Gay News Network 23 July 2012

Author // Anthony Venn-Brown Categories // National | Feature

Slowly but surely, the ex-gay movement is losing its might, as evident by increasing admissions that therapies to change one’s sexual orientation does not work, writes Anthony Venn-Brown.

Exodus International, the make-a-wish foundation for self-loathing homosexuals, is in crisis.

It began with Exodus director Alan Chambers’ honest admission to a gay Christian conference in January that 99.9 percent of people he’s met had never changed their sexual orientation. Eleven ministries defected and some evangelical leaders called for Chambers’ resignation.

In April, Dr Robert Spitzer renounced his often ex-gay quoted study that sexual orientation change is possible and apologised to the gay community.

Last month Exodus issued a statement that it no longer supports reparative therapy. And at the Exodus conference earlier this month, Chambers, in very contrite and sober tones, burst the bubble for many attendees admitting that Exodus had got it wrong on a number of levels.

A little known fact is that several years before Exodus came into existence in 1976, in the late 60s, Australia had an ex-gay ministry operating both in Sydney and Brisbane.

Australia ‘ex-gay’ ministries have been in decline for some time. Research by Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International discovered that in the last decade, over 60 percent of ministries and support groups offering help for those with ‘unwanted same-sex attraction’ have shut down in Australia and New Zealand. At this rate they should completely disappear by 2020.

There has also been a progressive white-anting of the Exodus ‘change is possible’ message.

Initially the Exodus message was simply God can do a miracle if you pray hard enough or have the demon of homosexuality cast out of you – the ‘magic wand’ approach. When it was obvious this wasn’t working, ministries moved into a more therapeutic model, believing homosexuality was caused by poor parenting or sexual abuse. The term ‘reparative therapy’ was created and heterosexuality was still the goal.

The most recent phase has the admission that those with ‘unwanted same-sex attraction’ will experience a life-long struggle. Or as one Australian ex-gay leader amusingly put it to a seeker of straightness: “You will always walk with a limp”. Not much hope in that message is there? Especially to those wanting so desperately to be ‘normal’ and accepted.

Australia’s ex-gay movement had a brief love affair with Exodus from 1978 to the late 80s and it looked like they had joined the growing band of ministries ‘raised up by God’ to set homosexuals free. But all was not well. When the US-based Exodus became increasingly political in the 90s, Australian ex-gay leaders began to distance themselves. They stepped down from international positions and rarely attended conferences. They were still happy to be on the referral list though.

We’ve been de-constructing the ex-gay myth in Australia for some time now.

In 2007, I approached five former Australian ex-gay leaders for apologies and statements. John Meteyard, former Exodus Asia Pacific & Living Waters Leader who had been on the International Advisory Board of Exodus said: “In the past I have been ardent in my opinion that homosexual orientation was unquestioningly a result of the ‘fall’ and God’s intention was therefore always to heal the same-sex attracted believer and help them to be ‘whole’. In the past I have frequently spoken publicly in support of these views. However, my position is now somewhat different. I now believe that it is crucially important that we all learn to respect the rights and choices of gay and lesbian believers as they work through the complexities of their unique situation with God in their own way and in their own time”.

Several journalists have gone undercover to get inside stories with varying degrees of success. This has made ex-gay leaders a little gun shy and find themselves now having to grill enquirers deeper just to make sure they are not another wolf in sheep clothing. One journalist had his cover blown twice.

Then there was the insightful documentary The Cure. The film, which screened at this year’s Mardi Gras Film Festival, gave us a view into the life of an ex-gay leader, Ron Brookman. When asked if he still had homosexual thoughts during an interview, the now-married leader of the Living Waters program seemed to get unnecessarily side-tracked as he talked about a young man’s thigh he saw recently. Needless to say, he failed to share this when he fronted a Senate Inquiry to speak against marriage equality.

The Age in Melbourne did a front page story and The Sun Herald a double page spread the same weekend on ex-gay ministries. It wasn’t pretty. Previously reluctant to talk to the media, ex-gay ministry newsletters the following week revealed they had further closed ranks and were licking their wounds.

Where does this leave the dwindling number of ex-gay ministries in Australia? Hanging on for dear life like the proverbial shag on the rock while the rest of society, gay Christians and a growing number of churches and denominations move on to more enlightened understandings of sexual orientation.

Don’t think that it’s the end just yet though. Institutions always rise when they feel threatened, but it is a sign the end is nigh.