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 Only three states had repealed their sodomy laws before then, and it took thirty years for same-sex relationships to not be threatened by criminal prosecution.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.