Is the ‘Ex-Gay’ Movement Crumbling?

The last few years have seen many of the leading voices of the “ex-gay” movement recant their support or return to living an honest life that did not deny their homosexuality. John Paulk, Alan Chambers, the psychologist Alan Spitzer and many more. Newsweek does a story on Paulk and the potential crumbling of the whole thing:

Even in its earliest days, Exodus’s philosophy—that same-sex attraction meant a person was “broken” and could be “fixed”—was undermined by the reality of its members’ actions. Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, two of the co-founders, left the movement in 1979 to be in a committed relationship with one another. (Bussee has spent the decades since actively fighting Exodus’s message.) John Evans, one of the founders of Love in Action (LIA), an early ex-gay ministry that helped establish Exodus in 1974, left LIA after a friend committed suicide over his distress at being unable to change his sexual orientation. “They’re destroying people’s lives,” Evans told The Wall Street Journal in 1993. “They’re living in a fantasy world.” (LIA has since changed its name to Restoration Path.)

But there was a time, from the early 1980s all the way through the mid-2000s, when the ex-gay movement appeared to be flourishing. There were the aforementioned newspaper ads, and the big crowds at conferences and speaking events. The Exodus Global Alliance (the organization’s international outreach arm) established ministries in 18 countries, and in 2006, President George W. Bush invited Alan Chambers, Exodus’s president, and Randy Thomas, Exodus’s director of membership, to the White House to lobby for Bush’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. The rightward shift of American conservatism and debate over gay marriage brought fringe organizations like Focus on the Family, which was closely connected to Exodus, into the news spotlight again and again.

But all the far-right funding and rapid expansion did little more than prop up a withering institution. A series of scandals chipped away at the ex-gay movement’s veneer of success.

First came the photo of Paulk in the gay bar. Then in 2003, Michael Johnson, founder of “National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day,” was revealed to have infected men he’d met on the Internet with HIV through unprotected sex. John Smid, who joined LIA in 1986 and eventually became its executive director, left the organization in 2008. Three years later, Smid wrote on his blog that he “never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual,” and that reorientation is impossible, because being gay is intrinsic.

Then it crumbled further. In 2012, psychologist Robert Spitzer—one of the leaders of the successful push in the 1970s for the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a disease—retracted a controversial study, published in 2003, often cited by the ex-gay community that had concluded some “highly motivated” individuals could change their sexual orientation. Spitzer wrote an apology to LGBT people who “wasted time and energy” on reparative therapy.

By that time, policy within Exodus began to genuinely shift. “We renounced and forbid reparative therapy,” in 2012, Chambers tells Newsweek. “And there was an enormous split inside Exodus. Many who were more fundamentalist in approach had already broken off and formed Restored Hope Network.” Anne Paulk, John’s ex-wife, was one of those who left. She currently serves as executive director of Restored Hope, whose website harkens back to the early days of Exodus, claiming that those with same-sex attraction are “broken” and can “become who they are” under the guidance of Jesus Christ. Despite the fact that Restored Hope’s board is composed almost entirely of ex-Exodus members, the website makes no mention of the older organization.

Those who remain of course are absolutely adamant that one can change, but then so were all of these people before admitting that it wasn’t. The mere attempt at changing one’s sexual orientation is very dangerous. When you tell someone that they can stop being gay if they want it bad enough, that God will change them if they pray hard enough, and that doesn’t happen, the emotional results are often devastating.

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  • Synfandel

    Was the ‘ex-gay’ movement ever really a movement or was it just a few people very publicly in denial?

  • Pierce R. Butler

    … from the early 1980s all the way through the mid-2000s, … the ex-gay movement appeared to be flourishing.

    Or was it just an attempt by gay right-wing opportunists to apply for jobs in the Reagan & Bush administrations?

  • mig06

    When you tell someone that they can stop being gay if they want it bad enough, that God will change them if they pray hard enough […]

    They should pray harder than those starving people are praying for food though, because it doesn’t seem to work for them. Unless God cares more about people’s sex life than dying children.

  • dingojack

    Perhaps it’s not crumbling — just becoming more and more flaccid.

    :) Dingo

  • ianeymeaney

    Meanwhile, 3.4 million people die each year from a water-related disease while these schmucks worry about what consensual sex acts consenting adults perform with other consenting adults. Priorities, much?