Introduction: Earlier this week, I was one of nine former “ex-gay” leaders who signed a statement voicing our opposition to so-called “Conversion Therapy,” also known as “Reparative Therapy.” It was one of the proudest moments of my life to add my name to this important document with such an esteemed group of folks I’ve come to know and love. Since the Statement has gone viral, and getting national coverage, I wanted to give some personal context, to help people better understand why this campaign is important to me.
Once upon a time…
So begin my “fairy” tale.
Whether it has a happy ending depends on who you ask.
Many years ago, I was the Executive Director of an “ex-gay” ministry called Coming Back.
How it happened was more evolution than actual choice.
From a very young age, I knew I was not like the other boys. I didn’t have a name to attach to it, though the other boys quickly filled in that blank for me—queer, fairy, sissy, faggot. When I became a Christian, my teachers/mentors made it clear that my attractions were unacceptable.
I was serious about pleasing God, so I needed these “sinful” desires had to go away. Naively, I assumed getting married would “fix” the problem. Nope!
Eventually, I learned about the work of “ex-gay” ministries—organizations that claimed they could heal my “broken” orientation. I read books, attended workshops, went to counseling and got involved in a “recovery” group. I did everything I was told. I studied the Scriptures and memorized verses (actually, I memorized entire books of the Bible!) to “renew my mind.” I prayed, fasted and confessed my sins. I even confessed the sins of previous generations, since I was told that my sexual desires could have been handed down from previous generations. I was anointed with oil, had demons cast out, and went through “inner healing” of past/repressed emotional trauma. I used my positive words to “speak those things that are not as if they are.”
From all outward appearances, I was a success story!
During this time, I was getting invitations to relate my experience of healing at churches and conferences throughout the country. I was interviewed by a popular religious magazine and did radio and TV shows. Several national ministries as well as local counselors consulted me as a resource for dealing with those wanting to change their sexual orientation. One well-known national evangelist interviewed me for a staff position. Gay and lesbian Christians began to seek me out for counseling. (Or were sent to me by their parents or church leaders.)
That’s how the ministry of Coming Back came into being.
But through it all, I knew my own feelings and desires were unchanged.
The harder I tried and the longer I worked at it, the more conflicted I felt.
I was a hypocrite.
Finally after many years of trying, I took an honest look at my life. The “desires” had not gone away, and resisting had became more difficult. I had to admit: the process did not work! They promised what they could not deliver.
That’s when I left the ministry rather than live a lie.
I do understand the intense pressure that compels people to get involved with these programs. I’ve been called those names. I’ve felt that shame and the guilt from my faith community. I’ve sat in the church while the preacher proclaimed my "abomination" from the pulpit. I have listened to the testimonies of those who claim they’ve changed. I’ve read the marketing materials of these ministries, and the multitudes they say have been healed.
But it’s not true!
Studies have shown that sexual orientation cannot be changed, and that attempts to do so can be dangerous, particularly to young people.
In the 20+ years since then, I’ve worked to expose the lies and deception of these programs. I’ve been accused of being hard on “ex-gay” ministries (and those involved), but I believe these groups are harmful. I think it’s emotional, mental and spiritual abuse. I deeply regret that I was once involved in perpetuating this kind of religious anguish, and years ago, I offered my sincere apology.
Today I stand with all the former "ex-gay" leaders, as well as every major medical and mental health professional organization in opposing these treatments, programs and ministries. I recommend we encourage parents and churches in particular to accept, embrace and affirm all children as made in the image of God and Gifts of God, instead of investing wasted energy trying to change what is unchangeable, fix what is not broken or cure what is not a sickness.
If you have comments or questions, please share with me. I will gladly respond.