** Note: As of Nov. 8, 2009, Exodus International will take over Love Won Out. This is primarily a change on paper, as Focus on the Family still pulls the strings from behind the scenes. Focus employees will also still serve as speakers at the ex-gay road show.

Love Won Out is a quarterly ex-gay symposium sponsored by Focus on the Family. John Paulk, an ex-gay leader who was on the cover of Newsweek and appeared on Oprah, 60 Minutes and Good Morning America, originally ran the program. Love Won Out suffered a major setback after Paulk was photographed in a Washington, DC gay bar by activist Wayne Besen.

While Love Won Out bills itself as an “ex-gay” conference, there are very few people who identify as gay or “ex-gay” in attendance. Most of the people who go to Love Won Out are parents or friends of someone who comes out as gay or lesbian. The symposium offers these individuals false hope and divides families by suggesting their loved ones can change, if they are only determined enough to try.

Love Won Out relies on outdated studies and the discredited practice of “reparative therapy.” It unnecessarily blames parents for causing their children to be gay, produces guilt and shame. Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a conference speaker, tells parents that, “if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will.” The reparative therapist also says that “there is no such thing as a homosexual,” just misbehaving heterosexuals who can reclaim their identity through prayer and therapy.

Most disturbing is Love Won Out’ explanation for lesbianism, which it claims, without credible supporting evidence, is a result of childhood sexual abuse. Melissa Fryrear, a gender issues analyst at Focus on the Family and a regional leader at Exodus International, makes a direct link to molestation:

“I can draw anecdotally from having been a part of an Exodus member ministry for almost a decade, and in those years having met hundreds of women with this struggle, I never met one woman who had not been sexually violated or sexually threatened in her life. I never met one woman. And I never met one man either, that had not been sexually violated or sexually seduced in his life.”

Fryrear’ male counterpart at Focus, Mike Haley, reinforces this false association between homosexuality and child abuse by telling credulous Love Won Out audiences about having sex with an older man at the age of eleven.

Another problematic aspect of Love Won Out is that parents often force their gay children to attend against their will. These youths face the choice of attending this anti-gay conference or losing the love and financial support of their parents. In Feb. 2007, Brett Vatcher, 16, was made to go to the Love Won Out conference in Phoenix. His parents insisted that the family drive 350 miles in an attempt to make their son straight.

“I did not want to come at all,” Vatcher told National Public Radio. “But I guess, you know, I have no choice because my parents, you know, they control my life.”

At these conferences, struggling families are offered cruel and baseless assertions about homosexuality. Dr. Nicolosi, for instance, portrays gay life in the most tragic terms, causing dread among the gay youths and their parents.

“Homosexual behavior is always – my wife says when you speak publicly you never speak in absolutes, always and never – I’m telling you homosexuality, homosexual impulse is always prompted by an inner sense of emptiness. It’ not about sex,” Dr. Nicolosi tells audiences.

To reach out to suffering and confused parents, Love Won Out features Nancy Heche — mother of actress Ann Heche and the former partner of Ellen DeGeneres.

Heche’ message is particularly destructive, as she blames her husbands death from AIDS on the “effects of homosexuality.” Unlike her mother, Anne learned all the right lessons from her fathers life and death.

“I put a very high premium on honesty,” Anne told Cosmopolitan Magazine. “What I learned from [my father’s] death is that if you don’t accept your sexuality, it will kill you.”

Anne also disavowed her mother’ anti-gay activism and work with Focus on the Family.

“The ex-gay events right now make me sick,” Heche says. “And for anyone who ever thought that Ellen and I broke it off because of sexuality, you couldn’t be more mistaken. And for anyone who thought my mother’s prayers had anything to do with me marrying a man, forget it.”

Unfortunately, Love Won Out attendees are bombarded with bad science and disinformation. Focus on the Family has developed a reputation for distorting the work or legitimate researchers to support their political agenda.

Focus on the Family’ deceit received national attention after the group’ founder, James C. Dobson, wrote a Dec. 2006 guest column in Time Magazine. The article commented on Mary Cheney’ pregnancy and smeared gay parents as unfit. To bolster his case, Dobson cited two researchers, New York University’ Dr. Carol Gilligan, and Yale University’ Dr. Kyle Pruett.

Informed of the misuse of their studies, they agreed to speak out and filmed short videos for a new website, Respect My Research. They also wrote letters to Dobson asking him to stop citing their work.

“Not only did you take my research out of context,” said Gilligan, “you did so without my knowledge to support discriminatory goals that I do not agree with. What you wrote was not truthful and I ask that you refrain from ever quoting me again and that you apologize for twisting my work.”

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Dr. Gilligan explains how Dobson distorted her research

In a powerful letter, Pruett also asked Dobson “not quote from my research in your media campaigns, personal or corporate, without previously securing my permission.”

“You cherry-picked a phrase to shore up highly (in my view) discriminatory purposes. This practice is condemned in real science, common though it may be in pseudo-science circles. There is nothing in my longitudinal research or any of my writings to support such conclusions. On page 134 of the book you cite in your piece, I wrote, “What we do know is that there is no reason for concern about the development or psychological competence of children living with gay fathers. It is love that binds relationships, not sex.”

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Dr. Pruett explains how Dobson distorted his research

Four more respected scientists on three continents stepped forward in the same year to claim that Focus on the Family had not been forthright with their work. At Love Won Out, the manipulation of data is a constant theme and facile speakers play fast and loose with the facts.

It is clear that what Focus on the Family presents as “truth” is largely exaggerations or outright fabrications. Love Won Out is an extravagant, well-rehearsed and produced production that garners much media attention, but does little to shed light or foster an honest discussion on this topic. Instead, it exploits hurting people and exacerbates the pain felt by confused families who do not know how to cope with a loved one who has come out.