By Wayne Besen

In one of the best articles on the ex-gay myth in years, the Times of London captured the true essence of these dangerous programs when the newspaper went undercover at Exodus International’ 2007 annual conference in Asheville, NC. The article cut through the spin, painted an accurate portrait of what Exodus is about and offered a genuine glimpse of the pain and suffering caused by sexual engineering programs.

Reporter Lucy Bannerman did her homework and rightfully highlighted the false advertising of Exodus that leads people to believe that they can pray away the gay. The counterfeit hope and unrealistic expectations are made clear when Exodus’ leader Alan Chambers triumphantly appears at a pep rally.

“How many of you are in need of some hope here tonight?” A murmur passes through the dark auditorium, pleasing Chambers, the man with the microphone. Heads nod. “How many of you are at the end of your rope?” he continues. “How many are ready for an encounter with the Lord?”

Later in the expose, “an amazing week of breakthroughs, transformations and healings,” is promised. And, an Exodus sexual engineer tells the reporter that she will have a “very impactful” experience. The reporter also points out that an Exodus’s affiliate in the United Kingdom, Re-alignment Ministries, uses the slogan “reinventing people.” Anyone who says that Exodus is not misleading people with pie-in-the-sky promises of heterosexuality is simply not telling the truth.

Of course, Chambers is careful to parse words so he can blame the victims when they ultimately don’t become straight. He does this because of the astronomical failure rate and because his group refuses to offer refunds.

“The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality,” says Chambers, sagely. “It’s holiness.”

This word game simply means that once one becomes holy, he is on the path to becoming straight. This is made clear by the way “successful” Exodus leaders shamelessly paraded their spouses as if they were trophies. According to Bannerman’ report:

Each evening, a roll-call of “former homosexuals” hold up their husbands and wives like kitemarks of their newfound heterosexuality. We are told repeatedly that marriage is evidence of healing.

What I like about this story is that Bannerman gets to the heart of the matter by hanging these charlatans with their own words. After all the magical promises of healing, Chambers reveals that he is a gay man repressing his natural instincts.

“Am I in denial?” he asks. “Absolutely. I live a life of denial and I love it. I didn’t choose my same-sex feelings but I do choose how I’m going to steward them. Freedom is possible.”

Essentially, Chambers is defining freedom — in cryptic ex-gay code — by saying that through his program you are highly unlikely to “change,” but you might learn to love the fact you are sexually frustrated and lonely because it will please God. While this formula may work for Chambers, most people at the conference would likely find this definition of freedom terribly maudlin and at odds with the bold and brazen promises of hope and healing that Exodus presents in its advertising. Surely, many of the conference attendees would not have shelled out $600 to hear Chambers basically say they should celebrate the closet. These individuals could have embraced asceticism and crushing loneliness on their own time for free.

So, if Exodus can’t make one straight, what is the point of the group’ existence? If the goal is truly “holiness,” and not heterosexuality, why is there a need for Exodus when people can find an anti-gay version of holiness in thousands of churches? It seems like a lot of double talk and that Exodus has deeper identity issues than the people who are seeking their “help.”

Echoing my book, “Anything But Straight,” the Times article points out that the folks at the conference aren’t typical gay people that handle life in a rational and thoughtful manner.

For example, Bannerman went to one seminar, “Walking Away from the Lesbian Mentality,” where the class leader was “an aggressively happy woman with a guitar who sings about hating her mother.” Nothing like right wing family values!

In another class, “Breaking the Myth of Masculinity,” Riccardo, a doctor from Illinois, explains that he has come to the program for “encouragement and moral support” after tiring of anonymous encounters with other men. Is this really a coherent way to handle a sex addiction issue? Do straight guys who sleep around try to curb the habit by going to a gay bar? Wouldn’t it be easier for Riccardo to just ask a guy on a date before hopping in the sack? These are the type of common sense questions that never come up at Exodus conferences.

If the people attending the event are troubled, the techniques and “therapy” are just outright bizarre. In the “Journey Through Lesbianism” workshop, the instructor blames the media and being deprived of affection as a baby in a hospital incubator as possible causes for lesbianism. While they are making up causes out of thin air, why don’t they just blame the Frisbee or the hula hoop?

In another class, a woman the Times describes as an Angela Lansbury look-alike, links her gay ex-husband’s death from an AIDS-related illness to his father’s links with the “Serbian mafia.” In the ex-gay world, these luminaries believe almost anything and everything makes one gay. As long as Exodus allows such pseudo-scientific quackery to be a key part of their sexual engineering program, they can’t complain when ex-gays are spoofed or parodied on comedy shows.

A mainstay of ex-gay programs is confusing stereotypes with science. In the past, “ex-gay” guys were encouraged play football, drink Gatorade and call friends “dude” to become more masculine. In an updated version of this charade, Bannerman now says that Exodus offers “war games in the woods.” Women are not spared Exodus’ idiocy. Christine Sneeringer, a ministry leader from Florida, says that she has given up car mechanics because “it trashes my nails.”

For all the focus on behavior modification, the gay keeps gushing out at unexpected times. Exodus vice-president Randy Thomas, who has been celibate for 16 years, told the crowd, “Just because I stopped being gay 16 years ago doesn’t mean I can’t be fabulous.” Exodus’ fire and brimstone rhetoric and Thomas’ campy presentation were so incongruous that the reporter wryly commented, “Clearly, gaydar has yet to be invented on planet Exodus.”

What’ tragic is that young people are forced into this insanity and filled with the very guilt and shame that has made older conference attendees so neurotic and unhealthy. During one classroom excersize, a “handsome youth with an American smile sticks the word “defiled’ to his polo shirt.” He is then taught that he is “sexually broken.” One can only guess how many thousands of dollars of legitimate therapy this young man will one day have to spend to undo this psychological damage.

It is heartbreaking when Bannerman speaks of “a boy of no more than 16” who is forced to step onstage with his head hanging. Once up there, he receives applause and as he returns from the stage, “his stony-faced father nods in approval. His mother weeps.” The article also mentions “a teenager shaking in the corner.”

At one class, “Smooth Transitions: Life after the Conference,” Joe, a Latino man from Miami, speaks proudly of leaving his boyfriend and changing his friends, his address, his job and his gym after leaving his first conference.

“It’s about doing what’s uncomfortable,” he tells the class, describing how he forced himself to watch baseball with macho sportsmen at parties, and to wear looser shorts when walking his Chihuahua.

He then encourages a 17-year-old to let Exodus take such cult-like control of his life and urged him to dump his boyfriend.

What is revealing is that none of the professional sexual engineers seem to have made any progress. The seminar, “Overcoming Guilt and Shame”, was led by a “sad, wearied and overweight woman named Bonnie who used to be a probation officer.”

“I still have same-sex attraction,” Bonnie sighs at one point, “but it’s like elevator music to me now. I just don’t pay attention to it.”

In the real world, this is called denial. Exodus’ Chambers desperately defends his program by insincerely pointing to a deeply flawed and non-peer-reviewed 2007 study conducted through faculty at Wheaton College and Regent University — the latter headed by Pat Robertson, a man who links homosexuality to hurricanes and meteors. Instead of bolstering his case, Chambers shows intellectual bankruptcy and hostility towards science.

Chambers further defends Exodus with what appears to be poll-tested slogans and non-sequiturs designed to obscure the issue.

“There are many who do not share our beliefs, nor are they in conflict living as homosexuals,” said Chambers. “We respect this human right to self-determination. In the spirit of tolerance and diversity, we ask only for the same as well.”

Chambers is dishonest on so many fronts that it is difficult to know where to begin. First, the societal hostility groups like Exodus create make life more difficult for all gay people, regardless of whether they share Chambers’ beliefs. Second, the very failure of Exodus to sexually engineer people, combined with the conclusions of modern science, shows that people do not determine their sexual orientation. It is determined for them before birth or at a very early age – and a $600 non-refundable hoax in the North Carolina woods does not change this fact. Third, Chambers disingenuously plays the victim card, when he is actually the victimizer. What he conveniently failed to tell Bannerman, was that he was scheduled to campaign against same-sex marriage in California only months after this conference. So much for the spirit of tolerance and diversity that he trumpets!

It was refreshing to see a report from a writer who accurately observed the nuttiness and tragedy of ex-gay programs. These groups offer nothing more than an illogical hodgepodge of loony ideas lifted from pop psychology and fused with a judgmental version of religion. The result is often grave damage and harm done to people who are so desperate to fit in that they are willing to trust con artists and quacks with their lives.

The more people know about the ex-gay myth, the less support these programs inevitably receive. I hope this fantastic piece of journalism is replicated by journalists throughout the world.

**Note: In the article, Lucy Bannerman described me as an “ex-ex” gay. I am not. She must have thought so because I described my experience of my parents buying me an ex-gay tape as a teenager, after I came out to them.