In the past several days, I have received numerous emails and Facebook messages from people asking if I have heard the latest developments in the ongoing saga over the work of Exodus International, the world’s largest “ex-gay” organization. This is, in large part, due to the talk I gave last September on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) in which I highlighted the dangers posed by this pseudoscience, and told the history of Exodus’ failed attempts to change people from gay to straight.
In short, current Exodus International president, Alan Chambers, posted an article on their web site in which he expressed a desire to apologize for any hurt he and his organization may have caused gay men and women, and announced that Exodus would no longer engage in SOCE. Oddly worded, and strangely lacking in what I would consider true remorse, this revelation came on the same day that Exodus leaders announced that the group was to be “shut down.” In fact, as of the posting date of this article, most Google search results using “Exodus International” as a search term use the words "shutting down" or something similar, leading most of the people sending me messages to add a note of triumph, relief, or congratulations.
Unfortunately, those of us who know these organizations a bit better, realize that such announcements are not always what they appear to be, and a closer examination reveals a more sober reality.
Exodus’ definition of “shutting down” seems to be what those in the business world refer to as a “re-branding.” In the middle of his apology, Chambers mentions that Exodus’ sexual orientation change ministry will become ReduceFear.org, a website that is not yet operational and whose purpose is vaguely defined as “com[ing] alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.” Transforming from what to what is, of course, the $64,000 question.
Chambers himself may have answered that question last Thursday in his third interview on “Our America with Lisa Ling” when he described the new ministry as being one that welcomes everyone, but when pressed for a term or definition of the newly formed group, offered only the following: “I’m trying [to give a term or definition]. There are people who are looking to live celibate lives. Um…and there are small numbers of people like me, who will get married. Um, and so for that group of people, we’re there. Not to tell them that change is possible, or to wave the magic wand over them, but to provide a place of community for them.” By CLICKING HERE, you can watch clips from the episode, view an interactive timeline of Exodus' operation and leadership, and see un-aired parts of the episode in which victims of Exodus share their stories.
So, it would seem that Exodus International is not, actually shutting down. They would appear to be re-branding themselves as a closeting organization that helps those who, for religiously motivated reasons, wish to suppress their homosexual desires and pretend to live as if they are not gay. As someone who works in the field of psychology, I see this as just as dangerous in many ways as SOCE. Teaching, or even just supporting, the message that one’s sexual orientation is undesirable, sinful, wrong, or worthy of suppression sends a message that will affect people’s self-worth and self-esteem, making them at increased risk of depression, self-loathing, and self-harm.
For more information about how you can help counteract the messages of ex-gay ministries, or to follow along with the latest related headlines in the political, social, and religious realms, check out Truth Wins Out, and the wonderful work of Wayne Besen and his crew. And, as always, speak up when you hear people suggesting that sexual orientation can or should be changed. Even if you don’t convince the person you’re speaking with, you never know who might be overhearing your conversation and getting a bit of courage from feeling that they are not alone.