I am one of the loudest critics of “ex-gay” groups like Exodus International. You see, like so many others, there was a time I turned to Exodus for help. Weighed down with fear and shame over being gay and a deep desire to please God as I understood God at the time, I heard the bold hopeful promise–Change is Possible! I wanted to be a faithful servant of Jesus, and I did not care about the personal cost if it only meant I could hear my Savior say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” But in the end I was wrong–seriously wrong.
I thought I would be more valuable to God, the church, my family, and society if I rid myself of my “unwanted same-sex desires.” Instead I learned that it was not necessary to change my orientation, nor was it possible. Exodus now agrees with this and publicly announces that they do not offer cures.
What I did not count on was the terrible toll it would take trying to change and suppress my orientation and gender differences. And when it comes to harm, I am not alone. Alan Chambers, head of Exodus since 2001, estimates that his programs have a 70% failure rate (and he is their most enthusiastic spokesperson.) What happens to the 70%+ folks who leave the ex-gay world?
Exodus does not know because virtually no Exodus member ministry or counselor have any sort of follow-up or aftercare. Once you stop attending they have no clue what is going on in your life.
In an effort to help promoters & providers of ex-gay ministry and reparative therapy learn about our experiences, we began to blog, post narratives, artwork, and articles. We wanted to educate Exodus leaders about the negative consequences of their program (and in churches that insisted we must go to war against our gay side in order to get a seat at the table.)
In 2007 we even went to various program headquarters, individual programs, churches with our stories and framed collages revealing some of our experiences.
Any sort of successful business values any data they can collect on customer satisfaction–particularly from the disgruntled. If nothing else for the pragmatic purpose that they want to improve so they can do more business. How much more is this essential for a group of ministers who want to offer loving pastoral care? Do they care?
But we get no response. No serious consideration of our claims. Like lots of big corporations who dismiss whistle blowers, Exodus International staff and Alan Chambers avoid our claims of harm and invalidate them. They spend energy crying foul about their free speech being denied by Apple yet they block their ears to the vital messages we have to tell them.
Yesterday Alan Chambers embarked on a Twitter good will tour of sorts explaining to people that he is reasonable and willing to listen and take questions. I took him up on this (after tweeting for days about Exodus and raising questions of harm) Through my Twitter account I asked:
AlanMChambers Alan Chambers
@p2son dialogue is a 2 way. You’ve been to my office, know me personally and yet continue to say things that are untrue & inflammatory.
What has likely inflamed Alan is that I recently pointed out in a blog post and on Twitter that Exodus is not only an anti-gay group. They are also exceedingly pro-straight.
They believe that heterosexual marriage is morally and spiritually superior to two men or two women marrying. They have acted on this politically to block marriage equality. They believe that a gay orientation is condemned by God while a heterosexual orientation is holy in God’s eyes. Alan Chambers believes gay Christians have fallen short yet once a former homosexual takes an anti-gay stance in his life he is right with God. Exodus teaches and believes that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and queer people are inferior. Therfore, I concluded that Exodus is a straight supremacist organization.
I can see why this might inflame Alan. But surely he can see some truth in what I am saying even if he doesn’t like the language I use.
The other point that I have been making (for years) is the one I stated above. Most of us went to Exodus to improve our lives and faith were HARMED. That may be hard for someone like Alan Chambers to hear, especially if someone genuinely meant to help. For our part, many have taken responsibility to get our lives back on track.
I have spent at least 10 years in therapy undoing the damage of the treatment I received by Exodus ministers and others in the church who insisted I had to suppress or change my gay side and gender-variant expression.
I was not forced to attend Exodus programs like some of the youth in 2005-2007 in the Love in Action Refuge program. I got myself into the mess, so I have been working to get myself out. BUT that does not mean Exodus is free of their responsibility to take our claims seriously, to take stock of what they do and how they do it, and to consider the consequences for the people they say they want so much to help.
Jeremy Marks was head of Exodus Europe and ran an ex-gay program in England. He stayed in touch with former clients and was shocked to learn that his group was not helping anyone. Considering what he heard, he decided that change was indeed possible for his organization and learned how to affirm gays instead of incur further damage as a result of shame and bad teaching. He has since issued a public apology for the harm he inadvertently caused to his clients.
Exodus leaders claim they simply want to help people who come to them with unwanted same-sex attractions. What they don’t understand is that they are not qualified to do so. For the most part they are untrained and unlicensed. They have a decided prejudice against the desires, relationships, faith, and lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangender and queer people.
Yet year after year they operate the same way and never ever consider the harm they cause and the ways they can address this harm. They change their language — “We are not ex-gay. We do not cure. We are not anti-gay.” –But they do not change their message or methods. They play the martyr and do not consider their victims.
If you are someone who has been harmed as a result of trying to change or suppress your orientation or gender differences, through a program, counselor, or on your own, we have begun to look at creative ways to recover from this harm. We also connect with each other on a community site as we learn to live new lives of clarity, health, and authenticity. Please join us.