Today, we bear witness to history. Exodus International – the world’s largest “ex-gay” program — announced that it is shutting its doors and shuttering its windows. It is no longer promising desperate and vulnerable people that they can “pray away the gay.” It is no longer peddling snake oil called reparative therapy. It has ceased destroying families in the name of family values.
This stunning voyage began a year and a half ago. At the Gay Christian Network conference in Orlando, Florida, Alan Chambers, the President of Exodus International, stepped on stage and did something revolutionary. He looked the crowd in the eyes and he told the truth. Chambers said that 99.9-percent of his clients had not changed their sexual orientation.
Six months later, Chambers announced that Exodus would no longer support “reparative therapy,” which is junk science that falsely blames sexual abuse or bad parenting for causing one to be gay.
Still, it was quite a shock when Alan Chambers apologized to the world. It was an even bigger surprise when he announced he was closing his mean-spirited ministry that had distorted the lives of LGBT people since 1973. Here is what Alan Chambers said:
“Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.”
Although this was a monumental victory, the fight is not over. Just as the death of Father Coughlin did not end Anti-Semitism. The election of Barack Obama did not eradicate racism. The death of Exodus is not the death of homophobia.
As long as there is prejudice and discrimination against our community, ex-gay programs will exist. They are a product of guilt and shame – where a person is made to feel embarrassed about who they are and ashamed of whom they love. Such public humiliation creates a demand for people who want to change – so they can fit in and be loved. And, there will always be charlatans and zealots who fill the supply side of this appalling cycle of cynicism.
For example, “ex-gay” activist Christopher Doyle has formed a new organization, “Equality and Justice for All,” which he hopes to turn into a lobby for the “ex-gay” industry. He told me the group would pressure lawmakers in statehouses and on Capitol Hill to support so-called “ex-gay” rights. Doyle is even launching “ex-gay” Pride Month in July.
In Oklahoma City last weekend, a new organization, the Restored Hope Network, tried to fill the vacuum left by Chambers calling it quits. This group consists primarily of dead-enders who have defected from the Exodus. This motley crew of malcontents is nastier. They are more extreme than their predecessor. They are Exodus without the thin veneer of love that masks the underlying antipathy.
Meanwhile, the Presbyterian outfit, One by One, is still in the “ex-gay” snake oil business and defrauding consumers. The organization announced a new Executive Director this week, Adam Woods, who claimed that homosexuality was “sexual brokenness.” In the organization’s press release Woods said:
“I know what it feels like to struggle with same-sex attraction and it can be very painful. But Jesus Christ is loving and merciful and desires to bring healing transformation to our lives. I know, he did it for me.”
Are we taking bets on how many months or years it will be until Woods issues an Alan Chambers-like apology or gets caught in a gay bar? That, of course, seems to be the inevitable outcome for all these charlatans.
The organization, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) is still busy pushing the “ex-gay” lie. It is selectively running naughty pictures on its blog from Salt Lake City’s Gay Pride parade, in its efforts to stigmatize LGBT people.
“This celebration is wrong on so many levels,” writes PFOX on its website. “One is how it irresponsibly recruits and encourages a wide range of troubled individuals, mostly youth, to self-identify as gay and pursue a dead-end lifestyle.”
As “ex-gay” groups fail in the United States, they are looking to peddle their poison abroad. For example, a Brazilian congressional human rights committee on Thursday approved legislation that would allow psychologists to treat homosexuality as a disorder or pathology. The panel seems to ignore the fact that no program can alter one’s sexual orientation, and every reputable mental health organization says that attempts to do so can be harmful.
The reason this message won’t go away at home and overseas is because the Religious Right is stuck with three lousy options:
1) Accepting LGBT people
2) Pushing the softer “ex-gay” message (even though they know it doesn’t work)
3) Returning to fire and brimstone, which alienates mainstream Americans
Boxed in and beleaguered, they really have no choice but to sail on the sinking “ex-gay” ship, rather than return to the stinking ship of finger pointing and hellfire. Exodus is gone, but the “ex-gay” message isn’t.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”