Is it the end of the ex-gay movement as we know it?

Michelle Goldberg has a piece online at the Daily Beast which asks the question: End of the Ex-gay Movement?

In the piece she features John Smid’s recent column where he asserted:

I also want to reiterate here that the transformation for the vast majority of homosexuals will not include a change of sexual orientation. Actually I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.

A 21 year veteran of Exodus International, with 11 years on the board of directors, Smid has credibility to make that statement seem shocking. 

Smid’s turnaround was triggered by an event that gave the program notoriety – the protests surrounding teenager Zach Stark’s placement in LIA’s youth program. Morgan Fox and others organized protests around LIA, but there was more. Eventually Fox made a documentary about the ordeal and Smid agreed to be interviewed for it. Smid told Goldberg:

“When Morgan and I met for the very first time right after the protest, what I saw in Morgan was a man of such character,” Smid told me. “I saw someone who was humble, who was open to being honest, someone that I really felt drawn to. It just opened me up to realize I had not been willing to admit that there were gay people like Morgan.”

The rest of the article interviews people who knew Smid while he was Director of Love in Action. Peterson Toscano went through the program calling it a “very destructive process.” For his part, Smid regrets the program saying,

Smid regrets the way Love In Action hammered away at “demonic homosexuality,” he says. “I think that was really, for kids that are 15, 16, 17 years old, oh my goodness. With all the things they’re already struggling with, I can’t imagine what that might have been like for them.”

Brandon Tidwell, another LIA participant is cautious about Smid’s disclosures, believing that Smid has not yet addressed the specifics of the LIA program.

Andrew Marin’s I’m Sorry campaign is also mentioned. Smid is going to attend the Memphis Pride parade and join that effort.

I was also interviewed for the piece and describe the congruence paradigm near the beginning:

Evangelicals used to insist that “change is possible,” says Warren Throckmorton, a Grove City College psychology professor once associated with the ex-gay movement. “The new paradigm, I believe, is no, it doesn’t look like that works, and so you go with it, you accept it, and you try to make the best life you can in congruence with the rest of your beliefs,” he says.

What I mean there is that the effort to seek categorical change does not seem to work and so evangelicals are seeking to make it all work without losing their religion.

Smid’s disclosures may not bring the end of the ex-gay movement, but it is one of many indicators of decline. Unquestionably one of the biggest hits was the revelation that former NARTH board member George Rekers had taken a European vacation with a young “rent boy” hired from a gay escort service. Then the case of Kyle Murphy revealed that Rekers scientific work on preventing homosexuality was built on significantly distorted research. More recently, Edification, a Christian journal affiliated with the American Association of Christian Counselors published research from Mark Yarhouse’s lab showing that gay and bisexual people in mixed orientation marriages change behavior but not orientation, despite being heterosexually married.

Even the study touted as hopeful by change paradigm proponents — the Jones and Yarhouse longitudical study — found a small percentage of people who claimed change. When inspected closer, the change reported could also be considered shifts within an essentially bisexual orientation since most of the participants still report same-sex attraction.

Recently, Exodus has moved away from the language of orientation change and even removed reparative therapy books authored by Joseph Nicolosi from their online bookstore.

The groups most associated with the change paradigm are those which are also heavily involved in political activities opposing gay rights (e.g, NARTH, PFOX, FRC, AFA, AFTAH). Probably, the congruence perspective doesn’t help them as much, if at all.

As one who was once associated with the ex-gay movement, I look at the trends and wonder if we are nearing the end of the ex-gay movement as we know (knew) it. If it is, I feel fine.

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  • Ken

    Well, I certainly hope it is the end of the ex-gay movement. However, I suspect it will take a very long time for the damage done by it’s more extreme followers to be undone.

    Btw, Warren, are you deliberately leaving out the NAME of the Love in Action Youth program? it was called “Refuge” which lead to a telling and amusing acronym.

  • paul canning

    As I was just reading about a Kenyan FM radio host talking about ex-gays positively and ‘not born that way’, it may be dead in the US, it’s not dead yet in Africa.

  • StraightGrandmother

    Hope springs eternal :)

  • stephen

    It’s most certainly not dead in the US. It has been weaponized by people like Michele Bachmann and all the others now trying to be the Republican nominee who attended the recent VVS. It is now being used by groups like National Organization for Marriage as one of its chief talking points. Smid will simply be discounted and cast aside now that he’s no longer of use.

    That there was no such thing as an e-gay has been clear since Freud started analyzing patients back in Vienna. Men trying to get straight provided analysts in NYC with a very good living from the 30s on. I know plenty of gay men who married women to try to straighten out. It never works. Though it can lead to very good marriages and we all have our own lives to live and our own truth to discover.

    No. The pollution of ex-gay will be with us for years if for no other reason than for the cover it provides those who either hate or fear us: it allows them a way to express that hatred – our lives and loves aren’t real – as they wrap themselves in the mantle of love while they work to undermine our civil rights. If ex-gay leaders like Smid want to do something to make amends then let them speak out when Herman Cain calls being gay a choice. Let them contradict Maggie Gallagher. Let them deal with Tony Roberts and Bryan Fischer. Let them finally do something useful.

  • Michael Bussee

    As one who was once associated with the ex-gay movement, I look at the trends and wonder if we are nearing the end of the ex-gay movement as we know (knew) it. If it is, I feel fine.

    So do I.

  • Lynn David

    Dang, Warren, you’re turning into quite the subversive. Dare I say the next thing we’ll hear from you is that you’re voting for Obama in 2012?


  • StraightGrandmother

    The comment immediately above this one is a link to a blog called

    On Being Jewish Christian and Gay. So I went over there to read it and found it quite refreshing and enlightening. I hope the blogger will feel flattered that I thought that I should re-post part of what he wrote here-

    It’s deja vu all over again as this was not the first time the “ex-gay” case has been based on significantly distorted research. Not that long ago, a widely reported study was published by psychiatrist Dr Robert L. Spitzer announcing that “Homosexuals Can Change!” Newspapers across the county carried the story.

    I personally had responded to an ad Dr. Spitzer placed eliciting testimonies from people who had been involved in “ex-gay” ministry when this study was conducted. I underwent a preliminary phone interview with one of Dr. Spitzer’s associates where it was determined that my background was exactly what they were looking for for participation in the study. Then during my telephone interview with Dr. Spitzer, he disqualified me from participating in his study after learning that I did not believe reparative therapy worked. Dr. Spitzer explained he was “looking to speak with people who believe that gays can change.” If others who answered his ad were disqualified from participating on the same grounds, one need not be a rocket scientist to figure out how Dr. Spitzer reached the conclusion he did.

    That is very enlightening information about the Spitzer study don’t you think?

  • StraightGrandmother

    I read the About Me of Alex Haiken, the author of the blog called On being Jewish, Christian and Gay and he also seems like he also was an ex gay leader as he writes…

    Although I served for a time as a leader of a so-called ex-gay ministry, I ultimately learned that the ex-gay route is a scripturally-unsound mirage, a specious illusion that deceitfully draws people not to a life-giving oasis but to a deeper and deeper spiritual desert.

  • David

    Just wanted to add something on the Jones/Yarhouse study. As someone who went through reparative therapy (private counseling w/ a secular psychologist over 3 years), I can attest that there is a difference in perceived “shifts” in orientation while the therapy is ongoing, as opposed to when it ends. In other words, when you go to therapy or a group like Exodus 2 or 3 times a week to talk about how “SSA” is a misguided search for “father love,” and when you spend more time doing exercises, that very activity impacts your internal assessment of your desires. When that activity ceases, much or all of those perceptions are upended.

    You can go to a group 3X a week and talk about how ham sandwiches are poisonous and it will affect your enjoyment of ham sandwiches. You might eat a ham sandwich and be certain that you now experience the ham as coarse or lacking flavor, or you might be certain that you can taste the toxins as you eat.

    But when you are no longer immersing in that group activity, your original perception of ham returns.

    Jones/Yarhouse studies a tiny group of extremely motivated people who were willing to endure 7 years of therapy. Despite this, only a small number of participants self-reported small shifts on the “spectrum of sexual orientation.” (And whatever these shifts were, and assuming the self-reporting was accurate, they are likely several thousand times greater than what would be achieved in the general gay population, which is not remotely similar to the Jones/Yarhouse group.)

    As I understand it these participants were still in active therapy at the time Jones/Yarhouse surveyed them. So even the small number of self-reported shifts is suspect.

  • DJ

    It’s time for Exodus to get 100% honest (like Smid is now), or simply die. Continuing on as they have is not sustainable, as more and more people recognize the truth about orientation change. It seems there are only 2 existing viable options at present (so-called Side A and Side B stances), and even one of those seems tenable for only a minority. But the “Side X” stance is shriveling more and more to the fringe of even Christian circles… and that’s exactly as it should be. It was a nice experiment of sorts for the Christian Church as it sought to struggle with issues of sexuality and spirituality, but the writing’s been on the wall for quite some time now – plain to see to anyone willing to read it …

  • Michael Bussee

    He won’t say who it is, but Randy Thomas sounds pretty angry with someone.

    I talked with [my mentors] about possibly blogging about the current situation. Each of them wisely advised me to not blog out of reaction to the person but to carefully consider a response centered in objective critique of their public claims. And that is something I can’t do today. Today, any attempt to discuss the current situation would be all reaction and not an objective response. It’s hard to bite your tongue when it is razor-sharp, but I did and am… It’s so easy to get very myopic when angry at a former leader. It is very tempting to make them a scapegoat for a reason to just get angrier and angrier OR to make excuses to facilitate temptations toward our own compromise…

    Whether or not it is John Smid, what does Randy have to be angry about? It’s not OK for an ex-gay leader to tell the truth about his experience? To admit that he never saw true sexual orientation change in his clients or himself? To apologize for the harm he may have caused? To reconsider what he once taught about Christianity and “change”? To accept that he is still homosexual?

    Why should ANY of that make Randy mad? Why would he need to bite his “razor sharp” tongue? Why is it “very tempting to make them a scapegoat? Or to get “angier and angrier? And what sorts of “temptations” does a former “ex-gay” leader’s honesty create inside Randy that would cause Randy to “compromise”?

  • StraightGrandmother

    David, you made a really good point. Your comment is well thought out and very well written. You bring up very good points. What a drag to waste so much of your time in therapy trying to change yourself. I hope you are in a better place now. There is nothing wrong with being gay, you are just a minority is all. I was listening to a debate today that took place in Minnesota between Maggie Gallagher & a Law professor. According to the U.S. census and the extrapolation and calculation we can make from it, the number of sexual minorities is about the same as the number of Jews in our country. The number of sexual minorities is roughly double the population of the state of Minnesota. If I remember right there are more sexual minorities than Mormons.

  • StraightGrandmother

    Michael Bussee, I don’t have a clue who Randy Thomas is. I went to the link you provided and read his blog then read his About Me. I stopped cold and shut it off when I read,

    I’ve contributed to several books and my own story of redemption has been featured in a full-page ad in The Los Angeles Times as well as Chuck Colson’s book The Good Life

    I have a negative visceral reaction to Chuck Colson. Colson literally makes my skin crawl.

  • Michael Bussee

    SG: Randy Thomas is the former VP of Exodus International. He used to have a blog called “Confessions Of An Ex-gay Superstar.”

  • Mary

    I for one, as an ex-gay and christian, am glad that this is the end of the ex gay movement as we know it. Shaming people, chastising people, separating churches and families over this issue, hurting god kind people in unthinkable ways…. Put an end to it.

  • Michael Bussee

    Update on John Smid’s journey:

    But I am finding that at this point I have written all I can write and must step back and seek God some more. This doesn’t mean I am finished, I have plenty more in my heart to say. But I need to gain God’s leading for the next “chapter.”

  • stephen

    Am I being unfair Michael in thinking that it all does seem to be about him? This hardly seems to be about trying to right the wrongs of the past. Not that he can but at least he could try.

  • Michael Bussee

    Yet another “Ex-gay” leader comes out:

    Brazilian Ex-Gay Leader Comes Out, Rebukes ‘Act Of Violence’ Of Reinforcing Internalized Homophobia

    Viula is only the latest ex-gay leader to recant his previous teachings. John Smid of Love In Action recently began doing the same. The testimony these changed men share is important to highlight, but it does not undo the harm that ex-gay therapy continues to cause individuals every day. The desire to change one’s sexual orientation (and the belief that it is possible) is motivated by the anti-gay stigma present throughout society. Only by challenging that demonization will the harm ever come to an end.

  • StraightGrandmother

    Michael, you beat me to it! I just saw the same information today. Here is the link to a full interview with the (or “a”) Brazilian Leader in an Ex-Gay religiously based organization.

    He had 18 years invested in the movement before he abandoned it and now lives happily with his gay partner


    he English and philosophy teacher, also a theologian, Sergio Viula, 42, born and resident in Rio de Janeiro, was one of the founders of the Movement for the Healthy Sexuality (MOSES), an evangelical NGO which helps people interested in quitting homosexuality. He got married, had two children and saw by himself the very methods of ‘sexual re-orientation’. In an exclusive interview, Sergio talked to me and showed that methods to change sexual orientation are useless, causing pain and suffering to those who are willing to go through any of them.

    It is a good article.

    Maybe Warren is on to something