My heart skipped a beat when I received a text reading “Exodus International just announced they are shutting down!” I was so excited I had to reread the article several times. After thirty seven years of “Conversion Therapy” the leadership of Exodus International announced that they would be closing their doors on July 1, 2013. An apology was issued for the “damage that has been caused” and an official statement was made that after four decades of working with countless people from the gay community- sexual orientation cannot be changed.
Well. Who would have ever thought a day like this would come? Some say that this is nothing short of a miracle. As I read about the organizations closure, I can’t help but look at the indisputable evidence that
begs- screams for our attention. According to recent polls, 40% of our homeless youth are gay. Per Trevor Talks suicides rates are three to four times higher in gay youth. In addition, “Reparative Therapy” patients are not likely to “convert”, but do often suffer psychological damage and deep shame surrounding their sexuality. The American Psychological Association states that Reparative Therapy is in fact harmful and that it “reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons”. The state of California is actively working to ban gay conversion therapy for minors. And the list goes on…
I was sickened when I first began to learn of the heartbreaking history of how gays have been treated. It was disheartening to read about the stance the psychological community had taken on the subject. In the 1920’s Sigman Freud documented unsuccessful attempts at convernsion therapy. During the WWII era it was acceptable to experiment on and torture gays. In Jewish concentration camps there were a sects of gay prisoners who were donned with upside down pink triangles, castrated, tortured and murdered because of their sexual orientation. Outside of the German camps, America was allowing hospitals and doctors to perform shock therapy and lobotomies and exchange the testicles of gay men for the testicles of straight men, all in the name of “curing the gay”. The American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a mental disorder until 1973. The removal of homosexuality as a diagnosis invalidated many secular forms of Reparative Therapy, but religious-right groups- including Exodus International persisted in their efforts of changing sexual orientation. It is truly impossible to measure the damage that has been done to the people who had the misfortune of falling prey to such abhorrent treatment.
Exodus International and similar organizations may not be performing frontal lobotomies to try and alter ones sexual orientation- but the psychological damage that has been inflicted on countless people is indisputable. It cannot be over looked that asides from the unfortunate individuals who have undergone such conversion efforts, there are innumerable amounts people influenced by this message of rejection and intolerance. From the large scale impact of Christian icons such as Dr James Dobson and his series Love Won Out, to the small town pulpit, the message has been reverberated; “You can in fact, pray the gay away”. The deceptive concept that gays have either had too little masculine (or feminine) influence in their lives, or that homosexuality results from childhood molestation has fueled the unrelenting prayers of many tearful mothers, fed the hatred of the intolerant, and given life to the perception that an openly gay person must repent and be converted.
The concepts taught by Exodus International have been backed by flawed scientific evidence which the anti-gay community has used to justify their agenda. Dr. Spitzer produced a study in 2003, which was centered on evidence claiming that after interviewing 200 graduates of reparative therapy – all claimed to have had a decrease or a complete reversal from homosexuality. Exodus International, Focus On the Family and other Christian rights group have clung to this slim shred of documentation that “gays can be cured”. Even after Spitzer renounced his position and admitted that the study was not conclusive of such findings, these groups have continued to base their damaging treatments on his flawed and incomplete data.Exodus International has been revered by the Christian Right as the leading Reparative Therapy group in the nation, spurring many splinter groups to crop up and follow in their likeness. Christian organizations have relied heavily on the work of Exodus International to fuel the misconception that homosexuality is a choice, a sin, and that it can and should be changed.
For just a sampling of the works of this organization, one can watch One Nation Under God. This documentary was released in 1993 and sheds light on the opinions and motives of the organization. The film shows the realities of the damage that has been caused by the false advertisement that sexual orientation can be changed. Prayers For Bobby documents the real life experience of religious intolerance and the resulting loss that a mother experiences when she rejects her son based on the flawed programming she has received about homosexuality and spirituality. Both of these films are but mere glimpses of the far reaching effects of the doctrine of intolerance.
Exodus International has tormented the minds of youth and adults alike who have struggled to come to terms with their sexual identity in the face of such unforgiving religious scrutiny. How many people have poured over the teachings of this organization, pleading to God to show them how they can change and become worthy of Salvation? How many parents have rejected their children, justifying their stance of tough love through the ideals of this organization? Forty years worth of individuals, families, churches and communities have been impacted by the false and egregious teaching that homosexuality is a choice and that those who have enough stamina, enough tenacity, enough spiritual commitment can change. The damage is irreversible.
So no, I do not think that the closure of Exodus International is a miracle, I think it was long over due. While I applaud and celebrate the downfall of such a damaging organization, it is evident to me that merely closing the doors of Exodus Internatiol hardly begins to soothe the colossal damage that four decades of false teaching has caused. The message has been engrained in our sanctuaries and reverberated throughout our culture: being gay is a choice. This is the time when all those who celebrate the ending of the existence of Exodus International must dig their toes in and promote organizations that are actively seeking to repair the relationships destroyed by misconception. It is imperative at this moment that the LGBT community, the open minded Christian community, and Straight Allies alike rally behind movements that are working in an effort to change the tide and erase the deep seeded hate towards gays that has been harbored in many pockets of communities all across our nation. Now is the time. Now is the moment. Stand up, speak out and fight for equality and acceptance for all.
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Here are links to some pro-equality organizations that are striving to repair the damage that has been done by reparative therapy, promote tolerance and create support systems for those who have been impacted by the flawed concepts of organizations like Exodus International. Please feel free to add links to organizations that you recommend as well.