Shawn O’Donnell


Today, I returned to the Love One Out Conference in Omaha Nebraska to gain new insight on the hate they are spewing. It was very difficult to walk in the doors that I left five years ago. I thought it was going to be easy, but there was a lot of pain that came rushing in when I stepped inside. It wasn’t the same pain I experienced years ago, but a new pain for all those about to hear the message of false hope.

I thought I would enter unnoticed, but with recent media attention surrounding my story, I wasn’t in the door more than a few minutes before I was stopped. Focus on the Family “Gender Specialist” Mike Haley almost immediately greeted me. Looking disappointed, he asked me why I hadn’t contacted him. Mike is a long time friend who still believes that people can change their sexuality from gay to straight. Once again my emotions came flooding over me and I felt the same anger I did years ago after leaving the ex-gay ministries.

At the height of my time in ex-gay ministries I was part of many Focus on the Family Love One Out Conferences as well as Exodus

International. I even went to the main campus in Colorado Springs and shared my story of being ex-gay. I was in National print ads that said; “We Have Changed” that ran in newspapers such as the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

The time inside the conference was very insightful. I saw many pained individuals who are struggling with their sexuality and unable to accept themselves. They are fighting for their very lives and continue to hear messages of false hope. The people who I really had a heart for where the teenagers walking in with their parents, being told they had to be there. It’ frightening to me that this is the message we are sending our children. If you don’t change your sexuality or if you aren’t the way we want you to be, then we cannot accept you. I have seen it all to often. These ministries don’t work, despite the messages Exodus and Focus on the Family are selling people.

I was told from an early age that being gay was a sin. I couldn’t reconcile being gay and being a Christian. I understood that if I were gay, I would go to “hell,” so I tried everything in my power not to go to hell. I believe this is why I sought out ex-gay
experiences. In addition to having same-sex attractions, I also struggled with sex addiction. I thought of myself as a sexual deviant. Becoming ex-gay, I didn’t have to deal with sex anymore; I boxed it all away. Being ex-gay meant I could avoid some of the actual problems in my life.

I spent 10 years of my life in ex-gay ministries. I started attending local twelve step groups in my hometown, which included Overcomers, Homosexuals Anonymous, and Setting Love in Order. I also received some reparative therapy. I did this for five years.

When those groups and the therapy offered did not work, I put myself through an ex-gay residential program called New Hope Ministries located in San Rafael, CA. I lived there for four years.


Recently, I added up all the money I spent on pursuing an ex-gay life: After spending 10 years in ex-gay ministries I calculated how much money I spent trying to be straight.

¬? Ex-gay counseling–$120 a week for 52 weeks = $6,240

¬? New Hope Program–$865 x 48 months = $ 41, 250

¬? Ex-gay books‚Äî Average of $13/book for 20 books=$260

¬? Exodus International Conferences –Approximately $320/
conference for six conferences=$1920

¬? Travel Expenses‚ÄîApproximately $220 per ticket for four long
distant conferences = $880

Total $50,550

This doesn’t account for the time, energy and health I spent in the process. I see now that going through these ex-gay experiences caused harm in my life. I heard the message loud and clear that I was a horrible person. I began cutting on myself at such an early age because I just couldn’t deal with the fact that I was gay. I grew to hate myself and tried to take my life a few times. Because of what I was taught about myself by the church, society and the ex-gay programs, I developed low self-esteem, which led to other problems. I now see that I had become an alcoholic and a drug-addict, problems that took hold of me only after leaving the ex-gay programs.

After the ex-gay experiences, I couldn’t trust anyone. I especially couldn’t trust the church. I had a very hard time trusting God. I didn’t know where to turn. Only recently I have had a sense of “self” again.

I took it on myself to discover the truth about homosexuality in the Bible and God’ feelings for me. It wasn’t until I found Alcoholics Anonymous in May of 2005 that I started taking a look at my spirituality again and it significance to me. I also began to address my other addiction issues, separating them from my same-sex attractions. Today I no longer feel that being gay is a sin. My love for Christ continues to develop, and it becomes stronger each day. I still have work to do everyday, one day at a time, but I feel like more grace has been given me since leaving the ex-gay programs.

In spite of all the bad, some good came out of my ex-gay experiences, mainly my story. I believe that my story can help others and inspire them to try and accept themselves. I choose to tell my story today and give people hope.

Recently, I was on a national TV program where I shared how ex-gay therapy did not work and only damaged me. I believe that God has a plan for my life and it is to share the message of hope that God loves all his people.