What are the ex-gay ministries?
Ex-gay ministries are faith-based organizations that believe one can turn from gay to straight through prayer. The ex-gay ministries are largely a white, conservative protestant phenomenon. However, there are a limited number of such organizations representing other faiths.
The largest ex-gay organization is Exodus International, which is an umbrella organization for more than 100 ministries worldwide. While Exodus’ methods focus on prayer, they also include discredited pop-psychology, such as blaming parents for homosexuality.
In the past year, ex-gay organizations have had to backtrack on their goal of complete sexual conversion. A history of fallen leaders and the formation of an ex-gay survivors group, Beyond Ex-Gay, have forced Exodus to acknowledge that celibacy is the most likely outcome for its clients. When the organization talks about “change,” it is really talking about adopting a conservative Christian belief system, rather than genuine sexual conversion.
Most troubling, is that ex-gay ministries have teamed up with right wing organizations to lobby state legislatures and Congress in an effort to pass anti-gay legislation.
Chris Camp: ‘Ex-gay’ Survivor Speaks Out
What is “reparative therapy’?
So-called reparative therapy (a.k.a. conversion therapy, ex-gay therapy) is not a legitimate form of accepted therapeutic practice. It is a theory first promoted by Dr. Elizabeth Moberly and later adopted by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, the co-founder of the anti-gay group The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. NARTH was started in protest of the American Psychiatric Association’ 1973 decision to take homosexuality off its list of mental disorders. NARTH believes that homosexuality is a “condition” that can be overcome by examining one’ childhood and making straight same-sex friends.
Reparative therapy is a baseless theory that postulates that a sensitive child who feels neglected by a same-sex parent may internalize hostility, thus rejecting everything this parent represents. This renunciation includes the parent’ masculinity or femininity. When such a child reaches adolescence he or she will find the same-sex mysterious, and thus attractive.
The cure for homosexuality, according to this theory, is making platonic same-sex friends and conforming to stereotypical gender-appropriate behavior. For example, lesbians are encouraged to wear lipstick and gay men are urged to drink Gatorade and call their friends “dude.” Such experiences supposedly causes the same-sex lose its mystery, thus its sexual allure. Once this occurs, heterosexual attractions will rush in to fill the void.
There are no peer-reviewed studies to show the efficacy of reparative therapy and any reported success cases are strictly anecdotal. Most of the people who subscribe to this theory are religious conservatives who find it fits neatly into their belief system.
What do the experts say about ex-gay therapy?
Every respected medical and mental health organization say that attempts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to work and can be harmful. The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Counseling Association, The American Psychological Association, National Association of Social Workers, The American Psychiatric Association all soundly reject the idea that homosexuality is a mental illness that can or should be cured.
The American Psychiatric Association says that, “The potential risks of “reparative therapy” are great, including depression, anxiety and self destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self hatred already experienced by the patient.”
The American Psychological Association says that, “For over three decades the consensus of the mental health community has been that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The APA’ concern about the position’ espoused by NARTH and so-called conversation therapy is that they are not supported by the science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”
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Why do people try to change?
As long as prejudice and discrimination are part of society, some people will try to change their sexual orientation. Those who attempt sexual conversion are often influenced by ingrained anti-gay messages that impart the harmful idea that gay people are inferior, sinful or unworthy. This can create an internal conflict and guilt, which can be psychologically damaging.
In order to find love and acceptance, people sometimes turn to ministries or therapists that are in the business of exploiting peoples’ anxieties about being gay in a heterosexual society. They sell false hope and often make promises of sexual conversion that do not occur. Former clients report spending tens of thousands of dollars on failed cures and wasting years of their lives they will never get back.
What about the success stories?
It is very difficult to find “success stories” from people who are not working for ex-gay ministries. These organizations do not keep statistics, nor do they provide proof that “hundreds of thousands” of people have changed, as they claim. Mostly, they rely on anecdotal stories by professional spokespeople. Unfortunately, even many of these individuals have later come out or had to step down after not living as advertised.
It is also very difficult to believe ex-gay stories of change because they use “name and claim” theology. In other words, new clients are instructed to say they have changed — even on their first day — in the hope God will reward them for their faith. To question whether change has occurred is said to show a lack of faith, thus the victim is always blamed when the miracle does not happen.
Why is the term “ex-gay industry used?
This term has to do with the convergence of ex-gay ministries, reparative therapists and the religious right. A lucrative working relationship has formed, where groups like Focus on the Family and Exodus International, make money off of promoting the idea of change.
A cottage industry now exists which includes an extravagant Focus on the Family sponsored traveling ex-gay road show, Love Won Out. Aside from profit, this unholy alliance seeks to work to lobby legislative bodies to pass anti-gay laws. They have opposed employment protections for GLBT people and even federal hate crimes legislation.
Are the ex-gay ministries targeting youth?
Exodus Youth is an expanding arm of Exodus International that has a $250,000 annual budget used specifically to target teenagers. Exodus Youth has array of trendy products and annual “Groundswell” conference.
Unfortunately, many youths are brought to ex-gay ministries against their will. In September 2006, Exodus closed an ex-gay youth boot camp in Memphis. It did so after a young man, Zach, blogged about his parents forcing him to attend. The negative media attention generated by Zach’ plea for help led to the program being discontinued.
Nonetheless, Exodus is expanding its youth services and many youths are still given the choice by their parents to attend ex-gay programs or to leave home. Exodus Youth takes advantage of desperate and vulnerable teenagers and can unnecessarily complicate the coming out process for both children and parents.
Don’t people have the right to try to change?
In America, people have the right to do whatever they want. However, ex-gay groups have a responsibility to tell the truth to their clients. Groups like Exodus and NARTH owe it to people — before they waste time and money — to consistently offer realistic expectations. They do not have the right to play semantic games with the meaning of “change” or offer promises they can’t deliver.
These organizations also should also stop the deceptive practice of using scare tactics to recruit new clients. They serially distort the lives of GLBT people and tell new recruits that coming out inevitably leads to AIDS, loneliness and unhappiness. Ex-gay organizations should let new clients know that if they come out they can lead healthy and happy, as well as rich and fulfilling lives.
What about the Dr. Robert Spitzer study?
In 1973, Columbia University professor Robert Spitzer helped spearhead the removal of homosexuality as a mental disorder from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. So, it was quite a media sensation when Spitzer unveiled a controversial new study in May 2001 suggesting that some very motivated homosexual study subjects provided by anti-gay organizations could switch sexual orientations.
Unfortunately, there were some serious methodological flaws in the study. These included:
- Using subjects provided by anti-gay lobby groups (Still, it took him two years to recruit a mere 200 subjects)
- His weak methodology centered on calling these handpicked subjects on the telephone to report if they had become heterosexual
- Spitzer did not account for bisexuality
- Spitzer did not include the vast majority of people who leave ex-gay programs dissatisfied
- Spitzer failed to use physical tests to measure the veracity of his subjects’ statements or their sexual attractions.
To this day, right wing organizations use this study to say that all gay people can become straight through prayer and therapy. Dr. Spitzer, however, has quite a different message.
“If some people can change — and I think they can — it’ a pretty rare phenomenon,” he says. This is hardly a ringing endorsement for the ex-gay industry.
What can I do if ex-gay programs have hurt me?
There are many things you can do to help yourself and to ensure other people are not harmed. First, you receive personal support from Beyond Ex-Gay, which is an organization for ex-gay survivors. Second, if you would like to actively oppose these organizations, please visit www.TruthWinsOut.org.
You can also use this site to tell your story and share your experience. Additionally, you can videotape your story and send it in to Truth Wins Out. Finally, if you would like to seek legal recourse for the damage incurred, please contact Lambda Legal.