Truth Wins Out founder Wayne Besen joined LGBT advocates on Saturday, to fight back against the “ex-gay” group Exodus International, which this week celebrates 35 years of selling false hope to desperate and vulnerable people.
One week prior to Exodus’ event, the “It’ Not a Choice, LGBT Affirmation Conference” challenged lies and myths at the Irvine United Congregational Church. The following is a speech by TWO’s Wayne Besen:
We are here to say, “you cannot pray away the gay and you are fine, just the way you are.”
Exodus International fails because it tries to fix that which is not broken. It can’t heal people who aren’t sick. It can’t complete, those who are already whole. And it cannot lead one to God, but Exodus has led thousands astray in the past 35 years.
After 35 years of preying on fears — and thee decades of destruction, Exodus is coming to Irvine to celebrate. But, given their reprehensible record they should be repenting instead of reveling.
In its horrific wake, a survivors group has formed to assist people harmed by “ex-gay” myth. And, at least two organizations exist to help straight spouses cope with the devastation of learning they are married to a closeted homosexual.
Party on, Exodus.
Exodus put out a statement last week that explained much. The group’ president, Alan Chambers, said, “We are a large and diverse organization made up of many members. Our growth over the years has caused us to not always know what the hand or foot are doing, which sometimes causes us to look like we are “all butt”.
When I read this, Exodus immediately reminded me of British Petroleum.
BP has faulty offshore oil wells that are largely unsupervised and on the brink of disaster.
Exodus has ministries that are largely unaccountable and responsible for destruction.
BP pollutes the environment by pumping oil into the sea.
Exodus pollutes society by pumping out a sea of misinformation.
BP produces toxic sludge that washes up on foreign shores.
Exodus produces sulfurous sermons that land on foreign shores, to deadly affect in places like Uganda.
BP lies about how much damage it has caused and how long it will take to clean up the mess.
Exodus lies about how many lives it has ruined and how long it will take for its victims to clean up the mental mess — with years of psychiatric care, long after these survivors leave the organization.
BP CEO Tony Hayward responded to the disaster by saying, “I’d like my life back.”
Exodus President Alan Chambers responded to his organization’ role in creating the conditions for genocide in Uganda by essentially saying, “I’d like my life back.”
BP’ Hayword responded to the oil spill by watching his yacht participate in a race.
Exodus Vice President Randy Thomas responded to the Uganda fiasco by taking a vacation in London and posting his joyous photos online.
The role Exodus played in setting the stage for the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda is unconscionable and unforgivable. If Mr. Chambers and his deputy Randy Thomas had a decimal of decency, a sliver of shame, or a morsel of morality — they would resign, effective today.
While they are here in Irvine to party — we should be the ones celebrating. Because the good news is, Exodus is spent force on the decline. In merely 12 years, they have gone from the religious right’ opening act, to a circus act.
Clearly, seeing the writing on the wall, Focus on the Family abandoned its ex-gay road this year, Love Won Out, and turned it over to Exodus. If Love Won Out were a success, you never would have seen this happen. But Focus on the Family is business savvy. They know that the ex-gays, have seen better days. So, they cut ties.
In 1998, the Religious Right saw “ex-gay” organizations as saviors and a bulwark against increasing acceptance of homosexuality. Fifteen powerful anti-gay organizations launched a one million dollar newspaper and television campaign to say that people could “pray away the gay.” They called this assault the “Normandy Landing in the Cultural Wars.”
Twelve years later, the bloom is off the rose. Here are a few factors that have led to Exodus’ slow demise and reasons why we, and not Exodus International, have reason to celebrate:
1) Shrinking Market: The battle over gay rights in America and other modern nations has largely been won. Too many people have come out of the closet and will never go back in for the clock to be turned back. In my view, the trend towards acceptance has reached a tipping point
While people can’t change their sexual orientation, millions of Americans have changed their negative attitudes about LGBT people.
For example, a new Gallup Poll that found, for the first time, the percentage of Americans who perceive “gay and lesbian relations” as morally acceptable has crossed the 50 percent mark. Also, for the first time, the percentage of men who hold that view is greater than the percentage of women who do.
A recent CNN survey indicates that 78 percent of the public supports allowing openly gay people to serve in the military.
On Thursday in conservative Tulsa, Oklahoma, home of Oral Roberts University, the City Council voted to add sexual orientation to city’ nondiscrimination policy.
Gospel singers Ray Boltz and Tonex have acknowledged their sexual orientation, helping to start a discussion in a very homophobic environment. Country music crooner Chely Wright also came out last month.
While Ricky Martin’ announcement that he is gay did not seem to shock many people, it still had a significant impact in the Hispanic community and reverberated across Latin America.
And, now even conservatives are leading the fight for fairness. This week’ closing arguments in the proposition 8 trial was led by conservative icon Ted Olson. Also this week, conservative stalwart Grover Norquist joined the board of the gay Republican group Go Proud. And, recent support for marriage equality by Cindy McCain and Laura Bush gave fair-minded Republican women across this nation a green light to openly embrace their gay friends.
Exodus International can only succeed in an atmosphere where LGBT people are portrayed as freaks and rejects. They can only prosper in an environment where gay people face rejection, persecution and acute discrimination.
That is why Exodus International has never seen an anti-gay legal measure it did not wholeheartedly embrace. This group supported heinous sodomy laws. They lobbied against hate crime legislation. They stumped in California to pass Proposition 8. They went to the White House and stood with George W. Bush to help with failed efforts to pass the federal marriage amendment. They oppose all efforts to end anti-gay bullying in schools.
Yet, they claim the love us.
Exodus is not about persuasion, but persecution. It is not about conversion, but coercion. Without the ability to impart shame, Exodus has no way to recruit new clients.
2) Scandals: The gains of the 1998 campaign were reversed after I photographed “ex-gay” poster boy John Paulk in a gay bar in Sept. 2000. In 2003, attorney Michael Hamar and I discovered that the TV star of that ad campaign, Michael Johnston, was meeting men on the Internet for sex.
More recently, there was the California ex-gay minister, Matthew C. Manning who said he had been cured from homosexuality and AIDS. Ex-Gay Watch discovered he had been banned from a gym after hitting on men. And, of course, there is Exodus’ co-founder Michael Bussee, who left the program and now is an eloquent spokesperson on the harm of ex-gay programs.
The cumulative affect of these scandals — is that it forced “ex-gay” groups to stop talking about their programs in terms of a “cure” and they began portraying it as more of a process. Of course, the thought of a lifelong “struggle” defined by sexual frustration and loneliness is significantly less appealing to potential clients than the magic remedy that had previously been promoted.
As a result — Exodus has lost much of its luster and allure. The fact is, celibacy just isn’t sexy, and it doesn’t sell.
3) Watchdogs: Prior to 1998, few people paid attention to these groups. However, a network of dedicated observers emerged following the ad campaign to challenge the lies of “ex-gay” organizations. These include my organization, Truth Wins Out, Box Turtle Bulletin, Ex-Gay Watch, SoulForce and Beyond Ex-Gay. There are also blogs, such as Pam’ House Blend, Joe My God, Good As You and Towleroad that keep an eye on these organizations.
Together, we are pouncing on their propaganda and have created an atmosphere where it is significantly more difficult for Exodus to mislead America.
4) The Program: Exodus believes that bad parenting or sexual abuse makes a person gay. The way to heterosexuality is to become platonic friends with people of the same sex. As more LGBT people come out who do not fit into this fabricated pseudo-Freudian paradigm, it is clear the actual cause and effect model promoted by Exodus is pure, unscientific nonsense.
5) Bizarre Techniques and Discredited leaders: Ex-gay groups partake in a hodgepodge of remedies, from therapeutic lap dances known as “touch therapy”, to tough football for men and lipstick seminars for lesbians. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) encourages clients to drink Gatorade and call men dude, to increase masculinity. One Exodus ministry repossesses men’ underwear if they appear too gay.
These groups have also eroded credibility by putting forth crackpots as spokespeople, such as the discredited Richard Cohen, who slams a tennis racket into a pillow while screaming the name of a parent. Cohen was kicked permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association for malpractice. The ex-gay Jewish group, JONAH, is run by a con artist, Arthur Abba Goldberg, who had once been imprisoned for stealing billions of dollars from poor communities while he worked on Wall Street.
6) APA Report: Last year, the American Psychological Association released a landmark report that said there is no evidence that “reparative therapy” works and that it can often be harmful. Every respected mental health organization in America agrees with the APA’ assessment. The American Psychiatric Association says that attempts to alter sexual orientation can cause anxiety, depression and self-destructive behavior.
7) Coercing Kids: Last year, Truth Wins Out conducted focus groups of churchgoers. What we found was that these individuals were deeply disturbed by the idea of forcing children to undergo ex-gay therapy.
Yet, a few years ago, Exodus had an “ex-gay” boot camp in Memphis where teenagers were brought in against their will. The world found out about this monstrosity after one of the kids, Zack Stark, reached out for help on My Space. The result was an outpouring of support for this young man and a very harsh spotlight on ex-gay programs, which were viewed by many people as coercive, cruel and abusive.
This incident did enormous damage to the reputation of Exodus.
8) Uganda: Last year, Exodus board member Don Schmierer traveled to Kampala. He took part in a conference with holocaust revisionist Scott Lively that pledged to “wipe out” gays. This resulted in the introduction of the “Kill the Gays” Bill. It was legislation so draconian, that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton condemned it at this year’ National Prayer Breakfast.
This incident devastated Exodus. It moved it into the category of hate group. The organization may never recover from the negative publicity it received from its role in Uganda.
9) Youth Demographics: A couple of months ago I was at an anti-gay conference in Lynchburg. Radical pastor, Lou Engle, confessed that today’ youth don’t like when he bashes gays. He said that an intercession was needed to produce a miracle to reverse what seemed the inevitable acceptance of LGBT people. He is correct, demographics are not on the side of anti-gay groups, such as Exodus International.
10) George Rekers: The final nail in the coffin was the recent George Rekers scandal, where the anti-gay “expert” was caught hiring an escort on RentBoy.com to “lift his luggage”. This reinforced the emerging consensus that “ex-gay” groups are no more than chuckle-worthy “closet assistance programs”.
This is a battle that we are clearly winning — but it has not yet been won. Indeed, in the closing arguments of the Proposition 8 trial, one reason offered for upholding the anti-gay law was that homosexuality was not an immutable trait, such as race.
And that, of course, is why Exodus is still a useful tool for anti-gay forces. They exploit Exodus’ message to say, “If you want equal rights, enter an ex-gay program to become straight.”
Full legal equality may take two decades and the battle against bigotry will last forever. But, there is no denying that the LGBT movement is on the move like never before. Those who support Exodus are finally the minority and appearing more secluded and deluded by the day. It’ not time to crack open a bottle of champagne, but feel free to treat your self to a cold beer and appreciate the progress.
I would much rather be in our position than theirs. They should enjoy their 35th anniversary, because they may not make it to 50. And if they do, it will likely be as a group relegated to the social, political and religious fringes of society.