Op-ed by Patrick McAlvey

As a survivor of “ex-gay” therapy, I was mortified to learn that Exodus International is shifting its focus in 2011 to children and teens. These are the people most vulnerable and defenseless to Exodus’ attacks on healthy development and psychological well-being.

As I first became aware of my sexual orientation at the age of 12, I was drawn into the web of Mike Jones, one of Exodus International’s unlicensed, unqualified, untrained, unregulated, and unsupervised counselors.  For the next 10 years, a man who had no business counseling anyone, and who certainly should not have had access to children, set the tone for how I viewed my orientation and myself as a person.

Jones passed on to me the “facts” that my attractions were sinful, that no gay person was happy, and that every gay person was addicted to drugs, alcohol and random sexual encounters.  I lived in a homogeneous religious world, didn’t know any LGBT people and had no reason to believe otherwise. I fully believed Mike Jones for years. He assured me that my sexual orientation could and should change, leading me to suffer through years of shame and self-hatred when no such change occurred.

Later, when I was 19, he subjected me to prolonged hugs and even “holding therapy”, where I was instructed to lay in his arms for a solid hour to “feel the strength of another man”.  He asked me inappropriate questions about my genitals and suggested I use handyman tools to become more masculine.

Last year, Jones was largely discredited – his board of directors dissolved, many local churches ceased supporting his work, and he was removed as an “approved outreach group” with the Michigan Department of Corrections.  But the entire time he was victimizing me, Exodus International supported Jones’ work and continued to refer people to his “ex-gay” operation.

This week, Exodus International unveiled its plan to put targets on the backs of thousands of innocent children around the country, many who already sit in pews each Sunday feeling scared and alone.  The “ex-gay” group plans to utilize social media, YouTube videos, booklets, an IPhone App, and a re-branding to make sure every one of these kids hates a part of themselves and believes their orientation is perverse and an abomination.

The reality is their orientation is a natural and beautiful part of who they are.  Exodus International has proven they are content to sacrifice children’s identities, happiness, self-confidence and mental health, to further their lies and messages of intolerance.

I know because I experienced the Exodus International nightmare firsthand.

What is particularly insidious about Exodus’ ministry is that it hides behind the fallacy that it desires helping only those who face what they cynically call “unwanted same-sex attraction”.

The reality is the “ex-gay” industry works day and night to create cultures in families, churches, communities and governments when possible, where folks who are not heterosexual are left ostracized, alone, judged and condemned.  When the lies spread by Exodus International and the “ex-gay” industry lead people to believe change is possible and necessary for God, their church or their family to love them, naturally their attractions become “unwanted”.

Thankfully, there is a happy ending to my story.  I escaped the destructive lies of the “ex-gay” industry and with time, good friends, and therapy, came to love and accept myself the way I am.  I have been an out and proud gay man for almost 5 years and have found healing through sharing my story and connecting with other survivors of the “ex-gay” industry.

But my heart breaks imagining other children naively falling for the same lies that ruled my life all those years.  Children deserve to be loved and supported for who they are. Their young, fragile self-esteems deserve to be protected and their identities nurtured.

It is my sincere hope that more and more families and churches will see the real danger Exodus International represents and choose to distance themselves and their children from Exodus’ materials, counselors and programs.

Before the organization does enormous harm, it should abandon its disturbing plan to target children and teenagers in 2011.

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