The “ex-gay” umbrella organization Exodus International has never been particularly good with numbers. The group refuses to keep statistics on its failure rate or disclose the number of people who have attempted suicide as a result of its destructive work.
If Alan Chambers, its moody Executive Director, is feeling bubbly, he will make the wild, unsubstantiated claim that there are hundreds of thousands of unseen “ex-gays”. On a more melancholy day, he will say there are merely “thousands” of re-closeted homosexuals.
Chambers may have topped himself with digit dumbness, however, when he heads to a splashy conference in Irvine, California next week to celebrate Exodus’ 35th birthday. The problem is the organization, founded in 1976, is only 34 years old. Whoops.
In a recent statement, Chambers explained that frequent faux pas, such as Exodus board member Don Schmierer attending a Uganda genocidal conference that pledged to “wipe out” homosexuality, is a result of growing pains.
“We are a large and diverse organization made up of many members,” said Chambers. “Our growth over the years has caused us to not always know what the hand or foot are doing, which sometimes causes us to look like we are ‘all butt’. That’s humanity for you, even Christian humanity.”
Actually, Mr. Chambers, most growing organizations don’t “inadvertently” end up at seminars calling for the elimination of minorities. But, above and beyond this minor detail, Exodus has very little to actually celebrate in California.
In its horrific wake, a survivors group has sprung up that is dedicated to helping people who have been harmed by “ex-gay” programs. And, at least two organizations exist to help straight spouses cope with the devastation of learning they are married to a closeted homosexual. In light of this dark reality, it seems more appropriate that Exodus repent instead of revel.
Sadly, Exodus – as well as Focus on the Family — is whitewashing its sordid past. While promoting its anniversary, the inconvenient fact that Exodus co-founder, Michael Bussee, left the organization to marry Gary Cooper, who also served as an Exodus spokesperson, is omitted from press materials.
Lost in the misleading cheerleading is that Exodus is on a steep decline. In 1998, the Religious Right saw “ex-gay” organizations as saviors and a bulwark against increasing acceptance of homosexuality. Fifteen powerful anti-gay organizations launched a one million dollar newspaper and television campaign to say that people could “pray away the gay.” They called this assault the “Normandy Landing in the Cultural Wars.”
Twelve years later, the bloom is off the rose. For example, Focus on the Family essentially pawned its “ex-gay” road show, Love Won Out, with Exodus having been downgraded from opening act to circus act. Here are a few factors that have led to Exodus’ slow demise:
Scandals: The gains of the 1998 campaign were reversed after I photographed “ex-gay” poster boy John Paulk in a gay bar in Sept. 2000. In 2003, attorney Michael Hamar and I discovered that the TV star of that ad campaign, Michael Johnston, was meeting men on the Internet for sex. This forced “ex-gay” groups to stop talking about their programs in terms of a “cure” and they began portraying it as more of a process. The thought of a lifelong “struggle” defined by sexual frustration and loneliness was significantly less appealing for potential clients than the magic remedy that had previously been promoted.
Watchdogs: Prior to 1998, few people paid attention to these groups. However, a network of dedicated observers emerged following the ad campaign to challenge the lies of “ex-gay” organizations.
The Program: Exodus believes that bad parenting or sexual abuse makes a person gay. The way to heterosexuality is to become platonic friends with people of the same sex. As more LGBT people came out who did not fit into this fabricated pseudo-Freudian paradigm, it was clear the actual cause and effect model promoted by Exodus was pure, unscientific nonsense.
APA Report: Last year, the American Psychological Association released a landmark report that said there is no evidence that “reparative therapy” works and that it can often be harmful. Every respected mental health organization in America agrees with the APA’s assessment.
George Rekers: The final nail in the coffin was the recent George Rekers scandal, where the anti-gay “expert” was caught hiring an escort on RentBoy.com to “lift his luggage”. This reinforced the emerging consensus that “ex-gay” groups are no more than chuckle-worthy “closet assistance programs”.
On Saturday, I will join nationally recognized advocates at the Irvine United Congregational Church (9-5PM) at a conference to crash Exodus’ gay-bashing birthday bash. While Exodus will continue its efforts to exploit vulnerable people, that market is thankfully shrinking by the day. When Exodus is finished blowing out the candles, they might realize the lights went out on their miserable ministry some time ago.
We have not yet won this fight, but we are certainly close to victory.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”