The Birmingham News
November 4, 2009

Evidence Suggests People Can’t ‘Pray Away The Gay’

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 Birmingham 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 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.”

In August, the American Psychological Association released a landmark report that said, “There is insufficient evidence” for therapists to claim conversion therapy works. The APA report also cautioned so-called “ex-gay” counselors not to mislead clients by telling them that their sexual orientation can be changed.

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 Washington, DC gay bar in 2001. Two of the founders of Exodus International, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, divorced their wives after they fell in love. The American Family Association’ poster boy for sexual conversion, Michael Johnston, had to step down in 2003 after he admitted affairs with men he had met on the Internet. Christian singer Ray Boltz came out of the closet in 2008 after thirty years of marriage and trying to “change”.

Love Won Out does not create heterosexuals, but their misguided “ex-gay” programs do lead to 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”. Lesbians attend makeup and lipstick seminars, which highlight the superficial and cosmetic “changes” such programs offer. Sadly, these groups even take clients as young as three years old!

A recent study by Caitlin Ryan shows that gay teens who experienced “negative feedback” by family members after they “come out” 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, unconditional love is important for gay teens and the message of Love Won Out epitomizes the negative feedback that can produce such harmful results.

Finally, Love Won Out’ spokesperson Melissa Fryrear was disingenuous when she told the Birmingham News this week that, “Science hasn’t proved people are born gay. It’s absolutely an open question. Part of the message is to read the studies that have been done. They’ll see there’s no evidence proving homosexuality is genetic. It’s a multi-causal struggle, and there are a number of factors that may make one vulnerable.”

It is unscientific and backwards to say that people are “vulnerable”, as if homosexuality can be caught like a cold. Most gay people — just like heterosexuals — instinctively know their sexual orientation is natural and that there was no “choice” in the matter. Conveniently, Fryrear misstates the facts and fails to point out that numerous studies have shown that sexual orientation likely has a genetic or biological basis.

However, there are no modern studies that show sexual abuse or poor parenting cause homosexuality, as Love Won Out falsely claims. While confusing parents by creating a fake cause and effect for homosexuality is good public relations, it simply is not true and dishonest for Fryrear to push such outdated and disproven theories.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and trangender Americans come from every type of family imaginable. We grow up in liberal homes and conservative homes, non-religious and orthodox Christian families. How people are raised or if they believe in God has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of their sexual orientation. This is just common sense supported by the hard and indisputable facts.

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.

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