Why The Failed ‘Ex-Gay’ Myth Persists

June 25, 2013 4:20 PM13 comments

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.”




  • Christopher Doyle

    Wayne, you erroneously assert that ex-gays don’t exist, and therefore commit the same crime against those who have left the gay life that you fight against – marginalization and bigotry. Tens of thousands of us have changed, myself include. And yes, we are proud. Why are you seeking to take our rights away? It’s time for you to wake up to reality and stop chasing religious folks who have never gone through therapy. Beware in fighting the dragon lest you become one. Wayne, you have become a dragon.

    • What a silly, queer comment to make Mr. Doyle. So Wayne is a dragon now. Not the nice kind, like Puff the Magic Dragon, but more like, hmmmm…..SATAN?
      Thank you church lady for your insightful and revealing comment.

  • “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.”
    How can “homophobia” (so-called) be compared to anti-Semitism or racism since homosexuality is behavior-driven? Have those with same-sex attractions ever been targeted for extermination, like the Jews have been? Have they ever been subject to Jim Crow laws, like blacks once were? Homosexuality is problematic because of the devastating health consequences that result from using one’s body sexually in ways it was never intended. That’s why 2% of the population is reponsible for 60-70% of all AIDS. Wayne seems to assume that homosexuality is monolithic and all types of therapy should work 100% of the time for all types of people. He also does not want to realize that for many people, the homosexual orientation is UNWANTED. With all the talk about “choice” in our culture, why shouldn’t choosing to change be allowed for people who want homosexuality to be part of their past?

    • Mamaditto: has it ever occurred to you that homophobia had something to do with AIDS? Is the horror of the suffering of any persecuted group of people diminished in significance by the size of their population? It is true that there were fewer pink triangles than Stars of David in the death camps, but the dust of those gay men also cries out from the grave.

      • @ethaba: So, according to your logic, people get AIDS strictly as a result of being “persecuted.” Their behavior had nothing to do with it. What a novel excuse.

        • Absolutely. Just as women have been held down and excluded for a tidy sum of years, so have gays, blacks, etc. Not all human behavior is natural, despite its claim to support family; when Hitler was in power, Jews were considered inferior, as well as Gays and Roma. Much of human history is brutality, and it us up to us to make it better.

          • Ethnicity,gender, nationality and race are all immutable characteristics which one cannot change. Sexuality involves overt behavior, so, you’re not comparing apples to apples when citing women, blacks and Jews along with homosexuality.
            And bringing the Holocaust into the discussion certainly is not apropos. Hitler sought to eliminate anything and everything which did not conform to his goal of a pure Aryan race.
            BTW, one brutal aspect of man’s inhumanity to man is the disdain exhibited by gay activists toward ex-gays. They simply cannot stand to be reminded that their cause is a farce.

          • While it is true transitional homosexuality exists in certain populations, such as prisoners, adolescents, and some other cases, everything we know about homosexuality now in the adult points to sexual orientation being as an immutable characteristic as almost any other. Really, most gay people did not want or choose to be gay. Sexual orientation is not just behavior – it involves far more than that. Sexual orientation actually arises from deep psychological processes which are linked to identity. And Hitler, in my opinion, is apropos; I wish you could be transported back in time to one of his re-education camps for 5 minutes (but only 5 because I am not cruel) to find yourself with a pink triangle on your shirt.
            Then we could have a serious discussion about this subject. By the way, the major ex-gay org in the world recently shut down and publicly apologized for the grave harm it did to gay people with its ex-gay therapies and propaganda.

    • Guglielmo Marinaro

      “Homosexuality is behaviour-driven.” Really, mamaditto, what nonsense you do talk! You might just as well say that heterosexuality is “behaviour-driven”, and it would make just as little sense. In fact, both homosexual and heterosexual BEHAVIOUR are ORIENTATION-driven. In other words, people’s sexual behaviour tends, by and large, to be congruent with their sexual orientation. I say by and large, because people do sometimes act contrary to their orientation for various reasons, e.g. a heterosexual person who engages in homosexual behaviour for money (prostitution) or a homosexual person who forces himself into a heterosexual lifestyle in order to “conform” or in the vain hope that doing so will eventually change his orientation, and some people even choose not to express their sexuality at all, e.g. religious who take a vow of celibacy.

      As for people who want homosexuality to be part of their past, no-one is denying them freedom of choice. They have every right to change their sexual orientation if they don’t like it. The only problem is that having the right to do something is a fat lot of use if you can’t actually do it.

      I won’t be sufficiently reckless as to say that ex-gays don’t exist. It’s probably untrue, but if it is, then it’s the same kind of untruth as saying that no-one ever wins the lottery. And anyone who offers you a means of MAKING your sexual orientation change is in the same category as someone who offers you a way of picking the right numbers to win the lottery.

      • Sexual activity is behavior-driven because it involves an act of free will. The homosexual “orientation” is learned – resulting from trauma which leaves one confused/frightened/shamed about their same-sex relationships and sexual identity during growth and development.
        Those who are committed to resolving these relational difficulties often find that same-sex erotic attraction diminishes.
        Google “mamaditto.com” for resources.

        • Guglielmo Marinaro

          Sexual activity is behavior-driven because it involves an act of free will. The heterosexual “orientation” is learned – resulting from trauma which leaves one confused/frightened/shamed about their opposite-sex relationships and sexual identity during growth and development.

          Those who are committed to resolving these relational difficulties often find that opposite-sex erotic attraction diminishes.

          There! How’s that? A load of fanciful and unsubstantiated codswallop? Yes, of course it is – just like what you wrote.

          • Unsubstantiated? Hardly. We would not be here having this conversation were it not for the sexual union of our respective mothers and fathers. Two men together or two women together cannot consummate – it’s an anatomical impossibility. What is accomplished by the mixing of sperm with feces? Is that the intended purpose of these bodily secretions? Can a woman’s uterus bear life implanted by another woman? And what of all the serious, devastating health consequences resulting from homosexual sex? When 2% of the population is responsible for 60% of all AIDS cases, then something untoward is going on which cannot be ignored.

          • Guglielmo Marinaro

            Those things provides no substantiation for what you have previously written about homosexuality, its alleged causes and the alleged possibility of altering or “diminishing” it – none whatever.

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