3 min

Rescinding reparative therapy

Ex-gay leaders admit sexuality can't be 'cured'

“I think the genie was out of the bottle when Alan Chambers acknowledged that you can’t pray away the gay,” says Wayne Besen, who has been challenging the “ex-gay” notion for years.

Since January, Chambers, president of Exodus International, has repeatedly eschewed the “Change is possible” mantra his organization promoted for three decades, much to the chagrin of those still devoted to the idea that all gay people need to rid themselves of homosexuality is a good dose of prayer and therapy.

At a Gay Christian Network conference, Chambers said a majority of gay people, “meaning 99.9 percent of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.”

Chambers then apologized for his organization’s use of the “Change is possible” slogan.

In a July 6 New York Times story, Chambers reiterates that there is no cure for homosexuality and says reparative therapy is an exercise in false hope for gays and might even be harmful.

According to The Times, accusations of heresy have now been levelled against Chambers, causing a rift in the ex-gay movement.

Besen says Chambers’ statements are going to have devastating consequences for the entire ex-gay industry.

“Right now, their message is celibacy for life, which is nothing but sexual frustration and loneliness,” Besen says. “And that’s a hard product to sell. If you take away the promise of a miracle, you’re not left with anything that’s inspiring, and that’s where they’re at right now, and I think it’s going to significantly shrink — it’s already shrinking — their ministries, and I think it’s going to hasten the demise of Exodus, or it will signal the end of Alan Chambers’ career.”

Evangelical professor Robert Gagnon called for Chambers’ resignation after the Exodus head also said homosexually active Christians are assured salvation. Gagnon says that stance compromises Exodus’s mission.

“The purge mentality that Alan appears to be operating with strikes me as an overreaction: an attempt by Alan at inoculating Exodus and himself from the intemperate reactions of strident homosexualists,” Gagnon writes on his website, in a post entitled “Time for a Change of Leadership at Exodus?” “It is not necessary that reparative therapy achieve complete transformation from ‘gay’ to straight in order to be helpful. One or two shifts along the Kinsey spectrum or a change in intensity of homosexual impulses can be beneficial.”

Chambers is not the only high-profile proponent of conversion therapy to recant. In May, retired psychiatrist Robert Spitzer retracted conclusions from a controversial 2001 study he conducted that claimed “highly motivated” gays and lesbians could change their sexual orientation.

“In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are largely correct,” Spitzer announced.

In an interview with Besen’s non-profit organization Truth Wins Out, Spitzer admits the conclusions he made in the study were wrong. The study “does not provide evidence, really, that gays can change. And that’s quite an admission on my part,” he says.

“I felt that I needed to say that the study is not valid, but I thought I should also say to the gay community, I apologize for any harm I have done to them because of the study and my initial interpretation,” Spitzer says.

“I certainly apologize to any gay person who, because of this study, entered into reparative therapy and wasted their time and energy doing that.”

Besen predicts groups will emerge with promises to fill the vacuum Exodus leaves, but, he says, the damage is done. He believes the religious right will be reluctant to invest in the ex-gay industry again “because their poster boys and girls keep embarrassing them, either by coming out of the closet or getting caught in a scandal — it’s a very risky investment to make.”

In a statement of apology on the site Beyond Ex-Gay, co-founder and former Exodus leader Michael Bussee calls himself a proud gay man and says groups like Exodus will go out of business when people no longer feel that they must deny who they really are to try to become what they are not.

Last year, John Smid, a former director of ex-gay ministry Love in Action, also came out, saying it’s impossible to change one’s sexual orientation.

“I’m very optimistic right now that we’ve won,” Besen told Xtra July 20. “We’ve got the leading group in the world saying it doesn’t work.”