I didn’t know my sexual orientation was still up for debate. Progress is made at the US Supreme Court, but not in certain religious conservative circles.
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, announced the closing of the organization. What appeared as a seismic shift, or a closing chapter in the harmful history of ex-gay ministries may be neither. I suggest we all listen to the coded language and read the fine print.
Chambers, a married man with two adopted children, and a purported ex-gay convert himself, has something up his sleeve.
In a public mea culpa titled ” I Am Sorry” published on Exodus International website Chambers wrote: “For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical…”God is calling us to … welcome everyone, to love unhindered….Please know that I am deeply sorry.”
For some of us, however, in the LGBTQ community Chambers’ apology is more than a day late and a dollar short—it’s suspect.
Chambers act of contrition is suspect not only because of huge cultural and legislative changes made in support of our civil rights, but also because Chambers also knows from his own first hand experience of same-sex attraction that one’s gay sexual orientation is never a choice and can never be “cured.”
At last year’s Exodus International annual conference Chambers stated, “I do not believe that cure is a word that is applicable to really any struggle, homosexuality included…. For someone to put out a shingle and say, ‘I can cure homosexuality’—that to me is as bizarre as someone saying they can cure any other common temptation or struggle that anyone faces on Planet Earth.”
And at last year’s Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference, Chambers told the audience, “The majority of [ex-gay people] that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation…The vast majority of people that I know do still experience some level of same-sex attraction.”
Just five years ago, the American Psychological Association put out an official position paper stating, “The longstanding consensus of the behavioral and social sciences and the health and mental health professions is that homosexuality per se is a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation.”
The negative health outcomes both emotional and psychological these “conversion” programs exact are untold and include depression, anxiety, self-destructive behavior, sexual dysfunction, avoidance of intimacy, loss of faith and spirituality, and the reinforcement of internalized homophobia and self-hatred, to name a few.
There are, however, still groups, usually motivated by religion-based homophobic therapies and ministries who are hell-bent on the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Americans can and should be made straight.
These groups proselytize ex-gay rhetoric as both their Christian and patriotic duty.
For example, “Pray the Gay Away?,” an episode of the television series “Our America with Lisa Ling,” that aired on “OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network “on March 2011, Alan Chambers, spoke about his sure-fire remedy for us LGBTQ “prodigal” children, and how his organization can help us reconcile our faith, mend our sinful lives, and finally walk away from our supposedly wrong-headed “lifestyle” choice.
There are hordes of supposedly ex-gay “converts” who’ll be poster children for these conversion therapies. But truth be told, their conversions from being “homosexual” to “heterosexual” don’t “cure” their homosexual predilections, but rather these therapies attempt to put LGBTQ people on the road to outwardly live a straight life.
Case in point: John Paulk, “ex-gay” poster boy, who appeared in HRC’s 2000 photo album with a one-word caption: “Gotcha!”
Wayne Besen, Executive Director of “Truth Wins Out,” an organization that counters “ex-gay” myths and reparative therapy, was then the associate director of communications of the Human Rights Campaign, captured that Kodak moment as he snapped a picture of the then-37-year-old Paulk in a Washington D.C. gay bar. In the moment, pandemonium broke out in the bar, as the series of flashes from Besen’s camera were assumed by some to be those of a homophobe harassing a patron. But as Paulk hunched down trying to conceal his face, he learned that he could neither run nor hide. Paulk says he went into the bar just to use the bathroom —an unlikely story, as 40 minutes after entering the bar; he was still there, keeping company with both a drink and a fellow patron.
Paulk, a former drag queen known as Candi and a one-time first runner-up in the Miss Ingenue pageant, is presently married, but seeking a divorce refuting “ex-gay” propaganda to a self-proclaimed former lesbian, Anne Paulk, who also underwent counseling in an “ex-gay” ministry run by Exodus International. Today, they both no longer don the drag of being happily heterosexually married. They prominently graced the cover of Newsweek in August 1998, appeared on “60 Minutes” and Oprah, and wrote the book that gave Focus on the Family its name for its “ex-gay” conferences: Love Won Out, a memoir depicting the Paulks’ flight from gayhood.
In his public apology for spewing the lies of Exodus International, Paulk has decided to finally stay out of the closet, hoping the LGBTQ community will not only forgive him, but will also allow him to make restitution to the community.
“I no longer support the ex-gay movement or efforts to attempt to change individuals— especially teens who already feel insecure and alienated. I feel great sorrow over the pain that has been caused when my words were misconstrued. I have worked at giving generously to the gay community in Portland where I work and live. I am working hard to be authentic and genuine in all of my relationships,”Paulk stated in the April/May issue of Proud Queer (PQ) Monthly.
“Conversion” therapies are acts of rhetorical violence aimed squarely at LGBTQ people. They are also a tool used by right-wing religious organizations to raise money and advocate against LGBTQ civil rights. And with this money these organizations are able to produce politically and religiously Biased Agenda-Driven (aptly abbreviated as “B.A.D.”) science like “reparative therapies,” attempting to justify them by presenting LGBTQ people as genetically flawed— a charge eerily reminiscent of the scientific racism and sexism that once under girded treatment of blacks and women morally inferior due to supposed genetic flaws.
With more and more ex-gay ministries not only losing potential clients and political leverage, but also losing monies reparative therapies generate, there is a gradually shift from “curing” one’s LGBTQ sexual orientation to abstinence from it. In other words, the theological message that homosexuality is an abomination to God and is a sin remain intact, but more emphasis will be place on celibacy.
An emphasis on a discipleship to celibacy is equally as harmful and damaging as ex-gay ministries. This message suggests we’re incurable and should execute control over our ungodly desires.