Tennessee businessman Mark Siedlecki tells the Chattanooga Pulse about his ordeal in Alabama and British ex-gay “deprogramming” programs:

“The Christian church I was raised in taught me I was going to hell [for being gay]. I did not want to throw away my Christian beliefs, but I had to be at peace with myself.”

But Siedlecki had seen the director of his Montgomery “reparative therapy” group at an Atlanta gay bar “dancing with men all over the floor.”

And his experience in England, which he describes as “deprogramming,” did not work. “I never changed in my attraction to men,” he says. He was genuinely committed to trying, he says, and had decided, “If God requires me to be celibate, I am prepared to do that.” Yet when the principal of the program told him, “Mark, you need to move back to Chattanooga, find the nearest woman available, settle down, have kids and be happy,” he was repelled at the hypocrisy. “Marrying a woman for “cover’ is not Christian-like,” he says. During the next couple of years, he realized his “life was empty,” he says. “I had given it my all. I had discussions with other people and [reparative therapy] didn’t work for them either.”

Chuck Hill, the current vice president for Tennessee Valley Pride, remembers a similar experience:

Hill attended one session of reparative therapy in Atlanta years ago to “see what it was about and who these people were. I saw behavior even within the group at that time that made me aware they were not living up to what the program promised.

“I think that in their hearts many of those leading [reparative or conversion therapy] believe in what they are doing. They have not experienced being gay and stand in judgment of those of us who have accepted who we are. Any time you ask someone to do what is against their basic nature, you damage them.”

Siedlecki says many gay Christians may turn to reparative therapy “because they have not experienced the love of a congregation that accepts them for who they are.”

Jeff Briere, a minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Chattanooga, says:

“People quite often come to church with open hearts and vulnerable feelings. They are often wounded by their experience in churches and religious societies that are exclusive; that is, churches which practice a theology that puts some people in and others out. In recent years, I have noticed that some churches are striving to practice an inclusive religious life, and that’ good, because I believe that we are all in and no one is out. It’ like a big lifeboat, this world. We’re all in this together.”