LGBT advocates combat the myths of the “ex-gay” movement
In June of this year, John Becker, an openly gay man, telephoned Bachmann and Associates, a Christian counseling firm located in suburban Minneapolis co-owned by Michele and Marcus Bachmann. Becker attended five sessions with a therapist at the clinic to work on eradicating his homosexuality.
“They told me they’d be happy to work with me on getting rid of my homosexuality and building up my attraction toward women,” Becker said. “[Some] man combed through my life story to try to find anything possible that he could assign as something that caused me to have homosexual feelings and attractions.”
Becker said, for example, the therapist wondered if seeing gay pornography or being self-conscious of his high speaking voice had caused Becker to become gay. Then, the session would end just how it began — with a prayer.
Becker was not trying to change his sexuality. He was going undercover as the director of communications and development for Truth Wins Out. This non-profit organization’s primary focus is the fight against anti-LGBT religious extremism, including the fight against the ex-gay myth. The ex-gay myth is the belief that reparative therapy can rid a person of their homosexual desires.
“The truth is that not one medical mental health organization believes that you can ‘pray away the gay,’” Becker said.
The foundation of the ex-gay movement dates back to 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from its list of recognized mental disorders.
“[This] left conservative churches and conservative Christians with a dilemma because they saw that society was no longer ostracizing gay people,” Becker said.
This led to the formation of ex-gay ministries, like Exodus International’s foundation in 1976. Exodus serves as an umbrella organization for the movement. Many, like Anthony Venn-Brown, consider Exodus’ formation the beginning of the ex-gay movement.
Venn-Brown is a professional life coach, speaker and LGBT consultant in Australia. In 2004, he released his autobiography, A Life of Unlearning, which described his 22-year struggle with his sexuality. Afterward, Venn-Brown said he received a surplus of emails from readers, who divulged their personal struggles with sexuality.
“They would pour their hearts out to me,” he said.
From these emails, Freedom2b(e) was born. Venn-Brown co-founded this organization to provide a support network for people who have either attempted ex-gay therapy or are struggling with their sexual identities.
Venn-Brown is able to use his own struggles to relate to the people he counsels. He was married to his ex-wife for 16 years, fathered two children and was a Pentecostal preacher. He put himself through therapy, intense prayer and even exorcism, but he was unable to change his sexuality.
“What can happen in that time is that people have a real sense of failure,” he said.
Venn-Brown said the consequences of ex-gay practices are depression, anxiety and other self-destructive behaviors.
“At the very worst, people kill themselves because they can’t change,” he said.
Medical mental health professionals have openly acknowledged the inability to change sexual orientation and the risks that accompany such efforts. According to an official APA statement in 1998, “Therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.” The APA has since stated that there is no conclusive evidence supporting the effectiveness of reparative therapy.
Researchers have concluded that changing sexuality isn’t actually possible. Yet society continues to try to change such a fundamental part of themselves.
Becker said even though “the majority of society understands [reparative therapy] is a fraudulent and dangerous treatment,” some people are still afraid of what they don’t understand.
Venn-Brown has recently shifted his focus to a new project called Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International, which he hopes will help homosexual men handle heterosexual marriages and divorces with integrity and “deconstruct the ex-gay myth” through education, information and dialogue. His hopes are that with an increased societal understanding, the movement will fade.
“The basis of my organization is that the enemy is not churches, individuals, political parties,” Venn-Brown said. “The enemy is ignorance.”
Jess Corbett is a freshman journalism major who will never try to change you. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.