The latest issue of Intelligence Report, the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center, includes an in-depth exposé of the “ex-gay” movement, a network of ministries that claim to cure homosexuality. These treatments, often performed by leaders who are not licensed therapists, range from the cultic (exorcisms and isolation from one’s friends and family) to the merely absurd (beauty makeovers for lesbians).
SPLC notes that these groups recently expanded their agenda to include political activism, opposing gay-rights initiatives on the grounds that sexual orientation is not an immutable trait like race and gender. The ministries’ own statistics, however, tell a different story:
To back up their claims that homosexuality is purely a deviant lifestyle choice, ex-gay leaders frequently cite the Thomas Project, a four-year study of ex-gay programs, paid for by Exodus, that recruited subjects exclusively from Exodus ministries. It was conducted by Mark Yarhouse, a psychology professor at Pat Robertson’s Regents University, and Stanton Jones, provost of Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois. Both are members of NARTH. The study was conducted through face-to-face and some phone interviews conducted annually over the course of four years. Results were published this September. Of nearly 100 people surveyed, only 11% reported a move towards heterosexuality. But no one in the study reports becoming fully heterosexual; according to the study’s authors, even the 11% group “did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and did not report heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated.”
The researchers had originally hoped for 300 subjects but, according to an article in Christianity Today, “found many Exodus ministries mysteriously uncooperative.” Over the course of the four-year study, a quarter of the participants dropped out. Their reasons for quitting were not tracked. Nevertheless, the study was hailed by Exodus, Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptist Convention as “scientific evidence to prove what we as former homosexuals have known all along — that those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction can experience freedom from it.”
Even more remarkably, Focus on the Family cites a 67% success rate. It came up with that number by counting as “successes” subjects who practice chastity or were still engaged in homosexual acts or thoughts “but expressed commitment to continue” the therapy. Despite its rhetoric that “freedom from unwanted homosexuality is possible,” Exodus officials seem quietly aware that few, if any, of the thousands of people who participate in their ministries actually change their sexual orientation.
(NARTH is the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality; Exodus International is one of the largest umbrella organizations of ex-gay ministries.)
The article profiles Peterson Toscano, now a leader in the EX-ex-gay movement, whose blog is an excellent source of more information on this issue. I also recommend the 1993 documentary “One Nation Under God” featuring Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, two Exodus founders who quit the movement and became life partners.
It’s easy to laugh at the absurd claims of the ex-gay movement (playing softball alters your sexual orientation? straight women don’t change their own tires?), but the wreckage it leaves behind is serious: suicides, broken marriages, and junk science that may persuade legislators to vote against equal rights for GLBT citizens.