Media outlets across the country have published an Associated Press story today claiming, “Christian group backs away from ex-gay therapy.” Exodus International, an umbrella organization for various ex-gay ministries, is rebranding itself by no longer trying to “cure” people of homosexuality. According to its president, Alan Chambers, the group will now simply focus on helping clients reconcile their anti-gay beliefs (internalized homophobia) by embracing celibacy or marrying an opposite-sex partner despite their same-sex orientation, like Chambers himself did:
CHAMBERS: I consider myself fortunate to be in the best marriage I know. It’s an amazing thing, yet I do have same-sex attractions. Those things don’t overwhelm me or my marriage; they are something that informs me like any other struggle I might bring to the table.
By so generously granting Chambers’ premise, the AP completely ignores the actual intention of ex-gay therapy. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association decided that homosexuality was no longer a mental illness. This meant therapists were to no longer treat homosexuality as a problem itself, but to instead help people reconcile the reality of their innate sexual orientation. It was only after — and because of — this decision that the first ex-gay ministry, Love in Action, began. From its integration into Exodus International in 1976 to the first introduction of the term “ex-gay” in 1980, these ministries have always been founded in the dangerous idea that being gay is a problem to be addressed, repressed, or circumvented.
In this regard, nothing has changed at Exodus. At its core, the organization clearly still believes that homosexuality is the cause of a person’s struggles, not the anti-gay society in which they live. Regardless of how these therapists attempt to treat homosexuality, they are still causing harm by trying to treat it at all — in complete violation of all social science research and ethics. As Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen notes in the AP article, “The underlying belief is still that homosexuals are sexually broken, that something underlying is broken and needs to be fixed. That’s incredibly harmful, it scars people.”
This disingenuous rebranding of ex-gay therapy away from a “cure” is not unique to Exodus. The Mormon contingent of the ex-gay movement has similarly been suggesting that just because a person has same-sex attractions doesn’t mean they have to identify as gay. Focus on the Family is still encouraging gay people to “resist same-sex attraction.” Meanwhile, NARTH, the “professional” organization for ex-gay therapists, is eagerly siding with anti-gay hate groups to continue to spin the “dangers” of the “homosexual lifestyle.” It’s not an exaggeration to say they are all simply advocating that people lie to themselves to conform to heteronormativity.
To many, ex-gay therapy may be a fringe practice, or a difference of opinion that isn’t particularly risky to those who might choose it. The truth is that the false belief that sexual orientation is not innate is at the root of all anti-gay beliefs, and nothing can rebrand the harm caused by that ignorance.