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What is the Ex-Gay Movement?

The ex-gay movement is an international network that claims gay men and lesbians can be "converted" to heterosexuality through submission to Jesus Christ, or through secular "reparative therapy." Although the ex-gay movement is firmly rooted in the predominantly Protestant Christian Right, right-wing Catholic ministries and secular organizations make important contributions to the movement and share its vision. Movement leaders assert that a gay man or lesbian can leave the gay life and become a "whole person again"- the person who existed before homosexual feelings appeared.

Ex-gay leaders hold positions that are ideologically consistent with the contemporary Christian Right. They uphold heterosexuality as God's creative intent for humanity, and consequently view homosexual expression as contrary to God's will.11 The ex-gay movement's philosophy is based implicitly on a hierarchical structure in which God is a heterosexual male, and heterosexual men, created in the image of this God, are superior to women.

The most prominent organization in the movement is the Seattle-based Exodus International, an ex-gay referral network of ministries founded in 1976 that now claims more than 100 ministries in the US, Canada, and 20 other countries.12 Exodus states its primary purpose is "to proclaim that freedom from homosexuality is possible through the power of Jesus Christ." Exodus cites homosexual tendencies as one of the many social disorders in a world that has fallen from God's grace. Choosing to act on these tendencies through homosexual behavior, taking on a homosexual identity, and becoming involved in a homosexual "lifestyle" are considered destructive and sinful, because these actions distort God's intent for the individual.13 Exodus attracted media attention in 1978 when two of its founders, Gary Cooper and Michael Busee, left the ministry after falling in love with each other. Together they went on the talk show circuit in the early 1990s to tell their story. Busee and Cooper repeatedly called ex-gay ministries a fraud that promote homophobia and self-hatred. They told stories of people who went through the Exodus program and had emotional breakdowns or committed suicide. After interacting with hundreds of people, Busee and Cooper said they hadn't met one person who successfully changed their sexual orientation from gay to straight.14

Exodus International is only one of many ex-gay organizations. Others include Homosexuals Anonymous, a Christian fellowship that follows a 14-step process based on the Alcoholics Anonymous model; Transforming Congregations, a movement of churches founded by the Rev. Robert Kuyper of Trinity United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, CA; Regeneration Books, an Exodus International ministry dedicated to providing "the best Christian books dealing with the healing of the homosexual;"

The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), founded in 1993 by Charles Socarides, MD, a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, and Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D., author of Reparative Therapy for Male Homosexuals: A New Clinical Approach (NARTH was founded to counter the American Psychological Association's removal of homosexuality from its roster of mental disorders); Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (P-FOX), a "Christ-centered" organization founded in 1995 to counter Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); Courage, a Catholic ex-gay ministry that provides "spiritual support for men and women striving to live chaste lives in accordance with the Catholic Church's pastoral teaching on homosexuality;" and the St. Augustine Sexual Healing Bookstore, the first ex-gay Christian bookstore which opened in February 1998 in Washington, DC and has more than 100 titles on how homosexuals can have "sexual healing" and change to heterosexuality.

The ex-gay movement is characterized by a few recurring themes. Leaders of the ex-gay movement claim that people are not born homosexual because homosexuality is a mistake, and God, in whose image all people are created, does not make mistakes. They argue that homosexuality usually stems from not having the "correct" relationship and bonding with the same-sex parent. Authors and ex-gay leaders Bob Davies and Lori Rentzel, in their book, Coming Out of Homosexuality: New Freedom for Men and Women, write: "While a breakdown in the bond with the mother deeply affects both male and female babies, sexual identity seems to be more noticeably shaped by disrupting bonding with the same-sex parent: little girls lacking an intimate attachment to Mom, boys feeling detached and alienated from Dad."15

Another recurrent theme is that childhood sexual abuse and molestation causes homosexuality. Ex-gay leaders believe that, especially for girls, sexual abuse can be a significant factor in their future identification as lesbians. "While the family dynamics, temperament, and peer pressure strongly shape a person's sexual identity, the single factor that most powerfully propels a girl toward a lesbian identity is sexual abuse: incest, rape or molestation," write Davies and Rentzel. At the second annual P-FOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays) conference in March 1998 one "ex-lesbian," Cyndi Dollof, said she has come to believe that because she was separated from her mother for the first three days of her life in the hospital, she missed that important bonding and this contributed to her being in the "lesbian lifestyle."16 Dollof's story serves as an example of how broadly "correct bonding" with same sex parents can be interpreted. The premise that homosexuality is caused by early-childhood experiences is a common theme that runs through the ex-gay movement and is used by both the secular and religious arms of the movement

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