed “formula” that started trying to force-fit everyone into its mold.

Exodus had many problems, and one of the main ones was the infiltration of the gospel according to reparative therapy (not Jesus). Today I believe that RT has become a formulaic, futile exercise that creates more relational and family dynamic problems than [it] addresses. While I believe in an adult’s right to self-determination (on every level), I would support banning RT for minors.

I was involved in the ex-gay world for 23 years and I saw a lot of horrible things and a lot of really good things. In spite of it all and in spite of myself, I experienced God in profound ways. I learned incredible things about personal identity, healthy sense of worth, overcoming emotional dependency, and things of that nature. My experience may not be the norm, but I did have the space to question my sexuality without feeling shame if it didn’t change. That was the beginning of my embracing the fact that from time to time I can be attracted to women as well. I thought that was change, but it wasn’t. In hindsight, now I know it was simply acknowledging what was already there. That said, my sexuality didn’t change, and all the good that I did learn/experience I could have learned through a myriad of other church resources if they had been available to gay people like myself.

Singling out gay people to “transform” us is unnecessary, and I now believe it only reinforces the “otherness” factor that a homophobic religious culture has used to shame and condemn us. We are gay, we are in your church, don’t try to fix or force us into a formula, but do help us at our point of true need. I was a mess at the age of 24, but it wasn’t because I was gay, it was because I went through hell and back in various ways (i.e., abuse growing up, victim of violent crimes, addiction, etc.). What I needed from the church was grace, unconditional love, role modeling heathy relationships, and the opportunity to receive and give selfless service, not being judged as “other” and forced to pursue an idealized transformation that is dictated by religious culture, not the gospel.

While I still have friends I disagree with in the ministries that survived the closing of Exodus, I no longer support or refer people to ex-gay ministries. 

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