This week the largest US sexual conversion therapy organization, Exodus International, apologized for its work and announced that it will be closing.
For over 40 years it has been the figurehead in the “ex-gay movement,” telling lesbians and gay men that with a combination of prayer, support, and therapy it is possible to change their sexual orientation and become heterosexual. Exodus not only provided direct services, it was the umbrella organization for like-minded groups throughout North America.
Perhaps you’ve seen their ads. Over the years, leaders of Exodus and related organizations were portrayed in large print ads in major American newspapers, putting faces to the claim that orientation change was real.
Then, with a regularity that became either tragic or comical, depending on one’s perspective, those portrayed in the ads would come out, admitting that they hadn’t changed at all and renouncing the organizations that they had helped to deceive thousands of well-meaning gay and straight people.
They often seemed surprised by the relatively chilly reception they received in the gay community. Having been prime agents of antigay sentiment for years, here they were, ready to join the club. What’s the problem, guys, what did I miss?
The humour fades when one considers the human lives affected by the ex-gay organizations. People would spend years attempting to become heterosexual, earnestly lied to by leaders who would proclaim their own bogus changes. “It’s not the program, it’s you: If you tried hard enough, it’ll work!” If they were good enough Christians, they could be changed – so apparently they weren’t. Confusion, guilt, a sense of failure, and depression would often ensue.
At Changeways Clinic we have seen many men and women who have attended ex-gay organizations and have then spent years pulling their lives back together. It has been frustrating to be putting together what agencies elsewhere were merrily pulling apart, but the groups kept going and going.
Now Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, has issued a public apology for the damage caused by the organization, and has announced that it will be closing its doors.
Here’s an excellent interview with Chambers in The Atlantic.
Of course, the damage done won't evaporate with the close of the organization. And surely no one is naive enough to expect Exodus or the other groups to take responsibility for correcting that damage - financially, morally, ethically, or in any other way.
For them it will be enough to issue an apology, look sorrowful, then move on with something new. As even the Atlantic article's title says: "Let's Do Something Different."
I have an even better idea. Just stop. You've done enough.
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