The "Ex-Gay" Myth and Why it Failed Me Read More!

Can gays really change their sexual orientation?

This is probably the most important question that should be asked — primarily within the church. For decades, homosexuality was presented as a great evil that was to be dealt with severely. Those “guilty” of same-sex attraction or were “admitted” homosexuals would be cashiered out of society and placed in psychiatric wards or in prisons, depending on the varied sodomy law for that state.

By the time the APA removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973, sodomy laws were still on the books in nearly every state. Only three states had repealed their sodomy laws before then, and it took thirty years for same-sex relationships to not be threatened by criminal prosecution. In 2003, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down those final 17 sodomy laws in one swift ruling with their historic Lawrence v. Texas decision.

While the APA and other medical and psychiatric organizations had dismissed any “disorder” concepts regarding homosexuality, the religious community was still very much entrenched in its mindset that people could — and should — change their sexual identity to being straight. Shortly after the DSM change, the first of the ex-gay ministries would be founded: Love in Action.

As the scope of the ex-gay ministries would grow, several others began to dot the landscape until the first Exodus International coalition was formed in 1976. Later, Exodus expanded its reach throughout the world, with promises of “change” to unsuspecting men and women who were hell-bent on eliminating their unwanted same-sex attraction.

Exodus was quickly — and often —mired by abject failure. Two of the men who helped found the organization, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper left the organization in 1979, after they realized they were in love with each other. They were not alone. Today, Bussee is one of the more outspoken critics of the ex-gay ministries.

Bussee and Cooper were certainly not the last “ex-gay” leaders to be awakened to the harm that their group was causing. Love in Action – Refuge was a major live-in camp for youth and young adults that was focused on coercing gays to live their lives as heterosexuals. Refuge gained international notoriety in 2005 with a blog entry by then-16-year-old Zach Stark, who wrote of the horrors that he faced at the program.

Refuge was shut down in 2007 after several investigations by the State of Tennessee. Smid left Love in Action a year later. Finally, in 2011, Smid said that he was, in fact, gay, and he had never seen anyone change their sexual orientation. He apologized for his actions in harming people who were already vulnerable.

In the next few days, I’ll be writing more about the ex-gay ministries, their roots, and will be interviewing people who have gone through such drastic efforts in a vain attempt to change their sexual orientation.

Thankfully, I never went through the torture of an ex-gay ministry, but I deeply considered it as I began my journey toward my identity as a gay Christian. I saw right away just how much damage these groups could cause, and was able to avoid it.

I was lucky.

As I explore these stories of people who were deeply entrenched in these organizations,  I am struck by just how much passion people have to try to “fix” themselves, and to fit in with Christian society as a whole.

It’s a vortex of lies, deception, and religious-driven self-loathing that can only be restored by truth, honesty, and a God-given strength to overcome bigotry and seeing ourselves as God sees us: His. No matter what.

If you’d like to share your story, please contact me directly. My hope is that by telling your stories, we can all begin to overcome the injustice that we as gay men and women have encountered, and to start to find healing from the religious abuses that has been seen time and again.

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11 Responses to Politics of Change: Exploring the ex-gay ministries and their abuses

  1. I don't believe anyone was "born gay" any more than I believe anyone was "born" speaking english. People learn different characteristics over time as they grow. If someone chooses to engage in heterosexuality after years of engaging in homosexuality, I don't feel as if that's any different than someone learning a new language. People who are straight decide to try homosexuality and vice versa, and many people stick with one or the other their whole lives, but I certainly won't question their motives and trying to "cure" someone from homosexuality is like trying to "cure" someone of heterosexuality, I see no evidence that people don't have a choice. I CHOSE to start smoking cigarettes and I can CHOOSE to stop anytime, but I do understand that our emotions sometimes feel as if we don't have a choice. That's not just limited to things like smoking, there are many things in my life that I choose to do based on different reasons and those reasons sometimes feel like I have no choice. Sometimes those reasons are so powerful that I cannot imagine engaging in any other type of behavior, but one thing is certain, people have and continue to change constantly for a variety of reasons. I'm sure there are many people who claim that "gay advocacy" groups have harmed them, but I truly believe most of the opposition to homosexuality stems from religious beliefs and I believe its just as potentially harmful to attempt to dismantle someone's religious beliefs as it is to dismantle their sexual orientation. While efforts to change the sexual orientation are seldom successful, that does not automatically mean they are worthless, as the APA said, "there are no scientifically rigorous studies of recent SOCE that would enable us to make a definitive statement about whether recent SOCE is safe or harmful and for whom."

    • Scott, you seem to miss out on the point. Sexual orientation is NOT sexual behavior. Of course, people can do with their bodies whatever they choose, but it's the sexual ORIENTATION that is inherent. A person can indeed make a choice of what they do with another person, but it's the orientation that drives that choice.

      Groups like Exodus focus on the behavior element, knowing that the orientation can not be changed. But why would anyone expect anything good from a "therapy" that forces a person to repress a core part of their psychological and sexual identity? It's a recipe for disaster.

      As you should well know, I do NOT advocate dismantling of anyone's religion. The goal is to reconcile a person's faith and sexuality so that they can be WHOLE. Ridiculing and rejecting religion — ALSO a part of most of our core psyche — is just as harmful as rejecting our sexual orientation. So yes, we agree on that.

    • David W. Shelton No, I see your point, but I respectfully disagree, which is better than disrespectfully agreeing! I believe orientation is a learned response but it also Includes emotional attachments which stems from a variety of conditions. I will explain my position more in depth tomorrow as I will be "oriented" in front of my TV watching football this evening, I actually was " born" a Bama fan, but had to repress my feelings because I live in Tennessee until I came out.

    • Scott Beasley You still need a wedgie. Just saying.

    • The driving force behind any behavior is learned or chosen in my opinion. I believe the word "orientation" has been misapplied to this entire discussion. Orientation refers to aspects of physical awareness involving time, space and person, while it is uncertain which areas of the brain control orientation, I believe the word has been incorrectly used to describe desires in human behavior. For example, from a physical standpoint, my "orientation" or awareness may be just fine, than I CHOOSE to start spinning around very rapidly, all of a sudden I become "disoriented", therefore I have changed my "orientation".

      I do realize or assume that you are speaking of "emotional" orientation or sexual orientation and not sexual behavior and I fully understand the concept or notion that people are in concordance or discordance with their sexual attractions and how they relate to their desires. That brings up an interesting aspect to me. I have always thought women of Hispanic origin were physically attractive. I find tan skin, big brown eyes and the spanish accent very attractive. That being said, that does not mean I find ALL Hispanic women attractive, even the ones who have the 3 characteristics I find appealing, there are an infinite number of characteristics which one person can find another attractive and classifying or stereotyping into broad categories such as skin color, eye color, accent and YES, EVEN GENDER are not always accurate. To further illustrate my point, I am a straight man, which means I "prefer" women, I am not "oriented" by my genes or some other uncontrollable aspect, but that does not mean I am attracted to ALL women. Being female is just a characteristic that attracts me , but that being said, there are also characteristics about men that "attract" me. As I have pointed out to you before, I may be "attracted" to a man for a variety of reasons, such as humor, kindness, athletic ability, or different talents, but thats a far cry from feeling a desire to have sex with them or being SEXUALLY ATTRACTED to a man.

      Gender is simply a characteristic, you are a "gay" man, but that doesn't mean you are attracted to ALL men does it? Of course not! I'm a straight man and I'm certainly not sexually attracted to ALL women, but let's face it, from the earliest we both can remember, society has dictated what is "beautiful" to us, has it not? I'm speaking of the physical images we see on television and hearing the descriptions of others of how "beautiful" some people are. I believe subconsciously, we begin to develop ideas in our own minds as to what is considered "beautiful" based upon external stimuli that is somehow appealing to us for an infinite number of reasons. Its for this reason that we fall in love. We find someone who appeals to us, and while no one is perfect, we begin to justify spending time with that person, and sometimes suddenly, we become overtaken with a love and a passion for them. Eventually, all their mistakes and flaws are diminished, ignored or forgiven. All their accomplishments and attributes are magnified to justify our attraction, thus reinforcing it even more.

      This finally brings me to my point, some people say my long winded diatribes or "books" that I write on issues I feel strongly about are a reflection of a well thought out perspective that they enjoy reading, other say it is a waste of time, tell me I need to get a hobby, or point out how redundantly redundant and unnecessarily unnecessary many of my comments are. Either way, some people find it "attractive", while others find it repulsive, and as we all know, people change the way they feel about others. Even after decades of a faithful, loving relationship, sometimes their partner's accomplishments become less meaningful and their mistakes become magnified. In other words, they begin to lose their "orientation" and begin to question how they were ever attracted to that person in the first place. Some people even go so far as to say they were "married", but now they are "cured".

      While I think I see what you are trying to say with this article, I find it somewhat disturbing to claim that harm may come to those who seek it out, yet the APA says there is no evidence of that. There are also people who claim that it worked for them, but the same can be said of acupuncture and chiropractors. My point is we are human beings, change is part of our anatomy and the only thing inherent in ourselves is that change is inevitable, to think that our orientation is somehow shielded by our changing lives is obviously an exercise in futility. If someone has an issue with you being gay, that's their problem, just like if someone has a problem with any characteristic about me, they can deal with it. If I want to change, I will, and it certainly won't be because someone is chastising me for doing something they think is wrong.

    • The driving force behind any behavior is learned or chosen in my opinion. I believe the word "orientation" has been misapplied to this entire discussion. Orientation refers to aspects of physical awareness involving time, space and person, while it is uncertain which areas of the brain control orientation, I believe the word has been incorrectly used to describe desires in human behavior. For example, from a physical standpoint, my "orientation" or awareness may be just fine, than I CHOOSE to start spinning around very rapidly, all of a sudden I become "disoriented", therefore I have changed my "orientation".

      I do realize or assume that you are speaking of "emotional" orientation or sexual orientation and not sexual behavior and I fully understand the concept or notion that people are in concordance or discordance with their sexual attractions and how they relate to their desires. That brings up an interesting aspect to me. I have always thought women of Hispanic origin were physically attractive. I find tan skin, big brown eyes and the spanish accent very attractive. That being said, that does not mean I find ALL Hispanic women attractive, even the ones who have the 3 characteristics I find appealing, there are an infinite number of characteristics which one person can find another attractive and classifying or stereotyping into broad categories such as skin color, eye color, accent and YES, EVEN GENDER are not always accurate. To further illustrate my point, I am a straight man, which means I "prefer" women, I am not "oriented" by my genes or some other uncontrollable aspect, but that does not mean I am attracted to ALL women. Being female is just a characteristic that attracts me , but that being said, there are also characteristics about men that "attract" me. As I have pointed out to you before, I may be "attracted" to a man for a variety of reasons, such as humor, kindness, athletic ability, or different talents, but thats a far cry from feeling a desire to have sex with them or being SEXUALLY ATTRACTED to a man.

      Gender is simply a characteristic, you are a "gay" man, but that doesn't mean you are attracted to ALL men does it? Of course not! I'm a straight man and I'm certainly not sexually attracted to ALL women, but let's face it, from the earliest we both can remember, society has dictated what is "beautiful" to us, has it not? I'm speaking of the physical images we see on television and hearing the descriptions of others of how "beautiful" some people are. I believe subconsciously, we begin to develop ideas in our own minds as to what is considered "beautiful" based upon external stimuli that is somehow appealing to us for an infinite number of reasons. Its for this reason that we fall in love. We find someone who appeals to us, and while no one is perfect, we begin to justify spending time with that person, and sometimes suddenly, we become overtaken with a love and a passion for them. Eventually, all their mistakes and flaws are diminished, ignored or forgiven. All their accomplishments and attributes are magnified to justify our attraction, thus reinforcing it even more.

      This finally brings me to my point, some people say my long winded diatribes or "books" that I write on issues I feel strongly about are a reflection of a well thought out perspective that they enjoy reading, other say it is a waste of time, tell me I need to get a hobby, or point out how redundantly redundant and unnecessarily unnecessary many of my comments are. Either way, some people find it "attractive", while others find it repulsive, and as we all know, people change the way they feel about others. Even after decades of a faithful, loving relationship, sometimes their partner's accomplishments become less meaningful and their mistakes become magnified. In other words, they begin to lose their "orientation" and begin to question how they were ever attracted to that person in the first place. Some people even go so far as to say they were "married", but now they are "cured".

      While I think I see what you are trying to say with this article, I find it somewhat disturbing to claim that harm may come to those who seek it out, yet the APA says there is no evidence of that. There are also people who claim that it worked for them, but the same can be said of acupuncture and chiropractors. My point is we are human beings, change is part of our anatomy and the only thing inherent in ourselves is that change is inevitable, to think that our orientation is somehow shielded by our changing lives is obviously an exercise in futility. If someone has an issue with you being gay, that's their problem, just like if someone has a problem with any characteristic about me, they can deal with it. If I want to change, I will, and it certainly won't be because someone is chastising me for doing something they think is wrong.

    • Scott Beasley – It doesn't matter if it's nature, nurture, or purple polka-dot. A person's sexual orientation is not something that can be switched.

      The APA says: "All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings." http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/sexual-orientation.aspx

      The phrase sexual orientation — despite what you think it "should" mean has a clear, solid definition.

      "Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions. " (From that same article)

      In 2009, the APA had a task force put together to explore the "reparative therapy" quackery, and completely dismissed it, saying that the only proper way to deal with a person who has same-sex attraction is to help them embrace it.

      http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/publications/therapeutic-response.pdf

      The American Counseling Association repudiates reparative therapy as "ineffective." http://www.counseling.org/pressroom/newsreleases.aspx?AGuid=b68aba97-2f08-40c2-a400-0630765f72f4

      The 1997 APA resolution on reparative therapy:

      Homosexuality is not a mental disorder and the APA opposes all portrayals of lesbian, gay and bisexual people as mentally ill and in need of treatment due to their sexual orientation;

      Psychologists do not knowingly participate in or condone discriminatory practices with lesbian, gay and bisexual clients;

      Psychologists respect the rights of individuals, including lesbian, gay and bisexual clients to privacy, confidentiality, self-determination and autonomy;

      Psychologists obtain appropriate informed consent to therapy in their work with lesbian, gay and bisexual clients.

      Alan Chambers, president of Exodus Internatioal, says 99.9% of people cannot change their orientation.

      John Smid, director of Love in Action for 17 years, says he never saw someone change their orientation.

      These simple facts outline the reality that there IS a "sexual orientation" and that this is a term widely accepted in the psychological and medical community, despite what your opinion might be.

      The APA's updated resolution, which makes clear that research indicates that there WERE some cases of added depression when a person underwent a conversion therapy session.

      http://www.apa.org/about/governance/council/policy/sexual-orientation.aspx

      So yes, I'm going to rely on evidence, science, and authoritative psychological and medical studies regarding reparative therapy, and will stand firm that change is NOT possible.

      http://www.socialworkers.org/diversity/lgb/reparative.asp?print=1

      http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Ve7fxK5RfyUJ:www.ama-assn.org/meetings/public/annual00/reports/refcome/506.rtf+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a (American Medial Association)

      The only anecdotal information I'm interested in regarding reparative therapy are from those who have either gone through the process or have been a part of leadership in such groups. It's astonishing how many former Exodus leaders have come forward to repudiate their one-time championed cause.

    • David W. Shelton Again, I respectfully disagree. Orientation is just another word for describing your desires. Your desires stem from what you find appealing. What appeals to us has been instilled, consciously and subconsciously since we first began critical thinking. I noticed you left out the part about the APA also claiming, "there are no scientifically rigorous studies of recent SOCE that would enable us to make a definitive statement about whether recent SOCE is safe or harmful and for whom" that was in the same studied you referenced. Yet your article seems content to expound on the dangers, when there is no "scientific evidence". I'm quite sure I can find people who claim it worked for them.

      I know what the standard definition of sexual orientation is and one interesting aspect is when it describes it as a person's "sense of identity". Do you think that a person's sense of identity can change? It is also based on attractions, hmmmm, I have noticed people in my life that I was attracted to in the past, yet once I got to know them, the attraction faded. It also mentions, "related behaviors", which I hope we can agree behavior is very controllable.

      I never said homosexuality was a mental disorder, although until 1973, that's what the same experts you cite claimed, but I suppose their "orientation" and feelings on the matter CHANGED.

      I realize what is "widely accepted" despite what my opinion is, but there's quite a difference in something being widely accepted and incontrovertible facts.

      I have also heard people claim that homosexuality is not a choice, and I hope we can agree that sexual orientation and homosexuality are not the same thing. I believe it is a choice. I've even heard conservative zealots such as John Stossell pose the question who would "CHOOSE" to be gay? Who would CHOOSE to subject themselves to the scorn and ridicule of society? Well, there's a very simple explanation to that, perhaps its is a rebellious element which comes into play, perhaps its stems from a desire for attention. I can best describe it as it relates to me, here goes:

      I am a HUGE fan of the Alabama football program. The word "fan" is short for FANATIC. I watch every play of every game with a religious ferver and when they lose I physically get sick to my stomach, and I'm being dead serious. I get nervous before the games as if I am about to suit up and play myself. My desire for them to win a football game is quite scary to some people, especially considering that I never attended Alabama and have never set foot on the campus. People constantly ask me why I like them and I say "I just do". Not many people can understand my passion and ATTRACTION and question my "orientation". They ask, why do you like them, you live in TENNESSEE? They seem perplexed as to how I could be such a fan so let me tell you why.

      Back in the early 90's while attending Austin Peay, I began to see all my friends watching college football, and EVERYONE seemed to have their favorite team. I was more into pro football and really never paid much attention to college ball until I began to see how others reacted to "their" team losing. Now I guess you could say I was a "fan" of Tennessee because that's who everyone around here watched and liked, so as we would watch games, I found myself getting involved and cheering them on with my friends. When I wasn't quite as heartbroken when Tennessee lost as some of my friends, they began to talk and say things like, "you're not a true fan, it doesn't seem to bother you we just lost!" I guess the fact that I chose not to get rip snorting drunk and tear up stuff made me less of a fan! Anyway, I began watching other teams, and at the time Alabama was having an undefeated season, so quietly, I began watching them, then a friend of mine had Bama tickets to the first SEC Championship game, Bama and Florida. We went, and from that moment on, I have liked Alabama. My passion for them grew even more when people who I knew were outraged that I had "switched" teams. They called me "traitor". I was different, it was taboo to be a Bama fan, but live in Tennessee, so that resentment drove me even further into liking Alabama. Much of my desire was less of a love for the actual team, but the idea that I was marching to the beat of a different drummer, I was somehow "special" because I wasn't like everyone else. Now I realize that we are talking about being a fan of a football team and that's a little different than sexual orientation, but I don't think they are so far removed as people may think. There are many similarities. I embraced being different, despite the ridicule, insults and yes, even physical violence. Now it almost feels like I was "born" a Bama fan because my attraction to them is so strong. I know that isn't true, but that's what it feels like. Could I ever change? Well I suppose I could if I really wanted to and someone was willing to try to "cure" me, but I'm just really into Bama football. I love it and if people have a problem with it, that's their problem, my attraction doesn't hurt them, so why do THEY care? I hope this explains things, but I guess its also widely accepted, that these desires I feel are an internal component, void of external stimuli, yet if it wasn't for relatively modern technology like the television, radio and cameras, which allowed me to be exposed to it, I may not know it even existed. Therefore I believe orientation is a "learned response to external stimuli" regardless of what's widely accepted amongst "scholars".

    • Scott Beasley – seriously? You're comparing a person's sexual orientation to a person's favorite football team?

      I will not allow you to trivialize a person's sexual identity by debasing it to whether or not someone is for Bama or UT without calling you on it. When those of us who have had to go through years of struggle just to come to terms with our sexual orientation, let alone be comfortable in our own skin, it's a complete slap in the face and a punch to the gut to have that compared to being a fan of a team. It's insulting, completely beneath your intelligence, and it's certainly not welcome on this forum. I expect better from you.

    • David W. Shelton No David, I'm comparing my desires to someone else's desires. I really don't appreciate my openness and personal experiences, especially when I expressed how I was subjected to physical violence, being belittled. Trivialized? Really David? I didn't find it very trivial while getting stitches in the ER after being jumped at a football game for wearing a Bama T-shirt. I consider the dismissal of my opinion to be the ULTIMATE slap in the face and the epitome of hypocrisy and I expected a much more mature response, but I suppose you are choosing to be exclusive. Perhaps you aren't familiar with the passion for football in the south, so I suppose the violence I experienced was just a figment of my imagination? Call me out on it all you wish David, is that the way it works? Someone explains how they were subject to ridicule, harassment and violence and you dismiss it? I guess all opinions aren't welcomed here, so I'll take my opinions elsewhere since they don't fit into the mold in which you think they should be. I'm sorry I "figuratively slapped you in the face and punched you in the gut, I was obviously mistaken that having been a victim of ACTUALLY getting punched in the face and gut over something that was based upon my desires would actually be a welcomed viewpoint.

    • I'm glad my personal experiences and willingness to discuss the reasons behind my desire which has caused damage in my life can provide you with a forum to further bash me. I certainly don't find it amusing.

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