On a Tuesday evening nearly 14 years ago, John Paulk walked into a gay bar in Washington, D.C. At another time in his life, Paulk would have fit right in. But in 2000, Paulk’s life as an openly gay man was far behind him. He was then one of the most prominent so-called ex-gays in the country, only two years removed from appearing on the cover of Newsweek, posing with his smiling wife for an article about gay conversion therapy.
At 37, Paulk had spent the prior 13 years involved with Exodus International, one of the largest and most influential ex-gay organizations in the world. He married another ex-gay, Anne, and together they rose through the ranks, becoming leaders and eventually the faces of a movement that attracted thousands with its message that, if they tried hard enough, gay and lesbian people could become happy heterosexuals. „Change is possible“ was their rallying cry. You just needed to surrender yourself to God. Look at us, they said to rooms of thousands. Look how happy we are.
„We were all over the world. We had been on every show, People magazine, GQ, Time, Newsweek, every newspaper. We wrote three books, toured Europe speaking,“ Paulk tells Newsweek. Today, Paulk is openly gay again, divorced and running a catering business in Portland, Oregon. But in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was trying hard to keep the closet door closed, while preaching a message of ex-gay deliverance from within it. Exodus International was bigger than ever. It served as the umbrella organization for hundreds of ex-gay ministries spread across several countries, some of which performed „reparative“ therapy, and all of which preached a message of „healing“ the „developmental condition“ of gayness through prayer.
Far-right groups including the Family Research Council and the American Family Association pooled $600,000 to place ads promising the effectiveness of reparative therapy in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune. Anne and John Paulk smiled from full-page newspaper spreads.
In front of the crowds and cameras, Paulk was the image of certainty. But backstage, he was faltering. More than that, he knew he was lying.
„It’s funny, for those of us that worked in it, behind closed doors, we knew we hadn’t really changed,“ he says. „Our situations had changed—we had gotten married, and some of us had children, so our roles had changed. I was a husband and father; that was my identity. And the homosexuality had been tamped down. But you can only push it down for so long, and it would eke its way out every so often.“
When Paulk walked into that gay bar in 2000, someone recognized him and phoned Wayne Besen, a gay rights activist who now runs the nonprofit Truth Wins Out. Besen rushed over and snapped a picture. In the ensuing scandal, Paulk initially claimed he just went in to use the bathroom, and didn’t know it was a gay bar. But really, he was aching just to be in a welcoming environment.
„I went to a gay bar—not looking for sex, which is what people thought—but because I was missing my community. I was looking to sit in a place with people I felt comfortable with, and that was other gay people,“ Paulk says. Though he continued to take speaking engagements, by 2003, he was burned out.
„I would be in hotel rooms, and I would be on my face sobbing and crying on the bed,“ he says. „I felt like a liar and a hypocrite. Having to go out and give hope to these people. I was in despair knowing that what I was telling them was not entirely honest. I couldn’t do it anymore.“
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 Johnston, founder of „National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day,“ was found to have infected men he’d met online 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.
Anne Paulk did not respond to Newsweek’s questions on the subject, although she did email Newsweek a statement in which she declared „We, at Restored Hope, are happy to continue to care for those who are seeking help in aligning their life with classical Christian sexual ethics. Although some choose to return to homosexuality, others who have chosen to leave that same life and thrive. My life would be one example of the latter.“
The members of Exodus International who were on board with Chambers’s decision to renounce conversion therapy remained until June 2013, when he shut down operations for good. According to Chambers, once he realized there would be no way to separate Exodus from its „sordid history,“ the only option was to shut the doors. On disbanding, Chambers issued a deeply apologetic press release, stating, „I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.“
Today, Chambers says that Exodus’s focus on conversion therapy was unplanned and spun out of control. „I never liked the term ex-gay,“ he says. „I never wanted to be an ex-gay. I just simply wanted Exodus to be an organization that helped people live in congruence with their own lives and goals.“
Other organizations, however, have filled the void left in Exodus’s wake. The Restored Hope Network has taken up the mantle of conservative Christian conversion. And in October 2013, a newly formed group, Voice of the Voiceless, hosted its „First Annual Ex-Gay Awareness Dinner and Reception“ that attracted about 60 Christian leaders and ex-gay individuals.
Then there is Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), formerly Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality, a nonprofit created in 1999 by two New Jersey parents who each had a gay son. In November 2012, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sued JONAH and one of its counselors on behalf of four men who underwent conversion therapy in the late 2000s. The lawsuit alleged that JONAH violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act and used invalid practices to try to „fix something that isn’t broken.“
JONAH told Newsweek in an email that it „doesn’t ‚fix‘ anything.“ According to co-directors Elaine Berk and Arthur Goldberg, JONAH „refers individuals to independent counselors who employ frequently used techniques to help a person deal with painful issues in their life. These techniques are designed to help people feel better about themselves and to live a life consistent with their religious and personal values. The result is often a diminution of their unwanted same-sex attraction.“
The Superior Court of New Jersey rejected JONAH’s motion to dismiss in the summer of 2013; Sam Wolfe, SPLC senior staff attorney, expects the case to go to trial in early 2014. Wolfe also notes that since the lawsuit got under way, a number of other individuals have approached SPLC with potential cases of their own.
In the meanwhile, criticism directed towards JONAH has come from within the religious community, as well; when the lawsuit was filed, the Rabbinical Council of America (one of the most influential Orthodox Jewish organizations in the country) immediately distanced itself from JONAH, reaffirming that, based on the current scientific evidence, they did not endorse gay conversion therapy. (On the other hand, the Torah Declaration, a statement of support, has been signed by many prominent members of the Jewish religious right.)
Lastly, there’s the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), founded in 1992 by psychologist Joseph Nicolosi. NARTH considers itself the foremost secular proponent of conversion therapy; it counts hundreds of well-credentialed mental health professionals among its ranks and has issued a number of white papers on the subject. It too, however, has suffered in the public eye in recent years: In 2007, NARTH therapist Chris Austin was convicted of sexually assaulting a client, and sentenced to 10 years in prison; in 2010, NARTH board member George Rekers was found to have employed a male prostitute as a companion for a two-week European vacation; and in 2012 the Internal Revenue Service revoked NARTH’s nonprofit status for not properly filing its paperwork.
Paulk left Exodus in 2003. He cautions against „speaking for everybody,“ but says in his more than two decades of watching people undergo ex-gay therapy, the „large majority“ of people he met „did not change one iota.“ Paulk remained silent for a decade, until he issued a formal apology last year. „I know that countless people were harmed by things I said and did in the past, “ Paulk wrote in a statement. „I am truly, truly sorry for the pain I have caused.“
Today, Paulk strongly believes that no child or teen should be put through any type of „treatment“ for their sexual orientation. On the other hand, he says adults should have the right to pursue any therapy they choose. „If I go see a therapist because I am uncomfortable with homosexual feelings or attractions and I do not feel that those are compatible with who I see myself to be, [I] should have the right to determine the course of [my] therapy,“ Paulk says. „However, I completely draw the line when it comes to minors.“
The tragedy that Paulk lives with to this day is that organizations like JONAH often specifically target minors, with summer camps and teen programs. „For 25 years I felt guilty and filled with self-loathing, trying to reject this part about myself. I’m culpable—I spread the message that my sexuality had changed, and I used my marriage as proof of that,“ Paulk says.
That marriage ended recently. Anne and John now share joint custody of their three teenage sons. At 51, Paulk is living as an openly gay man for the first time since he entered the ex-gay ministry at the age of 24. Paulk said despite the fact that his decision to live a life true to himself was difficult and was accompanied by significant risk (not the least of which was breaking up his family), it was well worth it. During his 10-year silence, Paulk went to culinary school and opened a catering company in Portland. He says he is now „thriving.“
Paulk’s story echoes those of many others whose lives were damaged by the shame, guilt, and self-loathing that marked their involvement with ex-gay therapy, and who overcame their past to eventually live life as their LGBT selves. In 2007, the website Beyond Ex-Gay was founded by Peterson Toscano and Christine Bakke, who both were part of Exodus. The site collects first-person narratives from „ex-ex-gays.“ Among them is Darlene Bogle, who was a leader in Exodus until 1990, when she fell in love with a woman who attended one of her ex-gay meetings.
„There were a lot of people in leadership positions [in Exodus] who still felt that they were gay but could not admit it,“ Bogle tells Newsweek. „We learned to lie.“
Like many, Bogle wanted so badly to change her orientation that she convinced herself that if she just kept saying she was ex-gay, and didn’t actually have any sexual relationships with women, then she actually was ex-gay. „But the things you do do not change who you are,“ she says. „Even if I was not sexual at all, I would still be a lesbian. I just wish more people had a grasp of that truth.“
Bogle, too, regrets the role she played with Exodus.
„In just trying to help, I did immeasurable harm,“ she says. „It’s like when children are molested, and they live with that for their entire lives. They’re still being harmed, even though it happened years ago. I think it’s a lot like what happens when people are involved in ex-gay ministry.“
Bogle and Paulk’s beliefs are held widely by both public health officials and lawmakers. Today, state-level legislators across the country are beginning to push forward rules meant to protect minors from this potential damage. Both California and New Jersey have officially banned gay conversion therapy for minors. In Washington, a bill has already passed in the House by a 94–4 vote and awaits approval by the state Senate. A similar bill was introduced earlier this year in both houses of the New York state legislature, where it still awaits a vote. And lawmakers have announced they will be pushing anti-conversion-therapy laws in FloridaMassachusettsMinnesotaOhio and Pennsylvania.
On an individual level, many ex-ex-gays are trying to repair the damage they believe they caused while complicit in ex-gay messaging. Bogle, for her part, has written two books about how being gay and being a Christian are not mutually exclusive.
„I’m trying to go back, to try to bring healing to those who believed my lie,“ she says. „It’ll take the rest of my life. I’ll be 70 this year. I just hope God lets me live long enough to let me do it.“
Paulk, meanwhile, hopes his story encourages others to overcome their own fears and uncertainties. „It’s difficult, but worth it at the end of the day because of the peace that comes with it. It’s happy on the other side.“
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My So-Called Ex-Gay Life
Early in my freshman year of high school, I came home to find my mom sitting on her bed, crying. She had snooped through my e-mail and discovered a message in which I confessed to having a crush on a male classmate.
„Are you gay?“ she asked. I blurted out that I was.
Her resignation didn’t last long. My mom is a problem solver, and the next day she handed me a stack of papers she had printed out from the Internet about reorientation, or „ex-gay,“ therapy. I threw them away. I said I didn’t see how talking about myself in a therapist’s office was going to make me stop liking guys. My mother responded by asking whether I wanted a family, then posed a hypothetical: „If there were a pill you could take that would make you straight, would you take it?“
I admitted that life would be easier if such a pill existed. I hadn’t thought about how my infatuation with boys would play out over the course of my life. In fact, I had always imagined myself middle-aged, married to a woman, and having a son and daughter-didn’t everyone want some version of that?
She told me about Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a clinical psychologist in California who was then president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), the country’s largest organization for practitioners of ex-gay therapy. She said Nicolosi had treated hundreds of people who were now able to live „normal“ lives.
I read through the papers my mom had salvaged from the trash. They were interviews with Nicolosi’s patients, who talked about how therapy helped them overcome depression and feel „comfortable in their masculinity.“ The testimonials seemed genuine, and the patients, grateful. I agreed to fly with my father to Los Angeles from our small town on the Arizona-Mexico border for an initial consultation.
The Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic was on the 13th floor of a modern building on Ventura Boulevard, one of the San Fernando Valley’s main thoroughfares. Nicolosi’s corner office had emerald-green carpet and mahogany bookshelves lined with titles like Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far and Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth. Middle-aged with thick, graying black hair, Nicolosi grew up in New York City and spoke with a faint Bronx accent. Brusque but affable, he put me at ease.
When my father and I first sat down, Nicolosi explained what he meant by „cure.“ Although I might never feel a spark of excitement when I saw a woman walking down the street, as I progressed in therapy, my homosexual attractions would diminish.
I might have lingering thoughts about men, but they would no longer control me.
Nicolosi’s acknowledgment that change wouldn’t be absolute made the theory seem reasonable. His confidence in the outcome made me hopeful. Until I had spoken with Nicolosi, I had resigned myself to the idea that, desirable or not, my life would have to accommodate the fact that I was gay. But maybe this was something I had power over.
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For the last half of the session, I talked with Nicolosi alone. „Tell me about your friends at school,“ he said. I said I had two close female friends. „Male friends?“ I admitted that I had always had trouble relating to boys my age. When I was in grade school, I preferred helping the teacher clean the classroom during breaks instead of playing sports.
„Are you open to therapy?“ Nicolosi asked. „If you don’t think this is working, you can stop anytime.“
I agreed to start weekly sessions by phone. After our one-on-one meeting ended, I joined some of his other patients for group therapy. I was by far the youngest person there. The other men-four or five altogether-were in their forties and fifties and talked about their years in the „gay lifestyle,“ which had yielded only unhappiness. They wanted normal, fulfilling lives. They were tired of the club scene, the drug use, the promiscuity; their relationships didn’t last; they complained that gay culture was youth-obsessed. If that was what being gay meant-and with 30-plus years on me, they would know-then I wanted to be normal, too.
I left the office with a copy of Nicolosi’s most recent book, Healing Homosexuality, and a worksheet that categorized different emotions under the rubrics of „true self“ and „false self.“ The true self felt masculine, was „adequate, on par,“ „secure, confident, capable,“ and „at home in [his] body.“ The false self did not feel masculine, was inadequate and insecure, and felt alienated from his body. This rang true. I had been teased throughout my childhood for being effeminate, and as a lanky, awkward teen with bad skin, I certainly was not at home in my body.
Another sheet illustrated the „triadic relationship“ that led to homosexuality: a passive, distant father, an overinvolved mother, and a sensitive child. I was closer with my mother than my father. I was shy. The story seemed to fit, which was comforting: It gave me confidence that I could be cured.
According to Nicolosi, identification with a parent of the other gender is out of step with our biological and evolutionary „design.“ Because of this, it was impossible to ever become whole through gay relationships. I wanted to be whole.
On July 13, 1998-the same year I started therapy-a full-page ad appeared in The New York Times featuring a beaming woman with a diamond engagement ring and wedding band. „I’m proof that the truth can set you free,“ she proclaimed. The woman, Anne Paulk, said that molestation during adolescence led her to homosexuality, but that she had been healed through the power of Jesus Christ. The $600,000 ad campaign-sponsored by 15 religious-right organizations, including the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council, and the American Family Association-ran for several weeks in such publications as The Washington Post, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times. Robert Knight of the Family Research Council called it „the Normandy landing in the culture war.“
With few voices to challenge the testimonials, reporters transmitted them as revelation. Newsweek ran a sympathetic cover story on change therapy, and national and regional papers published ex-gays‘ accounts. My mother might not have so easily found information about ex-gay therapy had the Christian right not planted this stake in the culture war.
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The ad appeared 23 years after the American Psychiatric Association (APA) declassified homosexuality as a mental illness. As a consequence of that decision, extreme forms of reorientation therapy-aversion therapy involving electrocution or nausea-inducing drugs, for instance-had stopped being used. A small group of therapists continued to practice talk therapy that encouraged patients to see homosexuality as a developmental disorder, but they remained on the fringe until the Christian right took up their cause. This was a calculated political move.
Instead of fire-and-brimstone denunciations from the pulpit, the ex-gay movement allowed the Christian right to couch its condemnation of homosexuality in a way that seemed compassionate.
Focus on the Family called its new ex-gay ministry Love Won Out and talked about healing and caring for homosexuals.
The ex-gay movement turned the rhetoric of gay rights against itself: Shouldn’t ex-gays be able to pursue therapy and live the lives they want without facing discrimination?
The two largest groups that provide ex-gay counseling are Exodus International, a nondenominational Christian organization, and NARTH, its secular counterpart. If Exodus is the spirit of the ex-gay movement, NARTH is the brain. The organizations share many members, and Exodus parrots the developmental theories about same-sex attractions espoused by NARTH. Together with the late Charles Socarides, a psychiatrist who led the opposition to declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness, Nicolosi formed NARTH in 1992 as a „scientific organization that offers hope to those who struggle with unwanted homosexuality.“ By 1998, the group was holding an annual conference, publishing its own journal, and training hundreds of psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors. Nicolosi remains NARTH’s most visible advocate.
There are no reliable statistics for how many patients have received ex-gay treatment or how many therapists practice it, but in the late 1990s and early 2000s, ex-gay therapy enjoyed a legitimacy it hadn’t since the APA removed homosexuality from its diagnostic manual. Exodus had 83 chapters in 34 states. Its president, Alan Chambers, claimed in 2004 that he knew „tens of thousands of people who have successfully changed their sexual orientation.“ Nicolosi appeared often on programs like Oprah, 20/20, and Larry King Live. Whether or not the Christian right’s alliance with the ex-gay movement had constituted a D-Day in the culture wars, it had successfully challenged the prevailing idea that the best choice for gay people was to accept themselves.
After our initial meeting, I spoke with Nicolosi weekly by phone for more than three years, from the time I was 14 until I graduated high school. Like a rabbi instructing his student in understanding the Torah, Nicolosi encouraged me to interpret my daily life through the lens of his theories. I read in one of Nicolosi’s books, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality, that he tries to position himself as a supportive father figure, typifying the sort of relationship that he believes his patients never had with their own father. I indeed came to see him this way.
We mostly talked about how my damaged masculine identity manifested itself in my attractions to other boys. Nicolosi would ask me about my crushes at school and what I liked about them. Whether the trait was someone’s build, good looks, popularity, or confidence, these conversations always ended with a redirect: Did I wish I had these traits? What might it feel like to be hugged by one of these guys? Did I want them to like and accept me?
Of course, I wanted to be as attractive as the classmates I admired; of course, I wanted to be accepted and liked by them. The line of questioning made me feel worse. Nicolosi explained, session after session, that I felt inadequate because I had not had sufficient male affirmation in childhood. I came to believe that my attraction to men was the result of the failure to connect with my father. Whenever I felt slighted by my male friends-for failing to call when they said they would, for neglecting to invite me to a party-I was re-experiencing a seminal rejection from my father. Most guys, I was told, let things like that roll off their back-an expression of their masculine confidence-but I was hurt by these things because it recalled prior trauma.
My parents were surprised at how the therapy blamed them for my condition. Initially, Nicolosi had told them they were one of the cases that did not fit the mold of the „triadic relationship“-in other words, that my sexual orientation was not their fault. Once it became clear that Nicolosi held them responsible, they disengaged. They continued paying for therapy but no longer checked in with Nicolosi regularly or asked what he and I talked about. I was happy to defy my parents. Whether the grievance was that my curfew wasn’t late enough or that my parents didn’t give me enough money, I had a trusted authority figure validating every perceived injustice. Any complaint became evidence of how my parents had failed me.
As I progressed in therapy, I felt that I was gaining insight into the source and causes of my sexual attractions.
The problem was, they didn’t go away. At Nicolosi’s urging, I told my best friend that I had to distance myself from her. Instead, Nicolosi encouraged me to form „genuine nonsexual bonds“ with other men. He paired me with another one of his patients, Ryan Kendall, who was my age and lived in Colorado. We spoke by phone every few days.
Most of our conversations were mundane. We talked about our friends and people we didn’t like, recounting every high-school travail and triumph. But we frequently deviated from the therapist-approved, buddy-buddy talk that was supposed to repair us. We flirted, a novel experience for me; there were no openly gay people at my high school. Ryan and I described what we looked like to each other. He said he had brown hair and eyes and was short but cute; I said I was tall and skinny (but left out my bad skin). We promised to send each other pictures, though we never did.
„What would Nicolosi say?“ we’d ask. It became a regular refrain, an acknowledgment that we were misbehaving. Part of the bond we developed was in our shared rebellion against our therapist. For me, it had less to do with opposing ex-gay therapy than with the giddy thrill of defying authority. Ryan was convinced that change was impossible-„Nicolosi’s a quack,“ he once said. Despite my transgressions, I still believed in Nicolosi’s theory. But my relationship with Ryan evinced a larger problem: While I was uncovering how my relationship with my parents continued to shape my inner life, I was still attracted to men. I chatted with older guys on the Internet and on a few occasions met them.
I felt guilty about this but trusted Nicolosi enough to admit I had been „experimenting.“ He told me to be careful of meeting men off the Internet but that I shouldn’t dwell on it or feel guilty. He said my sexual behavior was of secondary importance. If I understood myself and worked on my relationships with men, the attractions would take care of themselves. I just had to be patient.
Late into my last year of high school, Nicolosi had a final conversation with my parents and told them that the treatment had been a success. „Your son will never enter the gay lifestyle,“ he assured them.
A few weeks later, our housekeeper caught me with a boy in our backyard. This marked the end of therapy for me. My parents were convinced it had failed because Nicolosi had blamed things on them rather than on my being teased by my male peers as a child. They sent me to another therapist. I had one session but refused to continue. While I still accepted Nicolosi’s underlying theory about why people were gay, I believed that all the talking in the world couldn’t change me. When I left for Yale, my mother sent me off with a warning: Were she to discover that I had „entered the gay lifestyle,“ my parents would no longer pay for my education. „I love you enough to stop you from hurting yourself,“ she said.
In 2001, the year I started college, the ex-gay movement’s claims received a significant boost. In 1973, Columbia professor and prominent psychiatrist Robert Spitzer had led the effort to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness. Four years after Stonewall, it was a landmark event for the gay-rights movement. But 28 years later, Spitzer released a study that asserted change in one’s sexual orientation was possible. Based on 200 interviews with ex-gay patients-the largest sample amassed-the study did not make any claims about the success rate of ex-gay therapy. But Spitzer concluded that, at least for a highly select group of motivated individuals, it worked. What translated into the larger culture was: The father of the 1973 revolution in the classification and treatment of homosexuality, who could not be seen as just another biased ex-gay crusader with an agenda, had validated ex-gay therapy.
An Associated Press story called it „explosive.“ In the words of one of Spitzer’s gay colleagues, it was like „throwing a grenade into the gay community.“ For the ex-gay movement, it was a godsend. Whereas previous accounts of success had appeared in non-peer-reviewed, vanity, pay-to-publish journals like Psychological Reports, Spitzer’s study was published in the prestigious Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Spitzer’s study is still cited by ex-gay organizations as evidence that ex-gay therapy works. The study infuriated gay-rights supporters and many psychiatrists, who condemned its methodology and design. Participants had been referred to Spitzer by ex-gay groups like NARTH and Exodus, which had an interest in recommending clients who would validate their work. The claims of change were self-reports, and Spitzer had not compared them with a control group that would help him judge their credibility.
This spring, I visited Spitzer at his home in Princeton. He ambled toward the door in a walker. Frail but sharp-witted, Spitzer suffers from Parkinson’s disease. „It’s a bummer,“ he said. I told Spitzer that Nicolosi had asked me to participate in the 2001 study and recount my success in therapy, but that I never called him. „I actually had great difficulty finding participants,“ Spitzer said. „In all the years of doing ex-gay therapy, you’d think Nicolosi would have been able to provide more success stories. He only sent me nine patients.“
„How’d it turn out for you?“ he asked. I said that while I stayed in the closet for a few years more than I might have, I ended up accepting my sexuality. At the end of college, I began to have steady boyfriends, and in February of last year-ten years after my last session with Dr. Nicolosi-I married my partner.
Spitzer was drawn to the topic of ex-gay therapy because it was controversial-„I was always attracted to controversy“-but was troubled by how the study was received. He did not want to suggest that gay people should pursue ex-gay therapy. His goal was to determine whether the counterfactual-the claim that no one had ever changed his or her sexual orientation through therapy-was true.
I asked about the criticisms leveled at him. „In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are largely correct,“ he said. „The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.“ He said he spoke with the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior about writing a retraction, but the editor declined. (Repeated attempts to contact the journal went unanswered.)
Spitzer said that he was proud of having been instrumental in removing homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. Now 80 and retired, he was afraid that the 2001 study would tarnish his legacy and perhaps hurt others. He said that failed attempts to rid oneself of homosexual attractions „can be quite harmful.“ He has, though, no doubts about the 1973 fight over the classification of homosexuality.
„Had there been no Bob Spitzer, homosexuality would still have eventually been removed from the list of psychiatric disorders,“ he said. „But it wouldn’t have happened in 1973.“
Spitzer was growing tired and asked how many more questions I had. Nothing, I responded, unless you have something to add.
He did. Would I print a retraction of his 2001 study, „so I don’t have to worry about it anymore“?
The ex-gay movement has relied on the Spitzer study as the single piece of objective evidence that therapy can work. The need for that evidence became more pressing in the early 2000s, when a cadre of gay-rights bloggers began to scrutinize the movement, ready to expose any hint of hypocrisy. There was plenty of material.
John Paulk, Love Won Out founder, chair of the board of Exodus International, and husband of Anne Paulk, was spotted and photographed at a Washington, D.C., gay bar. Richard Cohen, the founder of PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays)-intended as the ex-gay counterpart to PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)-was expelled from the American Counseling Association for ethics violations. Michael Johnston, the 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.
A member of NARTH’s scientific advisory board ignited controversy by suggesting that blacks were better off having been enslaved, which allowed them to escape the „savage“ continent of Africa. Shortly thereafter, the board of NARTH removed Nicolosi, who was still president. In 2010 it was revealed that NARTH’s executive secretary, Abba Goldberg, was a con man who had served 18 months in prison.
Therapists associated with NARTH and Exodus were accused of sexually assaulting clients or engaging in questionable therapy practices. Among them were Alan Downing, the lead therapist of JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), who made his patients strip and touch themselves in front of a mirror; NARTH member Christopher Austin, who was convicted of „unlawfully, intentionally and knowingly caus[ing] penetration of“ a client; and Exodus-affiliated Mike Jones, who asked a patient to take off his shirt and do push-ups for him.
The movement also suffered several high-profile defections. John Evans, who had founded the first ex-gay ministry outside of San Francisco, renounced change therapy when a friend committed suicide after failing to become heterosexual. Former ex-gay Peterson Toscano, who was involved in the movement for 17 years, founded Beyond Ex-Gay, an online community for „ex-gay survivors.“ In 2007, Exodus co-founder Michael Bussee apologized for his role in starting the organization.
Partly as a response to the resurgence of ex-gay therapy, mainstream professional organizations also took a harder stance. From 2007 to 2009, the American Psychological Association conducted a review of all the literature on efforts to change sexual orientation. Judith Glassgold, the chair of the task force that produced the report, said the group found no scientific evidence that ex-gay therapy works.
In fact, they found that it runs the risk of making patients anxious, depressed, and at times suicidal.
„It provided false hope, which can be devastating,“ Glassgold said. „It harmed self-esteem and self-regard by focusing on the psychopathology of homosexuality.“ The APA now tells its members they should not engage in the practice.
In the past few years, even Exodus has begun to show cracks in its support for ex-gay therapy. The organization has softened its rhetoric, encouraging its ministries to promote celibacy rather than change in order to live in concert with their religious values. The group no longer talks about „Freedom from Homosexuality“-its motto-but about the nobility of continuing to struggle against same-sex attractions.
Exodus has also begun to distance itself from NARTH. In September of 2011, Exodus removed references to Nicolosi’s books and articles from its website. In January, Exodus president Alan Chambers spoke at a meeting of the Gay Christian Network. When asked about the possibility of gay people changing their sexual orientation, Chambers-who’d once claimed that he knew of thousands of success stories-said „99.9 percent“ of those who had attempted to rid themselves of same-sex attractions had failed.
There are other signs of decline. Attendance at Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out conference, the movement’s largest annual gathering, has dropped. Focus on the Family recently sold Love Won Out to Exodus. Ex-gay activists have less of a presence at religious-right events. Twenty years after NARTH’s founding, the movement has lost its luster.
I’ve come to know a number of Nicolosi’s former patients and others who underwent therapy with NARTH members. Part of an informal alumni network of ex-gay dropouts, we see one another occasionally at conferences and interact in the blogosphere. Perhaps the best known is Daniel Gonzales, who writes for the website Box Turtle Bulletin.
Nicolosi had also asked Daniel to participate in Spitzer’s study. When Daniel left therapy, he thought he had gained valuable insight into his condition but eventually gave up trying to resist his same-sex attractions. „I wasted one and a half years of my life on the therapy,“ he said. „For a long time, the things Nicolosi said about gay relationships continued to haunt me.“ His relationships with men continually failed because he was convinced, as Nicolosi had told him, that they would fall apart as soon as he began to feel comfortable with them, at peace with his masculine self.
Nicolosi’s ideas did more than haunt me. The first two years of college, they were the basis for how I saw myself: a leper with no hope of a cure. I stayed in the closet but had sexual encounters with classmates nonetheless. I became increasingly depressed but didn’t go to mental-health counseling for fear that a well-meaning therapist would inform my parents that I was living the „gay lifestyle.“
I planned for what I would do if my parents decided to stop paying my tuition. I would stay in New Haven and get a job. I would apply for a scholarship from the Point Foundation, which gives financial aid to gay kids whose parents have disowned them. I would not go back to Arizona. I would not see an ex-gay therapist.
I spent hours in front of the window of my third-story room, wondering whether jumping would kill or merely paralyze me. I had a prescription for Ambien and considered taking the entire bottle and perching myself on the ledge until it kicked in-a sort of insurance.
I am not sure how it all came to a head. Perhaps it was academic pressure combined with the increasing conflict between my ideals and my behavior. But in the spring of my sophomore year, the disparate parts of myself I had managed to hold together-the part of me that thought being gay was wrong, the part that slept with men anyway, the part of myself I let the world see, and the part that suffered in silence-came undone. I slept in 20-minute spurts for two nights, consumed with despair. I eyed the prescription bottles on my dresser with anxious excitement. I had reached a point at which I feared myself more than what would happen if I were gay.
Realizing how close I was to impulsively deciding to kill myself, I went to the college dean’s office and said I was suicidal. He walked me over to the Department of Undergraduate Health, and I was admitted to the Yale Psychiatric Hospital. During the intake interview, I had a panic attack and handed the counselor a handwritten note that said, „Whatever happens, please don’t take me away from here.“ I had signed my full name and dated it. More than anything, I feared going home.
It was gray and cold my first night at the hospital. I remember looking out the window of the room I was sharing with a schizophrenic. Snow covered the ground in the enclosed courtyard below. Restless, I gathered a stack of magazines from the common area and flipped through the pages, noticing the men in the fashion advertisements. I tore out the ads and put them in a clear plastic file folder. I lay down in bed and held the folder against my chest. „It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK,“ I murmured.
I indeed had to go home for a year before returning to school. By then my father, who flew to New Haven the day I committed myself, realized that therapy-and the pressure he and my mother had placed on me-was doing more harm than good. „I’d rather have a gay son than a dead son,“ he said.
The ordeal was a turning point. While it took years of counseling to disabuse myself of the ideas I had learned while undergoing therapy with Nicolosi, it was the first time I encountered professionals who were affirming of my sexuality, and the first time I allowed myself to think it was all right to be gay.
Ryan, my therapy partner, was even more deeply affected. Two years ago, I came across his name in transcripts of the lawsuit against California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, in which he testified about the harm therapy with Nicolosi had caused. Afterward, I friended him on Facebook.
We recently met in person for the first time at a restaurant on Manhattan’s West Side. It had been 12 years since we’d last spoken on the phone. At 28, Ryan had just moved to New York City from Denver to start his undergraduate studies at Columbia. He looked like he does in his Facebook pictures: solid and short, with a shaved head and large brown eyes.
Ryan had initiated dependency-and-neglect proceedings against his parents at age 16 to escape ex-gay therapy. That’s when we fell out of touch. He dropped out of high school and lived intermittently with friends, then with his brother until his house was foreclosed on. Ryan had been homeless at times. He had a series of short-term jobs and for a period dealt drugs to make money but was broke most of the time. For food, on a few occasions, he filled a shopping cart with items and then ran it out of the grocery store. „I was beyond control,“ he said. „Something just broke in me. I was trying to destroy myself because I had internalized all the homophobia from therapy.“
When did things turn around for him? A few years ago, he said, he landed a job working in an administrative-support position at the Denver Police Department. It was then that he started getting involved in gay-rights causes. „The Prop. 8 lawsuit was the first time I felt people really believed in me,“ he says. „I was surrounded by smart, important people, and they paid attention to me.“
I could relate to that: Being at Yale was the first time I felt validated by smart, important people. I asked Ryan what he would say to Nicolosi if he were at the table.
I couldn’t help wondering what Nicolosi would say to me, or Daniel, or Ryan. Does he feel as though he failed us? Does he think we failed him? Has hearing the stories of his former patients posted all over YouTube and the blogosphere changed his thinking? I decide to call him to find out.
I am anxious about talking to Nicolosi again, afraid of what our conversation might bring back. He knew me as an adolescent better than my parents or friends did.
When I first reach Nicolosi on the phone, he says he remembers me well and that he is surprised that I „went in the gay direction. You really seemed to get it.“ The conversation is quick. He is between clients, so we arrange to speak a few days later.
I call and tell him I’m recording our conversation. „I’m recording too,“ he jokes, „in case you say, ‚Nicolosi said that gays are sick weirdos and they’re perverted and they all should go to hell.'“
I chuckle. He’s just as I remember him-irreverent, warm. He says he’s been thinking about me since I called. I ask why, if he was so sure I had „got it,“ I never experienced change in my sexual orientation.
Nicolosi says his techniques have improved-now his patients focus more on the moment of sexual attraction instead of speaking generally about the cause of homosexuality. Therapy, he says, has become more effective. But part of the reason it failed for me, he says, was also that I was stuck: There were not men I could bond with, and my parents did not understand me. It’s the same thing he told me throughout high school.
What about people who don’t fit his model? „After almost 30 years of work, I can say to you that I’ve never met a single homosexual who’s had a loving and respectful relationship with his father,“ he says. I had heard it all before.
I’m thinking, as he speaks, that for all his talk about understanding the homosexual condition, what it feels like to be gay is beyond Nicolosi’s experience. For him, changing one’s sexual orientation is a hypothetical proposition. He’s never lived it. Only his patients have had to face the failure of his ideas.
I mention Ryan and tell Nicolosi he blames him for destroying his family. Nicolosi says he doesn’t remember Ryan. But he is defensive about taking any responsibility. „For all this concern about how I damage people, where is the damage? We’re currently treating 137 people. Over 30 years, don’t you think there’d be a busload of people who are damaged?“
I asked him what he remembers about me. „All I can do is visualize a teenager in his room in a hot small town,“ he says. „You would talk to me about the loneliness, the kids at school-you really had no friends. You desperately wanted to get out.“
He is trying to draw me out, get me to talk to him openly. He is the therapist, and I am once again his patient. I am reticent. I tell him I did end up leaving Arizona.
„And I encouraged you, right?“ he says. „Quite honestly, Gabriel, I hope you see me as someone who didn’t make you feel worse about yourself, someone who did not force you to do or believe anything about yourself that you didn’t want to.“
It’s true that while in therapy, I did not feel coerced into believing his theories. Like nuclear fallout, the damage came later, when I realized my sexual orientation would not change. I could have told Nicolosi about my thoughts of suicide, my time in the mental institution. I could have told him that my parents still don’t understand me but that I’m grown up now and it has less of a bearing on my life. I could have told him that I married a man. But I realize it wouldn’t be of any use: I’ve changed since I left therapy, but Nicolosi has not. For years I shared my innermost thoughts and feelings with him. Now I want to keep this for myself.
Ein Buch, das Schwule heilen will?
Ist ein „Wechsel“ von homosexuell zu heterosexuell möglich? Nach der Meinung des selbst ernannten „Homoheilers“ Joseph Nicolosi: ja. Bis zu seinem Tod im Jahr 2017 war der Mitbegründer der National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality eine treibende Figur der amerikanischen Ex-Gay-Bewegung. In seinen pseudowissenschaftlichen Theorien erklärte er Homosexualität zur Entwicklungsstörung, die er zu „heilen“ vermochte. Healing Homosexuality – das war nicht nur seine Ansicht, sondern ist auch der Titel seines Buches, das in Deutschland unter dem Titel Homosexualität muss kein Schicksal sein erhältlich ist. Darin wird suggeriert, dass Homosexualität eine Krankheit sei. Bis vor wenigen Wochen wurde es hier unter anderem von den Buchhandlungen Hugendubel und Thalia verkauft.
„Homoheiler“ legitimieren sich dazu, sexuelle Orientierungen durch oft jahrelange, desubjektivierende Gespräche zu unterdrücken. Manipulative Ursachenunterstellungen und angebliche Erfolgsgeschichten sollen junge Menschen dazu bringen, zu glauben, dass sie kein Recht auf ein glückliches und erfülltes Leben außerhalb der Heteronormativität haben. Die Folgen solcher Angriffe auf die Menschenwürde sind oft fatal und können zu ernsthaften Krankheitsbildern führen, die schlimmstenfalls im Suizid enden.
Deswegen sind die Methoden zur Unterdrückung der sexuellen Orientierung in Deutschland seit Juni 2020 gänzlich verboten – allerdings nur bis zur Volljährigkeit. Bei volljährigen Personen ist es strafbar, durch Fremdeinwirkung, also äußeren Zwang oder Täuschung, zu einer Konversionsbehandlung gebracht zu werden.
Auf Nachfrage des queeren Magazins Mannschaft, wie so ein Buch ins Sortiment gelangen konnte, folgte von Thalia keine Reaktion. Hugendubel berief sich auf die Meinungsfreiheit. Es folgte eine Welle an Empörung gegen die Buchhandlungen. Dank dem Druck und der Boykottaufrufen durch Aktivist*innen auf Social-Media-Kanälen haben die beiden Unternehmen die Titel aus ihrem Sortiment entfernt.
Laut Berichten von Mannschaft empfahl Hugendubel später, ein Indizierungsverfahren bei der Bundesprüfstelle anzuregen, damit diese und weitere Bücher zur verbotenen Konversionstherapie gar nicht erst publiziert werden dürfen. Im Hinblick auf die erste Rechtfertigung klingt hier fehlendes Schuld- und Handlungsbewusstsein zwar mit, aber das Unternehmen macht auch einen Punkt. Der Experte für Konversionstherapien des Lesben- und Schwulenverbandes, Hartmut Rus, beteuert: „Für uns gehören diese Schriften und Anleitungen zur Selbsttherapie wie unter anderem von Gerard van den Aardweg zu der nun in Deutschland verbotenen Werbung und Vermittlung von Konversionsbehandlungen. Bücher von Joseph Nicolosi, aber auch andere Bücher der Ex-Gay-Literatur verbreiten gefährliches Propagandamaterial zu Konversionstherapien und sollten von der Bundesprüfstelle unbedingt stärker kontrolliert werden.“ Meinungsfreiheit hört bei der Diskriminierung und der Gefährdung von Menschen auf. Die Empörung gegenüber Unternehmen, die solchen Inhalten eine Plattform bieten, war wichtig und richtig. Eine Indizierung solcher Bücher über „Homoheilung“ wäre es ebenfalls.
Paul Dorsch studiert im Master Interdisziplinäre Public und Nonprofit Studien an der Universität Hamburg
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Activist Milo Yiannopoulos is now ‘Ex-Gay,’ consecrating his life to St. Joseph
March 9, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Milo Yiannopoulos, the gay man whose conservative messaging and willingness to speak the truth sparked riots on university campuses may well trigger more outrage now that he describes himself as “Ex-Gay” and “sodomy free,” and is leading a daily consecration to St. Joseph online.
Two years ago, when Church Militant’s Michael Voris famously challenged Yiannopoulos to live a chaste life, Yiannopoulos was not defensive. Instead, he acquiesced, and humbly admitted his human weakness.
“I know everything you’re saying, and I’m just not there yet. And I don’t know if I’ll get there,” Yiannopoulos told Voris at the time.
LifeSite: I imagine that to many who follow you, your recent decision to publicly identify as “Milo, Ex-Gay” may seem like a 180-degree turn. Are you also surprised that your life has taken this turn? Or is it unsurprising, a natural and perhaps inevitable progression in your life? I ask this because over the last few years things that you’ve said have hinted at being drawn in this direction.
Milo: When I used to kid that I only became gay to torment my mother, I wasn’t entirely joking. Of course, I was never wholly at home in the gay lifestyle — Who is? Who could be? — and only leaned heavily into it in public because it drove liberals crazy to see a handsome, charismatic, intelligent gay man riotously celebrating conservative principles.
That’s not to say I didn’t throw myself enthusiastically into degeneracy of all kinds in my private life. I suppose I felt that’s all I deserved. I’d love to say it was all an act, and I’ve been straight this whole time, but even I don’t have that kind of commitment to performance art. Talk about method acting …
Milo: Four years ago, I gave an interview to America magazine which they declined to print. It’s taken me a long time to live up to the claims I made in that interview, but I am finally doing it.
Anyone who’s read me closely over the past decade must surely have seen this coming. I wasn’t shy about dropping hints. In my New York Times-bestselling book Dangerous, I heavily hinted I might be “coming out” as straight in the future. And in my recent stream-of-consciousness Telegram feed, I’ve been even more explicit — stomach-churningly so, if the comments under my “x days without sodomy” posts are anything to go by.
I’ve always thought of myself as a Jack Bauer sort of figure — the guy who does the hideous, inexcusable things no one else can stomach, without which the Republic will fall. I know that means my name will always be cursed, and I’ll always be a scorned outsider, so the temptation is to throw out any consideration of living well or truthfully. But even Jack Bauer has to confront his maker sooner or later.
Milo: No, and I don’t suppose I’ll ever be brave enough to declare it a thing of the past. I treat it like an addiction. You never stop being an alcoholic. As for the CHANGED movement, I guess because they’re Californian they don’t see how funny their website is, or maybe they’re dirty non-doms who think God loves you more the gayer you act, but I was slightly making fun of them with that caption. (Walker Percy was right: Modern man has two choices — Rome or California.)
Someone really ought to tell them to use more heterosexual-looking photos on their website. I can share some tips! My followers have been giving me a crash course in all-American straight guy aesthetics, which apparently include growing a mullet and learning to drive stick.
Milo: Well, the guy I live with has been demoted to housemate, which hasn’t been easy for either of us. It helps that I can still just about afford to keep him in Givenchy and a new Porsche every year. Could be worse for him, I guess.
My own life has changed dramatically, though it crept up on me while I wasn’t paying attention. I’m someone who responds to micromanagement and accountability, so I’ve found counting days an effective bulwark against sin. In the last 250 days I’ve only slipped once, which is a lot better than I predicted I would do.
It feels as though a veil has been lifted in my house — like there’s something more real and honest going on than before. It’s been a gradual uncovering, rather than a dramatic reveal. Maybe that lack of theater or spectacle is a sign the gay impulses truly are receding?
The best metaphor I know is that of a flower blooming — of nature’s Epiphany — an image I know Caryll Houselander was fond of. I think it was Houselander who said, “Whatever is loving in man and whatever is lovable in man is Christ in man.” I take this to mean that the more love and the less lust in us, the more we cease to obscure Christ and instead reveal Him, in whose image we are made.
I don’t mean to suggest it’s been easy, just simple: Our Lord endured worse than any of us and promised us that we have to take up a heavy cross each day. Ronald Knox says the Via Crucis shows us the 3 ways we can carry our cross: With bitterness, like the unrepentant thief; with grim resignation, like the repentant thief who said it was what he deserved; or with love, like the Lord, who never minimized suffering but said it would, in God’s time, redeem us.
Secretly, I feel I’ve done enough good in this life to excuse me from earthly penance for past sins. Your readers will no doubt respond, rightly, that this statement demonstrates how far I have to go. The best advice I can give others in my situation is: Check your pride, not your privilege. So often it’s vanity or conceit or self-satisfaction that gets in the way of accepting Christ. Learn to catch it before it takes root, and difficult things suddenly don’t seem so difficult.
Milo: Secular attempts at recovery from sin are either temporary or completely ineffective. Salvation can only be achieved through devotion to Christ and the works of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. St. Joseph is the spiritual father figure of the Holy Family. In this time of gender madness, devoting myself to the male protector of the infant Jesus is an act of faith in God’s Holy Patriarch, and a rejection of the Terror of transsexuals. Trannies are demonic: They are the Galli, the castrated priests of Cybele, the Magna mater, whom Augustine saw dancing in the streets of Carthage dressed like women.
Don’t even get me started on Drag Queen Story Hour. I only have to see those four words to be overwhelmed by the urge to buy rope.
Milo: I have enjoyed a lifelong affection for the absurd and the outrageous, so part of me gleefully anticipates the day I can seize the moral high ground, however briefly, to denounce others for failures of piety and sobriety. I hope people will support and pray for me, if for no other reason than they share my delight at the prospect of Milo Yiannopoulos furiously and indignantly railing against homosexuals for sins of the flesh.
As you might expect, my professional priorities are shifting somewhat, given my new spiritual preoccupations. Over the next decade, I would like to help rehabilitate what the media calls “conversion therapy.” It does work, albeit not for everybody. As for my other aspirations and plans, well, no change: I’ve always considered abortion to be the pre-eminent moral horror of human history. I’ll keep saying so — even more loudly than before.
They say if you let one sin in, others will follow, and now I truly know what that means: As I’ve begun to resist sinful sexual urges, I’ve found myself drinking less, smoking less … you name it. I confess my weakness for designer shoes and handbags is yet to dissipate. But I am coming to realize, however slowly, that lust — per Augustine — is disordered desire for all sorts of things, not just NFL players.
Rechtsextremer Blogger Milo Yiannopoulos ist jetzt „Ex-Gay“
Der rechtsextreme Polit-Blogger Milo Yiannopoulos bezeichnete sich in einem Interview mit „Life Site News“, einer Website von radikalen LGBTIQ-GegnerInnen, als „Ex-Gay“ und „unzuchtsfrei“. Er wollte mit seinem Coming-Out vor einigen Jahren seine Mutter und Linksliberale verärgern.
The ex-gay Christianity movement is making a quiet comeback. The effects on LGBTQ youth could be devastating.
For two decades, McKrae Game was a top-tier figure among ex-gay Christians and a leading advocate for conversion therapy, a counseling practice with the goal of helping LGBTQ people suppress their homosexuality and become “straight.” But Game, 51, now disavows the movement and acknowledges he has been gay all along.
He told the Post and Courier that conversion therapy proved to be detrimental, a “lie” and “false advertising.”
Game’s announcement comes as the ex-gay Christianity movement is struggling to survive. The most prominent ex-gay organizations have shrunk or shuttered; leaders have defected; and many churches now fear that being associated with such widely discredited techniques will cast them as unwelcoming or bigoted. Additionally, the Internet is rife with stories of LGBTQ people who have reported suffering psychological harm as a result of participating in these programs and ministries.
Some prominent Christians are quietly trying to resurrect ex-gay Christianity, and the new incarnation is hipper and perhaps more evolved. Yet beneath the cosmetic tweaks sits the same message that has damaged many lives over many decades: If you’re a Christian with same-sex attractions, change is both possible and necessary.
The first wave of American ex-gay Christianity in the 1970s coalesced around ministries and organizations specifically devoted to the cause. But the current wave is far more decentralized, being led by independent authors and personalities who are embedded in the conservative Christian world rather than segregated into an issue-specific niche.
Their views differ ever so slightly from the next while orbiting tightly to similar themes, such as the possibility of “former homosexuals” having a healthy heterosexual marriage, differentiating between one’s behavior and identity, and a ubiquitous, if obligatory, nod to churches’ historical failures to love people who identify as LGBTQ.
One of the movement’s most articulate leaders is Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, a former women’s studies professor at Syracuse University who says she “adopted a lesbian identity” in her 20s as a result of being influenced by feminist philosophy. In 1999, she converted to Christianity and swore off lesbianism after she realized that “how I feel does not tell me who I am.”
When I spoke with her, I asked if she considers herself “ex-gay,” and she said she does not use that label to describe herself but then proceeded to describe how she was once, but is no longer, a lesbian. When I asked if she believes in conversion therapy, she said she does not and then said it is “in part because heterosexual sin is no more sanctified than homosexual sin.”
When I pointed out the definition of the term “ex-gay,” she pivoted to talking about how Christian churches have failed to minister to and love LGBTQ people. But then Butterfield added that she discourages the usage of the term “gay Christian” and even opposes “Side B” Christians who accept their LGBTQ identity but are committed to celibacy for religious reasons. Such a position, she said, is “biblically untenable.”
Butterfield avoids the rhetorical triggers of ex-gay Christianity’s earlier iteration. But she presents a message that will ring familiar to the many LGBTQ people who have survived ex-gay ministries and therapy: Through the power of Jesus, same-sex desires can and should be overcome. For Butterfield, homosexuality is not an identity that describes who a person is but, rather, a sinful action that a person does — but can stop doing.
She preaches her gospel of change through her popular booksspeeches at Christian conferences and churches, and it is the unmistakable message of the life she now lives. Butterfield left her female partner after her conversion and is now married to her husband, Kent.
Spoken-word artist Jackie Hill Perry is another rising ex-gay star who formerly identified as a lesbian and is now married to a man. She told me, “That was an identity that I used to walk in and actively choose, but now I don’t.”
When I pressed her, the author of “Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was and Who God Has Always Been” said that she has never met anyone who has experienced a complete change in sexual orientation, but she added that she has read stories about people who have. Perry also recoils at the term “ex-gay” because that gives the impression that someone will instantly eradicate their homosexual desires: “I love my husband, but I also experience same-sex attraction. But I live a heterosexual life.”
Several lesser-known leaders are ostensibly part of the second wave of ex-gay Christianity, even if they do not identify with it. This includes people like Matt Moore, a writer who was highlighted in a piece that was originally published in 2013 (later updated in 2016) reporting that he had an active profile on the gay dating app Grindr. He said he was looking for men instead of sex, repented of his ways and was recently engaged to Talitha Piper, daughter of popular conservative Christian pastor John Piper.h
Then there is the confusing Tennessee pastor and social media influencer Kegan Wesley. His Instagram account is filled with staples of gay culture, from “Golden Girls” memes and underwear recommendations to flowy Versace silk prints and ab-revealing cropped tops. But he doesn’t want you jumping to any conclusions. The hipster pastor told me that he is absolutely, positively, unequivocally, 100 percent not gay. At least not anymore.
Wesley claims that his parents’ divorce and an experience of sexual assault created same-sex desires in him at a young age, but he preaches that Jesus is helping him overcome his homosexual desires.
When I spoke to him, he said he “had to make a choice of my faith over my feelings.” His church, the Refuge, believes that “we don’t let people’s issue become their identity,” Wesley told me. “I want the world to know if you don’t quit, you win.”
When I ask Wesley whether he still has intimate encounters with men, he said, “That depends on what you call an encounter.”
I asked again, and he said homosexuality is an “ongoing struggle.” I asked again, and he responded with “no comment,” saying, “I don’t want that to be a question people can ask.”
Ex-gay Christianity began in part as conservative Christians’ reaction to the gay rights movement surging in America’s urban centers. Many Americans believed at the time that homosexuality was a mere matter of choice, and worse, a sin that would endanger one’s eternal destiny.
In their minds, same-sex-attracted Christians who wanted to live a life of holiness could suppress their sexual desires through some mixture of prayer, spiritual discipline and therapy. Ministries and organizations rose up and preached the ex-gay gospel.
But eventually the movement was plagued by shifting public opinion, and ex-gay Christianity’s most prominent leaders began repudiating the movement and telling the truth about its failures.
Michael Bussee, an early ex-gay pioneer, left the movement in 1979 and entered a relationship with another ex-gay leader, Gary Cooper. On his way out, Bussee confessed he never witnessed an LGBTQ person become heterosexual. Ex-gay icon John Paulk was ousted as chairman of Exodus International, the world’s most prominent ex-gay ministry, after being photographed at a gay bar in 2000. He later declared that instead of helping anyone, the movement had done “great harm to many people.”
Then in 2013, the movement’s most visible leader seemingly sounded the death knell. Alan Chambers, then the head of Exodus International, announced he was closing the organization and apologized for the “pain and hurt” it had caused. Chambers, who once called homosexuality “one of the many evils this world has to offer,” lobbied against marriage equality and touted examples of happily wed “former homosexuals,” said that 99.9 percent of ex-gay ministry participants he had met had not experienced a shift in sexual orientation.
But Bethel Church, a mega-congregation based in Redding, Calif., with a popular worldwide worship music brand, may be trying to fill that void. It recently launched its “Changedhomepage claim, “We Believe: Changed is Possible.” The site includes a shop complete with T-shirts, stories from people who purport to have been converted from homosexuality, a coffee-table book and, of course, a donation tab. The ministry is poised to launch a series of events and is using #OnceGay to identify supporters online.
Today, many of the once-thriving ex-gay ministries are gone. But that doesn’t mean the ideas aren’t still taking hold in churches across the country and, thereby, endangering the lives and well being of a new generation of Christian young people.
breaking from the idolatry of acceptance
Throughout the years I struggled with accepting my orientation, I never once considered the option of simply accepting myself. I listened to spiritual leaders for two decades speak for their God. In doing so, I fell victim to the idolatry of acceptance I was willing to do anything to have acceptance from my family, friends and the world around me.
I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do or what not to do. I wish that I had found someone to give me some guidance on how to accept myself as a gay person and a human being. But I found no one to help me. So I started listening to my own heart and learned how to do it myself.
Everyone that I know who has ever tried reparative, restorative or ex-gay therapy has told me that they are doing it for acceptance from God, their family or friends. My heart breaks every time I see one of my gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender brothers or sisters wasting months and years of their lives trying to convince themselves and others that they are acceptable because they have reached some form of simulated heterosexuality.
Even though I know everyone going through what I went through comes to a point of self acceptance, what haunts me are the wasted years. Time that could be spent living life, serving others and experiencing love and personal
That’s why I write the books I write. That’s why I do the work that I do. I believe that if I can shine a light for someone…the light that no one gave me… that I just might make the world a brighter place to journey through. If, every day, I find that just one of my gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender brothers or sisters has rid themselves of the idolatry of acceptance and found personal peace, then I have done more than I ever thought possible.
You are not alone. If you are struggling with gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender feelings, you need to know that there are millions of us who have been on the same journey. You do not have to believe what are you being told about yourself in your counseling or restorative therapy. If you need to talk to someone who has been there and made it out alive, just email us at HeartStrong. We respond to every email. Real peace and real happiness are there. Just reach for them.
We have begun to implement strategies to let others know the realities and damaging effects of ex-gay and religious abuse. We need your help to do this. We previously launched a survey to gather information on people who have been involved in sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), and we have just released the preliminary results. The survey is still open and we’d like to hear from as many people as possible. Your voice counts!
Can a person leave homosexuality behind?
“CHANGED” began as an effort to highlight the uncommon journeys of men and women who have confronted that question in their own lives. Finding themselves sexually attracted to the same sex, or uncertain of their gender, the men and women featured on this site took unusual paths of self-discovery that led to transformation.
Today, many face this daunting question alone. Sometimes answers seem beyond reach—you are not alone.
Why We Exist
God is making himself known to our generation through stories of freedom and wholeness from within the most unlikely people group, LGBTQ+. There is no more provocative testimony than that of men and women who have chosen identity in Christ above that of LGBTQ+. We are CHANGED. And we’re growing in number every day.
Men and women from across the world send us their stories every day and we are compiling them for this site. Join the movement to declare God’s love for LGBTQ+ people and share the power of His work in your life.
Facebook bans Alex Jones, other extremist figures
Right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos has come out as “ex-gay” – announcing that he “would like to help rehabilitate what the media calls “conversion therapy” over the next decade, according to a report.
The 36-year-old British political commentator, whose speeches and writings often ridicule political correctness, social justice and feminism, declared himself no longer gay and “sodomy free,” he told LifeSite in an interview.
Yiannopoulos — who once said that sex between 13-year-olds and older men can be “life-affirming” — told the outlet that he is now leading a daily consecration online to St. Joseph.
“When I used to kid that I only became gay to torment my mother, I wasn’t entirely joking,” he said.
“Of course, I was never wholly at home in the gay lifestyle — Who is? Who could be? — and only leaned heavily into it in public because it drove liberals crazy to see a handsome, charismatic, intelligent gay man riotously celebrating conservative principles,” Yiannopoulos continued.
“That’s not to say I didn’t throw myself enthusiastically into degeneracy of all kinds in my private life. I suppose I felt that’s all I deserved. I’d love to say it was all an act, and I’ve been straight this whole time, but even I don’t have that kind of commitment to performance art. Talk about method acting.”
Asked about how he decided to become “sodomy free,” Yiannopoulos said: “Four years ago, I gave an interview to America magazine which they declined to print. It’s taken me a long time to live up to the claims I made in that interview, but I am finally doing it.“Anyone who’s read me closely over the past decade must surely have seen this coming. I wasn’t shy about dropping hints. In my New York Times-bestselling book ‘Dangerous,’ I heavily hinted I might be ‘coming out’ as straight in the future,” he said.
Those leaving sodomy behind
Despite being enslaved and brutalized by a pagan people, St. Patrick freed Irish souls from the bondage of idolatry using only a clover and the gospel. His saintly example is a testament to the Holy Spirit’s reparative power, a power that can conquer entire nations.
Somehow, many Church leaders have writ-large abandoned the idea that the Holy Spirit can repair disordered sexuality. These so-called shepherds, instead, are either calling it an unconquerable cross to bear, or a gift God gave you, as Fr. James Martin falsely claims. The response is curious, especially given the Catholic Church’s definitive stance on same-sex attraction and reparative therapy, along with the sacraments and pastoral care.
In 1986, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said:
„An authentic pastoral program will assist homosexual persons at all levels of the spiritual life: through the sacraments, and in particular through the frequent and sincere use of the sacrament of reconciliation, through prayer, witness, counsel and individual care. In such a way, the entire Christian community can come to recognize its own call to assist its brothers and sisters, without deluding them or isolating them.“
Ex-gays are real; they exist. It seems like the Church totally abandoned seeking rehabilitation for these troubled, and often conversion therapy“ doesn’t make the CDF’s conclusion incorrect.
Recent polls show 1 in 6 Generation Z adults, nicknamed Zoomers, identifies as LGBT. It shouldn’t come as a shock when the only two answers are either „tough it out“ or „you’re beautiful just the way you are.“
What can be said is it’s not biological. There is no such thing as a gay gene. There is no hormone that forces you to engage in sodomy or non-marital relations. Does Catholic leadership truly believe the Left is correct about this being uncontrollable?
This is the same Left that simultaneously says gender, much less sexual orientation, is on a spectrum. Well, apparently it’s only on a spectrum when it replaces monogamy with sodomy — not when it means leaving homosexuality for a heterosexual marital union of man and woman.
The Church should start respecting its own teachings on pastoral care for homosexuals. There is no need to capitulate to the libelous labels given to therapy for those desiring to be ex-gay, like conservative commenter Milo Yiannopoulos now is.
Great victories like his should be celebrated by the faithful with open arms. Ex-gays deserve to be encouraged to speak up and be supported. The lie the Devil tells about the same-sex attracted is wrong.
God desires everyone, including the same-sex attracted, to change, fight and destroy whatever leads them to sin. It is an act of heroism to defeat sin, and it’s the duty of the faithful to highlight these heaven-sent defeats of diabolical urges.
To learn more, watch today’s episode of The Download — Ex-Gay.