Exodus International, the most well-known of the “ex-gay” advocacy organizations, announced yesterday that it’s “shutting down” and the president of the organization issued a public apology to “the people that have been hurt by Exodus International.” I’ve written about my experience in the ex-gay movement before but I’ve had a hard time formulating a response to this latest news.
The immediate and most obvious reaction is one of relief. The ex-gay message has been thoroughly discredited and has harmed thousands of LGBTQ people, many of them teenagers. So it’s good to see Exodus and its president publicly disavow it and apologize for the harm they have done by selling it.
But my next reaction was of concern. I was lucky in that it didn’t take me long to realize that reparative therapy was a sham. But what about the thousands of people who have invested years of their lives and hundreds or thousands of dollars on Exodus’ conferences and literature? What about the young people undergoing reparative therapy right now? My heart aches for those people, knowing the sense of betrayal they must feel today.
And my final reaction was one of suspicion. While I appreciate Alan Chambers’ apology, it doesn’t make me trust him. I think the appropriate course of action would be to apologize, shut down the organization, and then perhaps spend some time humbly reflecting on the damage to the world that I have caused and the responsibility I have to try to correct it. I don’t think I’d wait to make my announcement until my annual conference, for which I charge attendees hundreds of dollars to attend. I almost certainly would not forge ahead with the conference, continuing to assert myself as a trusted authority on the subject of what’s best for LGBTQ people. I definitely would not start up my new organization on the same day I shut down the old one. I think I’d probably take down the pages on my site that solicit donations.
I accept Alan Chambers’ apology as someone who was hurt by Exodus’ actions in the past. I’m glad that they’re no longer trying to sell Christianity to gay people by claiming to be able to fix them. But I’m not much more optimistic about them trying to sell Christianity to gay people by claiming to love them just the way they are.
A few years ago I wrote about my experience in, and rejection of, the “ex-gay movement.” I mentioned John and Anne Paulk’s book, Love Won Out, part of the materials that my youth minister gave me when I came out to him in 1999. I mentioned in that post that John Paulk was recognized while chatting in a Washington, D.C. gay bar less than a year later.
I hadn’t kept up with the Paulks much after that. I knew that they’d continued to peddle the ex-gay bullshit, though. It turns out someone was paying much closer attention, though. Last week Truth Wins Out published in great detail what the Paulks have been up to since moving to Portland, Oregon.
Instead of publicly exposing Paulk, as I had the first time in DC, I wanted to give him an opportunity to come out with dignity. It was my hope that he was now on a journey to self-acceptance and would gladly renounce his “ex-gay” past and demand that materials with his story were taken out of circulation. I called John on the telephone and he angrily yelled: “get out of my life. I never want to hear from you again.”
There’s a part of me that feels guilty for reading it; it’s exactly the kind of story that I usually feel like is no one’s business. But I don’t find it interesting because of the drama; it’s not entertainment for me. It’s a sad, cautionary tale of a man and woman who bought the lie that was sold to me, and seem unable to come to terms with reality even decades later. People should read about the Paulks so that they can stop this nonsense if it’s foisted upon a gay or questioning youth that they know. No kid should ever again be given a copy of a book like this when what they really need is support.
In 1997, wracked by guilt and consumed with questions I’d been asking myself since I first realized that I was gay five years earlier, I asked the youth minister at my church for help with “a little problem.” The particular evangelical brand of Catholicism that had gained popularity at the time, Life Teen, espoused the idea that gay men and lesbians could be “converted” into healthy, hearty heterosexuals with the right blend of therapy and prayer. And so I set upon a journey, with a Catholic therapist and a copy of the book Love Won Out, the autobiography of a supposed “ex-gay” man named John Paulk. For the next year, I did untold damage to my mental health by attempting, basically, to will the color of my eyes to change. I was lucky in that it didn’t take me too long to realize it wasn’t going to happen. The further I got away from home, and high school, and church, the more I realized that the normality I’d been seeking didn’t actually exist. In 2000, John Paulk was recognized while flirting in a Washington, D.C. gay bar.
The gay community has some issues. Homophobia is still a serious, sometimes deadly problem in parts of the world. Yet I can’t help but wonder if the gay community’s biggest issue is this group of gay men, like John Paulk and George Rekers, willing to sell out their fellow man to advance a political or financial agenda. How cold must your soul be, to know you’re gay and make your living by trying to convince other gay men that they’re sick?
This week, George Rekers, another prominent leader of the ex-gay movement, was found to have repeatedly employed the services of a rent boy. I’ll skip the details other than to commend the prostitute on his use of the euphemism “long stroke” to describe the particular kind of massage performed for Rekers.
“What hasn’t been appreciated about the George Rekers rentboy case is just how miserable he’s tried to make life for other gay people in this country. And, the fact that he’s still doing it! … The reason George Rekers’ pitiful closeted hypocritical life news is actual news is because he’s quite actively engaged in trying to change this country to make it a more difficult place to be gay. Particularly a more difficult place to be a young gay person. While he’s simultaneously hiring at least one young gay person to not carry his baggage.”Rachel Maddow
George Rekers is a sad man. Sadder still are the closeted gays and misinformed straights who will lovingly reassure him through this “troubled time.” It’s time to start recognizing this for what it is — mentally ill gay men unable to cope with the reality of their sexual orientation. That the religious and political conservative communities continue to cite these men as examples of “overcoming” homosexuality is a sick fraud. The next time you hear someone mention the “Ex-Gay” movement or “reparative therapy” for homosexuals, just remember three words: the long stroke.