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The ex-gay or exodus movement is a controversial movement that consists of several groups that seek to alter the sexual orientation of homosexual or bisexual individuals from homosexuality or bisexuality to heterosexuality. Most, though not all, of these groups believe that all homosexual or bisexual individuals should attempt to make this change. Ex-gay groups offer counseling, prayer, and other techniques to achieve this. Most ex-gay organizations extend this to include people who identify as transgender, on the basis that they consider such feelings or behaviour to be related to homosexuality.


The movement is primarily based in the United States (though it exists in other countries such as Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom), and is largely led by evangelical and fundamentalist Christians (see also Homosexuality and Christianity).

The modern ex-gay movement has been broadly condemned by nearly all major psychological, psychiatric, and medical associations. Today, these associations point to a lack of scientific evidence suggesting that homosexuals can change their orientation and argue that homosexuals have no reason to do so aside from societal pressure. They say repressing those feelings may cause future psychological damage.[1] These assertions are vigorously disputed by those in the ex-gay movement.

Because of the differences of opinion between modern medicine and fundamentalist Christianity's views on what homosexuality actually is, establishing a dialogue between the two groups is difficult at best.

Ex-gay use of language and terminology

One of the most common barriers to dialogue is in the significant differences in the language and terminology that the groups use. The terminology that ex-gay groups employ regarding homosexuality matches that used by the religious right, which differs significantly from common usage. In common usage, the terms "gay" and "homosexual" are used to refer to a person whose primary attractions are to persons of the same sex, with little distinction made between sexual orientation and sexual behavior. Ex-gay groups, however, regard the distinction between sexual orientation and sexual behavior as extremely important, and generally place greater emphasis on the latter. The term "gay" is always applied only in reference to one's sexual behavior and identity. Usage of the term "homosexual" varies; many ex-gay groups use it only in the same sense as they use "gay," while others use it more flexibly, most frequently using it as a modifier of other terms (e.g. "homosexual feelings," etc.)

The terms "ex-gay" and "former homosexual" are thus used to refer to people who have altered their sexual behavior and do not necessarily indicate a change in sexual orientation. The possession of a homosexual orientation is almost always referred to as experiencing "same-sex attractions" (the existence of "homosexual orientations" as such is generally denied). For an example of the differences in usage, consider a man who in the past engaged in homosexual behavior, is now celibate, and has an unchanged homosexual orientation. In common parlance, he would be called a "celibate gay man" or a "celibate homosexual" but in ex-gay usage would be referred to as an "ex-gay" or "former homosexual" who is still "struggling with his same-sex attractions."[2] [3]

The ex-gay view of human sexuality and homosexuality

Ex-gays view homosexuality and its causes significantly differently from the modern scientific community. The scientific community generally regards human sexuality as a continuum from heterosexuality to bisexuality to homosexuality (see Kinsey scale). Although the scientific community does not fully understand the causes of homosexuality, it is generally believed that it results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors and that one's sexual orientation is probably set sometime in early childhood or before. While fluctuations in one's sexual orientation may occur over one's lifetime, it is believed that one's sexual orientation is generally not alterable. The scientific community views homosexuality and heterosexuality as traits, akin to left-handedness and right-handedness.

Ex-gay groups, however, view human sexuality in terms of a default heterosexuality. Although some may make use of the Kinsey scale, it is clear that Kinsey zero is seen as the default and that any other number is viewed as deviation from the norm. Ex-gay groups generally believe that "same-sex attractions," as they call them, are caused from environmental factors only--defective relationships with one's father or male peers during childhood or adolescence are most frequently cited as its primary causes. They do not advocate denial of homosexual feelings, but believe they mask a deeper underlying issue that needs to be searched out. They believe that, through treatment of these underlying issues, same-sex attractions can be controlled, diminished, and/or eliminated, and that opposite-sex attractions can be created, amplified and developed. Ex-gay groups regard homosexuality as a psychological disorder, and regard its treatment much in the same way that one regards treatment of alcoholism or other addictions. Ex-gay groups assert that the scientific community has taken its stances on homosexuality due to political, and not scientific, considerations. A very small minority of scientists supports these views. Another minority of scientists oppose much of these views but support related viewpoints that maintain that modifying one's sexual orientation is possible at least for some.

Ex-gay claims concerning homosexual change

Ex-gay groups and changes in sexual behavior

From the point of view of ex-gay groups, a change in the sexual behavior of an individual from homosexuality to either celibacy or heterosexuality is generally regarded as "change," irrespective of any actual change in the underlying sexual orientation. Many ex-gays live celibate lives.[4] Although the wisdom and moral necessity of doing so is hotly contested, the capacity of homosexuals to do so if they so choose is not disputed. Other ex-gays marry opposite-sex spouses and remain faithful to their spouses within their marriages. As a matter of morality, it is generally regarded that the spouse must be made aware of one's past and/or ongoing struggles with same-sex attractions before the marriage takes place.[5] Some married ex-gays acknowledge that their sexual attractions remain primarily homosexual, but seek to make their marriages work anyway.[6]

Because of the way that ex-gay groups regard homosexuality and because of the way they define the term "ex-gay" itself, "relapses" into homosexual behavior are hardly surprising to ex-gay groups. Since one may be "ex-gay" without having experienced a total, or even any, change in sexual orientation, that some ex-gays may "fall back" into "old patterns of behavior" is seen as something to be expected. Ex-gay groups regard embarrassing exposures of their leaders engaged in homosexual behavior in the same way that an Alcoholics Anonymous or similar group might regard the exposure of one of its leaders to have taken up drinking again.

Ex-gay claims concerning changes in sexual orientation

Many ex-gays claim that their sexual orientation has been altered as a result of their treatment. Most say they have experienced a decrease in same-sex attractions coupled with an increase in opposite-sex attractions, and a significant number claim that their sexual orientation is now predominantly heterosexual—that is, that their opposite-sex attractions now exceed their same-sex attractions. Very few, however, claim to have completely eradicated their same-sex attractions such that exposure to homosexual imagery would pose no temptations.

These claims of an alteration in one's underlying sexual orientation are hotly disputed by the scientific and gay communities, and there is scant scientific evidence suggesting that any actual changes in sexual orientation have taken place. Ex-gay groups rely heavily on testimonials, and the scientific evidence they cite are generally survey results of reported change among ex-gays. Those changes in reported sexual orientation are generally dismissed as the result of denial, wishful thinking, sexual repression, or willful deception. At most, the body of scientific evidence supports the assertion that it may be possible for a small percentage of persons with a homosexual orientation to modify that orientation.

Ex-gay groups

Love In Action

Love in Action, or LIA, was founded in 1973 by John Evans (activist) and the Rev. Kent Philpott. It was the first group to publicize cases of homosexuals who had allegedly been converted or learned to abstain from homosexuality or homosexual feelings. After Evans' friend Jack McIntyre committed suicide out of despair concerning his inability to change, Evans left the project and denounced it as dangerous. He was quoted by the Wall Street Journal (April 21, 1993) as saying: "They're destroying people's lives. If you don't do their thing, you're not of God, you'll go to hell. They're living in a fantasy world."

Shortly after founding the group, Philpott wrote The Third Sex?, which claimed that his patients had successfully changed their sexual orientation through prayer. Some of his patients challenged these assertions; however, Philpott stated it was God's will that the book be written. Four members of the group, including Evans, filed suit for misrepresentation. Shortly after, Philpott had the book removed from the market.

In July 2005 Evans wrote a letter to current LIA director John Smid regarding the controversial activies of LIA.

On September 12, 2005 the Tennessee-based Love in Action facility was determined by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health to have been operating two "unlicensed mental health supportive living facilities."[7] LIA was given until September 30 to apply for a license as a mental health facility.

Exodus International

Main article: Exodus International

Exodus International is the "largest Christian referral and information ministry" in the ex-gay movement, according to its web site. Exodus doesn't believe individuals are born gay, but thinks gay desires mask an underlying issue, like abuse and neglect from early development. With reparative therapy, prayer, and other techniques, they claim homosexuals can be changed through "the transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ." The group has monthly newsletters, annual conferences, speaking engagements and web services.

Exodus International underwent a very damaging scandal in 1979 when co-founder Michael Bussee left the group with Gary Cooper, a co-organizer of 1976 conference that led to Exodus' inception. Bussee and Cooper had both worked at the local Exodus ministry, and later held a life commitment ceremony. Their story is one of the focuses of the documentary One Nation Under God (1993), directed by Teodoro Maniaci and Francine Rzeznik.

Homosexuals Anonymous, Quest Learning Center

Seventh-day Adventist Colin Cook founded the groups Quest Learning Center and Homosexuals Anonymous in 1979 and 1980 respectively. In 1985 he wrote Homosexuality, and Homosexuality: An Open Door. In 1986, he was discovered to be engaging in sexual acts with his Quest patients. He claimed that the nude massages of other men should desensitize them against homosexual desires.

In 1987, he was expelled from Homosexuals Anonymous for sexual activity, and in 1995 a similar scandal happened with his newly founded group FaithQuest Colorado. According to the Denver Post, Cook had engaged in phone sex, practiced long and grinding hugs, and asked patients to bring homosexual pornography to sessions so that he could help desensitize them against it. The Seventh Day Adventist church eventually severed all ties with Cook.

Courage and Courage Trust

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Courageis a group founded in the United States (Courage is known as EnCourage in the UK) by Catholic priest Fr John Harvey to help homosexuals live chastely in accordance with the moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. In Catholic teaching, there is a distinction between 'chastity' and 'celibacy', two terms sometimes used as synonyms. Celibacy is the state of being unmarried. Chastity is the right use of sexuality in accordance with one's state of life, that is whether one is married or unmarried. All Catholics are called to lead chaste lives. For married Catholics, this includes sexual relations with one's spouse. For unmarried Catholics, both heterosexual and homosexual, it means complete abstention from sexual activity, whether alone or with others. Courage does not seek to reverse the sexual orientation of Catholic homosexuals but does try to help them to avoid the physical expression of this orientation through masturbation or genital relations with members of the same sex. Courage accepts the distinction that is made in current Catholic moral theology between homosexual orientation, which, although 'intrinsically disordered', is not in itself sinful and homosexual behaviour, which is always objectively sinful. The Catholic Church teaches that all genital sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful and its teaching on homosexual behaviour is therefore not different from its teaching on heterosexual behaviour.

The Roman Catholic group Courage is not to be confused with Courage Trust, a Protestant evangelical group formed in 1990 with a stated aim "to heal homosexuals". It ceased to exist in that form in 2001 when the group's founder, Jeremy Marks, wrote in the journal Lesbian and Gay Christians, "I have come to the conclusion that we have been quite wrong to dismiss all same sex love (other than platonic) as sinful." At that time the group was holding weekly meetings in London for about 150 men.

Courage Trust is not defunct but following the realisation of Jeremy Marks that none of the people his group had counselled seemed to have changed orientation, it has undergone a serious change of direction in recent years. Mission statements by Marks on the Courage website ([1]) clarify this change of course:

A Change of Heart is the Priority
While recognising the social pressure to become 'normal' (i.e. heterosexual), fifteen years experience has revealed that God's primary concern is not to change the sexual orientation of his gay and lesbian disciples, but to help them find wholeness in Christ - becoming secure, assured of his love and acceptance, set apart to follow Jesus faithfully and responsible in building relationships with one another.

Courage Trust is unusual in that the group appears to have changed its outlook on both the efficacy of counselling and on the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality.

True Freedom Trust (United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland)

Main article: True Freedom Trust

True Freedom Trust was a founding member of Exodus International Europe.This Liverpool-based group was formed in 1977 by Canon L. Roy Barker and Martin Hallett, a Church of England cleric and a layman who renounced homosexual sex on scriptural grounds. On the effective collapse of Courage Trust in 2001, it was the remaining ex-gay group operating within the Church of England. The body claims to have 1200 supporters and 13 support groups for gay men and lesbians and their families in Britain and Ireland.

Positive Alternatives to Homosexuality (PATH)

On July 8, 2003 a group of eleven non-profit organizations created a coalition called PATH, including secular, therapeutic and research organizations in the U.S. and Germany as well as African-American, Catholic, Jewish, Latter-day Saint and Protestant ministries. This group sponsored controversial ads on billboards and in major newspapers showing people who claimed to have changed from homosexual or bi-sexual to heterosexual. This group also sponsored joint meetings of these organizations to plan a strategy on how to talk about ex-gay issues and counter the efforts of gay rights organizations.


Love In Action and the Zach scandal

In June 2005, a 16-year-old Tennessee male, Zach (last name omitted for privacy reasons), posted a blog entry on his MySpace site, part of which includes:

Somewhat recently, as many of you know, I told my parents I was gay... Well today, my mother, father, and I had a very long "talk" in my room where they let me know I am to apply for a fundamentalist christian program for gays. They tell me that there is something psychologically wrong with me, and they "raised me wrong." I'm a big screw up to them, who isn't on the path God wants me to be on. So I'm sitting here in tears, joing (sic) the rest of those kids who complain about their parents on blogs - and I can't help it.

The program Zach noted is a Love In Action-run camp known as Refuge. The subsequent protests drew both extensive local media attention and international interest, with individuals from Europe, America and elsewhere getting involved. Particular attention was given to a quote attributed to the man running the program, John Smid:

I would rather you commit suicide than have you leave Love In Action wanting to return to the gay lifestyle. In a physical death you could still have a spiritual resurrection; whereas, returning to homosexuality you are yielding yourself to a spiritual death from which there is no recovery.

Attention has also focused on the rules of Love In Action which like most Christian camps includes dress codes, bans on several forms of communication with the outside world, and a ban on television. In a May 30 entry on Zach's blog he posted the rules of the Refuge Program. Under a heading called Hygiene, it says, "1. All clients must maintain appropriate hygiene, including daily showering, use of deodorant, and brushing teeth twice daily."

In addition to the nature of the rules themselves, opposition to the course focused on Zach being sent to the camp against his wishes and against a background of existing concerns over ex-gay ministries such as Love In Action.

Zach's original two-week stay in the Love in Action program was extended to eight weeks. On August 1, Zach deleted his old material and began a new blog, which began with the following paragraph:

This isn't going to become my life. I won't let it. There's more to me than this. I've erased the original blogs. I know they're still out there somewhere, but the originals aren't. I haven't been able to see all of the news, newspaper, magazine, etc. articles and such, so I don't know exactly what to say. Currently I feel annoyed towards a lot of things. Love In Action has been misrepresented and what I have posted in my blogs has been taken out of perspective and context. I don't take back the things I've said, nor am I going to pretend like it never happened. It did. I refuse to deal with people who are only focused on their one-sided (biased) agendas. It isn't fair to anyone. I'm very frustrated with the things going on in my life now, but everyone has their issues. Homosexuality is still a factor in my life--- it's not who I am, it never has been. Those of you who really know me, know that homosexuality was always there but it didn't run my life, and it will not now.

On August 14, Zach updated his blog, stating that LIA had not pressured him into doing anything and he got along well with most of the clients there. He said his parents no longer let him hang out with girls as friends because it was unhealthy, and that his father had asked him to stop blogging.

Allegations and investigation

A Tennessee investigation against the camp began shortly after Zach's story appeared online. As of June 28, 2005, the investigation has been dropped, with Tennessee officials citing a lack of evidence of child abuse at the facilities. "Department of Children's Services dispatched its special investigations unit to the facility, and after conducting a full investigation, determined that the child abuse allegations were unfounded," Rob Johnson, an agency spokesman, told the Associated Press.[8] "Free Zach" campaigners, who aim to have LIA/R close down, have made allegations of corruption. Another investigation by the Tennessee Department of Health resulted in their telling the unlicensed group they may have been operating illegally.[7] LIA stopped accepting the mentally-ill and dispensing medications, and in February of 2006, the state of Tennessee ceased legal action.[9]

Failures of ex-gay ministries

In the past eighteen years, eight of the Exodus International ministries have dissolved because the director returned to active homosexuality.

Dissenting views

Many gay rights groups and scientists sharply dispute the movement's claims, and see sexual orientation as genetic and sexual attitudes as being largely formed before adulthood. Many medical groups have stated that there are no scientifically rigorous studies to evaluate whether ex-gay treatments are beneficial and that no studies substantiate their claims of sexual orientation change. Some of these groups have also stated that attempts to change one's sexuality are potentially harmful, yet no studies exist here either.

The American Psychological Association's position is that human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight, and that sexual orientation is not a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed. In fact, the Association goes even further, stating that:[10]

Even though most homosexuals live successful, happy lives, some homosexual or bisexual people may seek to change their sexual orientation through therapy, sometimes pressured by the influence of family members or religious groups to try and do so. The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable.

The American Psychiatric Association has stated that:[11]

Clinical experience suggests that any person who seeks conversion therapy may be doing so because of social bias that has resulted in internalized homophobia, and that gay men and lesbians who have accepted their sexual orientation positively are better adjusted than those who have not done so.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that:[1]

Confusion about sexual orientation is not unusual during adolescence. Counseling may be helpful for young people who are uncertain about their sexual orientation or for those who are uncertain about how to express their sexuality and might profit from an attempt at clarification through a counseling or psychotherapeutic initiative. Therapy directed specifically at changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.

Other organisations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American Psychological Association, American School Health Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Social Workers, and National Education Association developed and endorsed a joint statement in 1999 reading:

The most important fact about "reparative therapy," also sometimes known as "conversion" therapy, is that it is based on an understanding of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major health and mental health professions. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers, together representing more than 477,000 health and mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus there is no need for a "cure." and mental health professional organizations do not support efforts to change young people's sexual orientation through "reparative therapy" and have raised serious concerns about its potential to do harm.

Some proponents of the ex-gay movement believe that sexuality is changeable in later life but that homosexuality is not sinful. Some opponents feel the same (see Religion and homosexuality) but condemn the ex-gay movement on the grounds that it is unnecessary, counterproductive, or both.

Because of several well-publicized failures and the political nature of the subject, the ex-gay movement has been extensively ridiculed by gay rights activists, who charge that the suppression of homosexuality only leads to inappropriate outbursts thereof and contributes to fear and suffering. Author and former Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Wayne R. Besen has extensively covered the ex-gay movement and describes it in his book Anything But Straight: Unmasking The Scandals and Lies Behind the "Ex-Gay" Myth, which also deals with so-called reparative therapy of homosexuality. It was Besen who photographed John Paulk leaving a gay bar and who investigated witnesses in the case of Michael Johnston (see above).

A recent survey by two gay psychologists, Michael Schroeder and Ariel Shidlo (2002), of those who have undergone various conversion therapies indicates that while there are indeed some who claim to have maintained a change in behaviour and a very small number who report a change in orientation, these are far fewer than ex-gay organisations such as Exodus and Narth regularly claim and are outnumbered by those left with worsened problems of depression, anxiety and alcohol/drug addiction.[12] The two Schroder/Shidlo papers suggest that part of the problem is that many conversion therapists fail to conform to professional guidelines, for example, by pressuring patients into undergoing one line of treatment and by failing to provide any support or recommend alternative help for those who fail to sustain any change. The discrepancy between the Exodus/Narth estimates of success of conversion therapies and those of other bodies appears to be explained by the fact that many former ex-gays report having falsely reported success to their therapists for a prolonged time. It is worth noting that 7 out of the 8 respondents who reported a change in sexual preferences to Schroeder and Shidlo were employed as counsellors by various Ex-gay groups (something which also applies to the more widely-publicised study by Spitzer, which only focused on a group of successes picked by the ex-gay groups and had a more cursory interview technique based on telephone conversation only). In the light of Wayne Besen's comments outlined above and the experiences of groups such as Courage Trust in the UK, there is scope for scepticism even about these few reported successes. Despite the opposition of most mental health professionals and the very limited evidence of any lasting impact on sexual preferences or behaviour, the various movements for "former homosexuals" have played an important role in the political debate in recent years. In part, this may represent a tactical shift away from shock tactics (such as the campaign in the 1990s, based upon statistics about homosexuality which were soon discredited) towards cultivating a more caring public face, while still opposing toleration of homosexuality. A critical assessment of this is outlined in Surina Khan's article Calculated Compassion.

See also

  • Aversion therapy
  • Ex-ex-gay
  • Religion and sexual orientation
  • Reparative therapy
  • Saved!, a major motion picture comedy featuring one high school student trying to "straighten out" another


  1. 1.0 1.1 Just the facts about sexual orientation and youth. URL accessed on 2006-03-22.
  2. Introduction to reparative and similar therapies. URL accessed on 2006-03-26.
  3. Basic terminology. URL accessed on 2006-03-26.
  4. Medinger, Alan (2005). Healing for the homosexual: What does it mean?. URL accessed on 2006-03-26.
  5. Medinger, Alan (2001). Can this marriage be saved?. URL accessed on 2006-03-26.
  6. Anonymous (2002). No easy victory. URL accessed on 2006-03-26.
  7. 7.0 7.1 includeonly>Melzer, Eartha Jane. "Gay teen to be released from Tenn. ex-gay facility", Washington Blade, 2005-07-22. Retrieved on 2006-04-11.
  8. includeonly>Palazzolo, Rose. "Ex-gay camp investigation called off", ABC News, 2005-06-28. Retrieved on 2006-04-11.
  9. includeonly>Popper, Ben. "Love in court", Memphis Flyer, 2006-02-10. Retrieved on 2006-04-11.
  10. Answers to your questions about sexual orientation and homosexuality. American Psychological Association. URL accessed on 2004-02-09.
  11. Gay, lesbian and bisexual issues. American Psychiatric Association. URL accessed on 2006-04-13.
  12. Shidlo, A. and Schroeder, M.. Changing sexual orientation: A consumers' report. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 33 (3): 249-259.

External links

Ex-gay websites

Critics of ex-gay ministries/therapy

Films, television, articles and other media

zh-tw:去同性戀 de:Ex-Gay-Bewegung

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