This month IN THE LIFE explores the power of religion to shape our lives, worldview, and our political convictions... providing spiritual guidance and comfort, but often used to promote intolerance and hatred of LGBT people. Looking at the intersection of religion and sexuality, we see how gays and lesbians reconcile their faith within their religious communities.
Believing that homosexuals have no place in the Christian church, evangelical ex-gay ministries, such as EXODUS, have been established around the country to re-program LGBT people to make them heterosexuals? often with tragic consequences.
Michael Billy, Host: In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declared homosexuality no longer a mental illness. In response, by the late 70’s, ex-gay ministries were established around the country, and soon after, throughout the world, by evangelical Christians.
Believing that homosexuals have no place in Christianity, groups like Exodus attempt to reprogram LGBT people to make them heterosexual. Often, with tragic consequences.
Many who leave these programs find themselves alienated by their church and their families, and even, the gay community itself.
Newscaster Cynne’ Simpson: A battle is underway in Atlanta, that some say pits sexual orientation, against faith.
Rev. Dr. Mel White, author, co-founder Soulforce: The ex-gay movement is perhaps the most dangerous movement to the gay community, that there is.
Pat Robertson: The average homosexual male is not gay and happy, there is a dark cloud that’s there.
Melissa Fryrear: We offer hope, to people who are living homosexually, who may be dissatisfied.
Wayne Besen: These groups offer promises they can’t deliver, and deliver disasters they never promised.
Wayne Besen, Founding Exec. Director Truth Wins Out: All the power houses in the religious right are behind this. Jerry Falwell, when he was alive, Pat Robertson highlights their testimonies on the 700 Club, and of course, James Dobson and Focus on the Family are really the nexus, the nebula, of all things ex-gay.
Michael Busse, Founding member Exodus International: The repetitive message is always, you are broken, you are damaged, you need to be fixed. And I think that’s a very destructive message.
Narrator: The ex-gay movement, a movement based on the notion that through prayer and hard work, gay people can become straight, took off in the mid 70’s, with the formation of Exodus International.
Michael Busse: The year after the first Exodus conference in 1976, we began getting hundreds--thousands of letters, gay and lesbian folks from all over the country and outside the country that had heard about us somehow. We took it of course as a sign that we were doing God’s work, that for it grow that fast, it meant that it was definitely God’s idea.
Narrator: Quickly however, some former leaders of Exodus, began to see that no one was truly changing, but many were truly suffering. 31 years after founding Exodus, Michael Busse and other leaders came together to offer a public apology for their role in the movement.
Michael Busse: Not one of the hundreds we counseled ever became straight. Instead, many of our clients began to fall apart. One young man in our program got drunk and deliberately drove his car into a tree. Another fellow leader of the ex-gay movement told me that he had left Exodus and was now going to straight bars looking for guys to beat him up. He explained that the beatings made him feel less guilty, he was atoning for his sin. One of my most dedicated clients, Mark, took a razor blade to his genitals, slashed himself repeatedly, and then poured drain cleaner on the wounds -- because after months of celibacy he had a “fall.”
To those people I may have harmed by my involvement in Exodus, I am truly sorry.
Narrator: The damage wrought by the ex-gay movement was never so apparent, than at the first ever ex-gay survivor conference, held in Irvine, California in 2007. The same weekend that Exodus was holding their conference across town.
Peterson Toscano, Co-Founder, Beyond Ex-Gay: A good friend of mine--lesbian ex-gay survivor, we’d been talking about our own experiences for the past few years on our blogs, and various forums on line, and we’ve had the chance to unpack our stories, but so many people don’t get that chance. So we thought, you know, we need a place for people to unpack these experiences for themselves.
Supportive Preacher: You don’t have to change. They do.
Mel White: The suffering that comes out of the ex-gay movement, is considerable.
Vincent Cervantes, ex-gay survivor: For me I realized, growing up in a Christian home and just being in a Christian institution, that it wasn’t ok to like someone of the same gender.
Dan Gonzales, ex-gay survivor: The ex-gay movement then told me that same-sex relationships were false, that they inherently disordered, that they were destructive, that they were abusive.
Peterson Toscano: We did the 12 steps, an intensive 12 step program, except instead of looking at alcoholism, we looked at our addiction to homosexuality and compulsive sexual behavior.
Vincent Cervantes: I went through exorcism, and it was terrifying.
Christine Bakke, Co-Founder, Beyond Ex-Gay: There are these demonic powers and presences that you’re going to have to, sort of fight against with the help of Jesus.
Mel White: And that leads to a kind of desperation, that leads to suicide.
Vincent Cervantes: It threw me into a point then where I no longer had hope. That if not even an exorcism can get rid of this, then nothing ever will, so I planned a suicide.
Peterson Toscano: The thing that has amazed me, is all the collateral damage I’m seeing from the ex-gay movement.
Mel White: I tell ya, this ex-gay movement is not benign, it is very very dangerous.
Patty Ellis: If you try to change your child you will lose your child. You will break their spirit, and you may never get them back.
Robbie Kirkland, 1982-1997: Shot himself in the head after a 4 year struggle with homosexuality.Narrator: While the ex-gay movement, fueled by the religious right, has proven devastating to many individuals, the ultimate goal, may be to destroy any political advances by the gay community.
Bill Clayton, 1978-1995: Took massive overdose.
Marcus A. Wayman, 1979-1997: Shot himself.
Wayne Besen: This is not about changing gay people. This is about changing laws that would protect us from discrimination.
Mel White: The ex-gay movement really comes out of fundamentalist Christianity, and fundamentalist Christianity believes in the literal Bible, and if you take the Bible literally, it seems to say that gay and lesbian people are making a choice that’s bad. And if they’re making a choice that’s bad, then why should they have any civil, let alone religious rights?
John Hagee, anti-gay preacher: We need a constitutional amendment to protect the sanctity of marriage, that guarantees that in America, the only marriage to be recognized, is the marriage between a man and a woman. There are so many things in America that have changed, that should never change. And you listen to me, if it does, you can kiss this country goodbye.
Mel White: And so there you have a real conundrum for gay people who are needing and deserving of those rights, but being told by religion gone political, that they can’t have them.
Narrator: Yet while the ex-gay movement shows no sign of going away, their messages are being challenged like never before.
Supportive Preacher: The church has been wrong and wrong and wrong on this issue, and it’s time for us to make a change.
Wayne Besen: For the first time ever, we’ve got a variety of organizations, from Truth Wins Out, to Beyond Ex-Gay, and Soulforce, and many others, having a laser-like focus on exposing, what I believe is one of the biggest frauds perpetrated on the American people. A multimillion dollar fraud.
Darlene Bogle: God loves all of us, just as He created us.
Wayne Besen: We’re going to get stories out there, we’re going to be exposing some of their leaders, this may enter the legal arena.
Shirley Phelps: If this lawsuit is going to work, then why don’t they file a lawsuit against the Lord their God.
Wayne Besen: It will be around, because there are people who are desperately want to believe this, however I think the credibility is going to be eroding over time, slowly slowly slowly.
Fox newscaster to Shirley Phelps: I don’t know what planet you’re from, but you say you thank God for (ID’s?), you thank God for 9/11, you thank God for dead soldiers, thank God for AIDS…I thank God that you are not a leader of a real church.
Narrator: And for those still struggling with faith and sexuality, Reverend White has one thing to say.
Mel White: I’ve talked to gay people who’ve been out of the closet for 50 years, and still wonder, can you be gay and Christian? Isn’t that sad? The saddest question in the world, is can you be gay and Christian?
Of Course you Can! God created you and loves you as you are.
Ex-Gay Survivor Conference attendee: God’s truth is marching on.
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