Exodus International’s “Love In Action” residential ex-gay program in Memphis, Tenn. promises to free participants from shame, sexual temptation, and spiritual doubt.
But survivors of the program know that LIA often worsens participants’ shame, their feeling of separation from God, and their sexual temptations. For all that trouble, LIA fails to change most participants’ sexual orientation — and it subjects family and friends to weekend “retreats” that consist of verbal and emotional abuse against parents.
Survivor Peterson Toscano is thinking about LIA’s latest round of participants, as they begin a 28-day to three-month residency.
Although some people turn to programs like Love in Action for assistance dealing with compulsive sexual behavior, many of us actually learned more about where to find sex in unexpected public places after hearing other participants spill some of their own stories. In suppressing and demonizing our desires, many of us reinforced the deep shame we felt, which caused some of us to do harm to ourselves.
The heart of LIA’ message is that it is wrong, abnormal, sinful to be gay. This is the message we heard loud and clear in so many ways from the many many stringent and invasive rules to the disturbing Family and Friends Weekend. (For over a year, senior leadership at Exodus, which oversees LIA, have been aware of the bizarre and unethical nature of the Family and Friends weekend yet have done nothing to address the situation.)
After spending a tremendous amount of time and money and energy while also leaving key relationships and careers and homes, most people who have attended the LIA program came to the conclusion that it is fine to be gay, a healthy expression of one’ self. Joy, self-control, love and peace came with understanding ourselves and accepting how we are wired. Being gay or lesbian or bisexual is simply a part of the wonderful design of what makes us who we are. Once we apprehended this truth, then were able to better assess how to live our lives from there with integrity and openness.
Toscano spotlights the narrative of Mark, one survivor whom LIA tried to transform with a lifestyle of loveless and sexless monotony.