What to Expect at “Ex-Gay” Camp (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, I read an article about a sixteen-year-old boy in Texas who was outed by a (so called) friend, and now his mother and pastor plan to force him to attend a camp to make him straight. According to the boy, the pastor assured him the camp “might be a little rough” but the goal was to turn him into “a respectable, upright and God fearing young man once again.”

I can’t determine how true the story is, but this Bubble is not about the veracity of the claims. The fact is, these things do happen all the time. It’s horrible, sad and heartbreaking. And make no mistake: it is CHILD ABUSE!! But it’s legal here in Texas and in most states. (Hell, support of such treatments is part of the Texas GOP’s platform!)

The young man who posted said he’s “terrified” about what might happen at the camp. So without even knowing this camp or the group that operates it, allow me to suggest SIX things that are likely to happen. (No, I’m not a prophet or a psychic; but I have been researching these groups for many, many years. There are foreseeable patterns.)

Author’s Note: In reality, I could list more, but I culled it down for brevity. Even now, I’m breaking it into two posts. And the points I’m making here could also be applied to any “ex-gay” program, not just one in a woodsy, outdoor environment.

1. What the camp promises and what it delivers are likely vastly different.
These group have tapped into a niche market: those who still believe that homosexuality can (and should) be changed. They highlight and reinforce that “problem” and offer themselves as the resolution. But a careful examination of their “advertising claims” will reveal highly deceptive practices.

  • They will tout the overwhelming “success” of their approach, using broad statements, but no specifics. (e.g., “millions of people” have been changed; “thousands” have enrolled in our program) Or we see statistics with little point of reference. (e.g., “Seventy-three percent of those who complete our workshop…”) All too often, their “success” is based solely on self-reporting or personal testimony, which is not verifiable. Essentially, their evidence is nothing more than one person’s account: “I was once gay, now I’m not.” (I cover this extensively in my post How to Listen to an “Ex-Gay” Testimony)
     
  • They promise change, though they are vague in what that means. They will talk about “leaving the gay lifestyle,” “walking away from homosexuality,” or “turning your back on homosexuality.” They will use spiritual catch phrases such as  “victorious over sin,” “overcoming temptation,” or “living out spiritual values.” They might also speak of “diminished same-sex attractions.” To most of these groups, “change” is measured by abstaining from sexual activities (i.e., celibacy) and some see entering an opposite-sex marriage as "success."
    In actuality, none of these criteria involve actual change in sexual orientation, merely an emphasis on controlling external behavior.

2. His leaders are probably NOT trained mental health professionals.
In all likelihood, the staff will be comprised of those who’ve “successfully” completed the program. There might be some ministerial personnel involved, and possibly a counselor who was licensed by a religious-based organization. But he isn't likely to find a trained psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist. (That’s because every major professional mental health organization opposes attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation.)

In fact, if we examine many of founders and leaders in the movement—now and historically—we might find theology degrees, or Pastoral Counseling certificates, but most often it’s merely a personal testimony of change, and an assurance of “God’s calling” to help others who are struggling.

Just to stress another significance aspect of this fact: those leading the camp are people with their own sexual struggles. Allow that to sink it. There have been many documented cases of “ex-gay” leaders with their own unresolved sexual conflicts, abusing those seeking help. (In an earlier post, I go into detail about the potential harm of this kind of leader; I see it as similar to a mental illness.)

3. The methods utilized will be unscientific, with no oversight or standardization.
Even a casual examination of the “ex-gay” industry will show a couple of startling facts: there is no agreement on how a person becomes homosexual, and (therefore) there's no common treatment for how to "fix" that person.

Typically, most groups will include intensive prayer, Bible study, Scripture memorization, journaling, and group confession/accountability. There may be a "friendship pairings" with a straight man, designed to instill a non-sexual masculine component. Some will even involve such religious extremes as exorcisms, which can be physically violent to the one being subjected to such measures. Beyond that, we also see bizarre treatments such as hug therapy, nude massages and genital touching. (Yes, there are documented cases of this kind of crap!)  One "ex-gay" camp here in Texas likens their approach to the "magic beans" from the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale. (Such a bad pun, but I didn't choose to use the analogy!)

And none of their methods come with any corresponding scientific evidence or verifiable proof of their effectiveness. (The opposite, in fact!)

Every major helping profession has a corresponding organization/entity designed to look out for the interests of the industry as well as protect the clients. (e.g., the medical professional has the American Medical Association, psychiatrists have the American Psychiatric Association, etc.) These organizations promote industry standards of practice and ethics. But those working in “ex-gay” groups can do whatever they think is right, with no governing agency to monitor them, correct them, censure them or reign them in.

 

These first three points relate to what he can expect from the “ex-gay” camp/program—their promises, their leaders and their methods.
It's probably not that pleasant experience many of us had as kids at summer camp! 

The last three, which I’ll cover in the next post, explore what might happen to him, personally.
He's not supposed to leave as a gay camper, but he also may not be a Happy Camper, while he's there or when he's done!
 

For more on the deception and danger
of “ex-gay” programs

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