Wade Richards helped Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell rail against gay rights—until he came out. He tells Michelle Goldberg how O’Donnell abandoned him, and how her lesbian sister helped him accept his sexuality.

A little more than 10 years ago, Wade Richards, a tormented, deeply religious 20-year-old gay man, took his Bible school tuition money and used it to fly to Los Angeles to join forces with Christine O’Donnell, a budding Christian right activist. O’Donnell, a former spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, had founded an organization called The Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth, or The SALT, in 1996; it was meant to organize young people around opposition to abortion, sex education, and homosexuality. Richards had just graduated from an ex-gay rehab program and had been interviewed about it on 20/20. Ostensibly cured, he got in touch with O’Donnell and became The SALT’s outreach coordinator and spokesman on homosexuality.

Eventually, Richards reached out to Wayne Besen, the founder of Truth Wins Out, a group that battles anti-gay religious extremism. The two had met when they debated on Alan Colmes’ radio show. Richards finally came out in an article in The Advocate in 2000. After that, he says, O’Donnell “totally turned her back on me. I never heard from her ever again. That’s been my experience with the Christian community in general. The minute I was struggling and saying, ‘Hey, listen, I don’t know really where I am with this,’ that’s when everyone really turned their back on me.”

O’Donnell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Today Richards, who works as a hairdresser in Arizona, says he is doing fine, but, says Besen, “I think he was harmed by Christine O’Donnell. Christine O’Donnell was toeing the party line at the expense of an individual. Often these groups, in pushing their dogma, they overlook that there’s a human being that’s having their lives upended.”

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