(Published In The Charlotte Observer, Feb. 21, 2009)

By Wayne Besen

As long as prejudice and discrimination exist, some gay men and lesbians will feel pressure to try to change their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, there are organizations, such as Focus on the Family, that exploit such vulnerable people and their fears of rejection by family, church and society. On Saturday, Focus on the Family will roll into town with its much-hyped road show, “Love Won Out,” which offers false hope and broken promises.

It is important that one realize that such efforts are rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization in America, such as the American Psychological Association, American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The America Psychiatric Association says that attempts to change sexual orientation can cause, “Anxiety, depression and self-destructive behavior.”

Without science on their side, Focus on the Family has taken to distorting research. In the past two years, eight scientists have accused this group of manipulating their studies. The testimonies of these experts can be viewed at

The empirical evidence also suggests that people can’t “pray away the gay.” For example, I photographed the “ex-gay” founder of Love Won Out, John Paulk, in a gay bar in 2001. Two of the founders of Exodus International, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, divorced their wives after they fell in love.

This week Truth Wins Out and Lambda Legal released a publication, “Ex-Gay & The Law,” to help victims of such “therapies” understand their legal rights. There is also the problem of broken families. Focus on the Family loves to show people wedding photos. But, it would be more honest if they showed the divorce papers, which are a common outcome of such sexual engineering efforts.

More disturbing are conversion techniques. These include exorcisms and encouraging masculinity in male clients by suggesting they drink Gatorade and call friends “dude”. Sadly, these groups even take clients as young as three years old!

A new study by Caitlin Ryan shows that gay teens who experienced “negative feedback” by family members were more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide, nearly six times as vulnerable to severe depression and more than three times at risk of drug use. Clearly, Love Won Out is the very negative feedback that can produce such harmful results.

Love will truly win out when gay and lesbian people can live out of the closet with the unconditional acceptance, love and support they deserve.

Wayne Besen is the founder of Truth Wins Out ( He is also the author of “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”