The Ex-Gay Movement: History, Psychology and Politics-A Tolerant Perspective Jeramy Townsley

February 2001, MBLGTACC
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


1930- Stekel publishes, "Is homosexuality curable?" (Psychoanalytic Review)
1952- Poe publishes, "The Successful Treatment of a 40-year Old Passive Homosexual" (Psychoanalytic Review)
1958- J.A. Hadfield publishes, "The Cure of Homosexuality" (British Medical Journal)
1959- Albert Ellis "A homosexual treated with rational psychotherapy" (Journal of Clinical Psychology)
1960-Christianity Today prints a roundtable discussion on "American's Sex Crisis"
1962-Irving Bieber publishes, Homosexuality: a Psychoanalytic Study
1965- Mayerson publishes, Psychotherapy of Homosexuals: A Follow-up Study of Nineteen Cases
1966- Hadden publishes, "Treatment of Male Homosexuals in Groups" (International Journal of Group Psychotherapy)
1967- Harvey E. Kaye et al., publishes, "Homosexuality in Women" (Archives of General Psychiatry)
Late 1960's. Christianity Today begins printing articles and editorials concerned with the growing homosexual movement.
1973-Frank Worthen starts Love in Action in San Rafael, CA. Barbara Johnson of Los Angeles contacted him wanting a parent-support ministry. The American Psychiatric Association, under guidance by Dr. Robert Spitzer, removes homosexuality from the DSM as a mental illness.
1975--Charles Socarides publishes, Beyond Sexual Freedom.
1976-Worthen had organized a coalition of 12 ex-gay ministries and they held their first conference=Exodus, derived from the analogy of the release of the Hebrews from slavery in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. 60 people attended, Walter Martin (The Bible Answer Man; Kingdom of the Cults) was their guest speaker. They called themselves "Stray" (neither straight nor gay). The myth of Michael, Bussee and Gary Cooper: Bussee helped organize the 1976 conference. Cooper was a volunteer for that conference.
1977-2nd Exodus conference. Gays came, police came, photographers came, transgenders disrupted the conference. Love in Action was picketed for the next 5 years. Love in Action starts a one-year residential program in San Rafael, CA, the first of its kind in the country. Anita Bryant launches her "Save the Children" campaign in Orange County, Florida. Focus on the Family is created by James Dobson.
1978-3nd Exodus. The main speaker disrupted the course of the ministry by claiming that gays couldn't change-they could only become celibate. Tim Lahaye publishes, Unhappy Gays/What Everyone Should Know about Homosexuality.
1979-4th Exodus. Leaders only. They debated about change vs. celibacy. They decided Exodus would espouse that change is possible, but it is very hard and took many years. They primarily would be, a support for celibate gays. Alan Medinger forms Regeneration Ministries.
1980-Homosexuals Anonymous (HA) is founded by Colin Cook. Courage, the Roman Catholic ex-gay ministry, is founded by Father John Harvey
1983- Family Research Council (FRC) is formed by Gary Bauer
1985- Leanne Payne publishes, Healing Homosexuality.
1986-Elizabeth Moberly publishes, Psychogenesis: The Early Development of Gender Identity
1988-FRC merges with Focus on the Family
1989-Transformation Ex-Gay Christian Ministries (TCM) is founded by Anthony Falzarano. Andrew Comiskey publishes, Pursuing Sexual Wholeness.
1991 Joe Dallas publishes, Desires in Conflict. Joseph Nicolosi publishes, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach.
1992-Drs. Socarides, Kaufinan and Nicolosi create the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).
1994-Bob Davies publishes, Coming Out of Homosexuality. Jeffrey Satinover publishes, Homosexuality & the Politics of Truth.
1996-Maggie Heineman and others form Bridges Across the Divide. The FRC founds Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (P-FOX), led by Anthony Falzarano.
1997-Rob Goetze (New Directions Ministries), an ex-gay ministry leader, publishes a critical analysis of the studies indicating change of sexual orientation.
1998-"Truth in Love" ad campaigns in major newspapers
2000-Human Rights Campaign (HRC), during the San Diego Exodus conference, releases testimonies of ex-ex-gays, Finally Free
2001 Exodus has 105 ministries in US and Canada and others throughout the world.


1. Terminology A. Behavior
B. Identity
C. Attractions
D. Fantasy
2. Reparative Therapy-"Homo-Emotional love need" is an unconscious drive for bonding between a same-gender parent and child A. Moberly
  1. Early Trauma-disrupts the normal attachment - Le., physical separation, or an emotionally unavailable parent, or emotional or sexual abuse.
  2. Perceived Rejection - child perceives that the parent has rejected him or her
  3. Defensive Detachment- Lacking a positive relationship with his father, the boy "defensively detaches" from any potential friendships with other boys his own age.
  4. Dis-identification - child reacts against identifying with same-sex parent
  5. Same-Sex Ambivalence- child pushes parent away due to hurt, pulls parent back due to unmet needs
  6. Eroticisation - during puberty, the "emotional need for closeness and identification with others of our sex becomes a sexualized need, with members of our own sex being the object of both our sexual and emotional desires
  7. Reparative Drive - because the unmet needs continue to exist, there is a drive or "pull" inside the child to attach to parent in order to meet these needs
B. Nicolosi
  1. Incomplete gender identification-- Many homosexuals are attracted to other men and their maleness because they are striving to complete their own gender identification. Due to incomplete development of aspects of his masculine identity, the homosexual seeks to "repair" his deficits through erotic contact with an idealized other.
  2. Gender identity and sexual orientation-- The causal rule of reparative therapy is "Gender identity determines sexual orientation." We eroticize what we are not identified with. The focus of treatment therefore is the full development of the client's masculine gender identity.
  3. Therapy: Past and Present Issues a-Past
    1. mother-- probably failed to accurately reflect his authentic masculine identity; over-identification with grandmother; aunts or older sisters
    2. father-- under-involved and emotionally withholding. He has typically failed to recognize the boy both as an autonomous individual and a masculine child
    3. same gender peerslsiblings-- hurtful childhood relationships with male peers, and often a hurtful relationship with a domineering older brother


    1. Power-- the client has given up his sense of intrinsic power. Intrinsic power is one's view of self as separate and independent. Failure to fully claim one's gender identity always results in a loss of intrinsic power
    2. eroticisation-- his masculine deficit becomes projected onto idealized males--"The other man has something I lack-­therefore I need to be close to him sexually."
    3. transformation-- "I do not really want to have sex with a man. Rather, what I really desire is to heal my masculinity." This healing will occur when the legitimate love needs of male attention, affection and approval are satisfied.
3. Gender Identity Disorder-George Rekers A. Etiology a. Psychologically distant or physically absent father
b. Powerful mothers
B. Diagnosable as young as three years old by cross-gender interests

a. Clothes
b. Toys
c. Games
d. Playmate gender
e. Voice inflection
f. Cross-gender role playing
C. Treatment a. Same-gender parent/child interaction program-skill development
b. Appropriate gender role/mannerism modeling, instruction, feedback
4. Healing Prayer-Leanne Payne
  1. Payne believes that emotional wounding can occur in utero. Whether wounding occurs pre-birth, during childhood or adulthood, "healing prayer" will bring the event to mind. Personal and corporate prayer can then be directed to that event. Wounding creates a personal brokenness that makes us unable to achieve appropriate gender identity and prevents us from having appropriate relationships with other people. Counseling and prayer work together to, heal the homosexual's "Broken Image."
  2. Homosexuality is an "irrational, powerful, and immoral compulsion". Nobody is an homosexual, nor is it part of a person's identity. It is merely a series of compulsions brought about by woundedness.
  3. Emotional Cannibalism-- A physically weak cannibal only eats the flesh of a physically strong person in order to get hold of that person's strength. The situation for the homosexual man is similar: homosexual men lack masculinity and that is why they want to have sex with other men. They want to "consume the flesh" of other males in order to get hold of their masculine traits in order to obtain the masculinity he lacks for himself. But how can a homosexual man - a man who lacks masculinity, be happy with and receive any masculinity from a man who himself is homosexual and therefore lacks masculinity?
  4. Payne recommends prayers that are full of imagery and metaphors. The prayers are to focus on the memories. For, it is less the homosexual her/himself that has to be healed, than the memories of the homosexual that must be healed. It is the memories that are broken. The sickness lies in the memories.
  5. In the situation of healing and prayer is that Jesus Christ, who is eternal and unchained by time, goes back in time with the homosexual to the very moment, when something went wrong.
  6. A girl does not get confused and does not mix up emotional needs with sexual needs as a boy does. A girl reacts with hatred. At the beginning she hates the single perpetrator (for example the father). But after a while this hatred gets generalized and is directed against every man. This hatred makes it impossible for her to be attracted to men, and as a result she becomes a lesbian.
5. Homosexuals Anonymous-Based on Alcoholics Anonymous, but use 14-steps

6. Consistent testimony by a sub-group of ex-gays--The belief that they were "trapped in the lifestyle." Personal or vicarious

A. Promiscuity
B. Self-loathing
C. Self-destructive behaviors-suicidality, drug abuse
D. Felt far from God or feeling like they weren't right with God
E. Prostitution, cross-dressing, etc
7. What ex-gays believe and don't believe
  1. Change of orientation-most ex-gays do not believe sexual orientation is easy to change. Some organizations, such as Courage, do not even attempt to change sexual orientation, they simply act as a support group to promote celibacy. Many ex-gays believe that change is possible, but that it is very difficult and represents a complete change. Other ex­gays, typically "newbies" believe media myths about change and hope for miraculous cures or other quick fixes. Most ex-gays expect support for their choice to live celibate lives or a reduction in their same-gender attractions, not necessarily an increase in opposite-gender attractions or heterosexual marriage, though that is sometimes the goal.
  2. Ex-gays do not necessarily believe that gay people cannot be Christians. Most believe that homosexual behavior is sin and that gay marriage is not God's intent for marriage. There is internal debate within the ex-gay movement on whether or not gays who "act out" can be saved. Regardless of salvation, they persist in believing that the gay who acts out does so outside of the Will of God and is not acting in his/her best interests, both socially and emotionally.
8. Why ex-gays choose their path A. External Reasons a. Cultural homophobia/heterosexism b. Family/peer pressure-includes religious pressure, employment discrimination, etc.  

B. Internal Reasons

a. Internalized homophobia/heterosexism b. Personal aspirations-desire for children, to be socially appropriate, etc c. Religious faith-the ex-gay typically places his/her faith as a priority in his/her life. The choice is to sacrifice one's relationship with one's God or to express ,one's sexuality. If one does not see one's sexuality as core to who one is as a person, then theperson may choose the ex-gay path, choosing instead to pursue a life of celibacy, sacrificing their sexuality for their faith, just as many people in the past have been willing to sacrifice their lives, their property, their career aspirations, etc, for their faith.

Politics and Policies

1. Internal Structure of the ex-gay movement
  1. Secular therapy-NARTH, HA
  2. Ex-gay ministries-Exodus, Desert Streams, Living Waters, TCM, Coral Ridge, etc
  3. Advocacy Groups-FRC, P-FOX, American Family Association, Focus on the Family
  4. Pastoral support-non organized/affiliated counseling by individual pastors, lay leaders, etc.
2. Ministry vs. Political Activism
  1. Most ministries make it clear in their mission statements that they do not engage in politics or lobbying 1. The Exodus Mission Statement: "Exodus is a nonprofit, interdenominational Christian organization promoting the message of `Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ."'
  2. Prior to 1998 there was a fairly clear distinction between ministry groups and activist groups.
    1. The Christian Coalition and others sponsored the full-page ads in July of 1998 to highlight the ex-gay movement: The ads were labeled as "Truth in Love." Shortly after, Focus on the Family started their "Love in Action" campaign, a nationwide "tour" in which the FotF gender-staffers (and others) spoke about homosexuality and provided ministry to ex-gays and those "struggling with homosexuality".
    2. This agreement between ministry and advocates was believed to be beneficial to both. The ministries would gain a way to publicize their message to people who otherwise might not know they existed, since they tended to be a very low-profile organization. The advocate groups benefited by establishing the existence of a "loving" option to their traditionally perceived face as "hateful" and "bigoted" towards homosexuals. Not only were they befriending ex-gays who were themselves, technically, gays and lesbians, but they were offering a practical solution to the political problem of growing cultural acceptance of homosexuality, since the message was a loving option of "freedom from" this sinful and destructive lifestyle.
  3. There was an immediate and severe backlash against the ex-gay movement by the gay community. The newly perceived image of the ex-gay community was that they had allied themselves with the political anti-gay movement that has always posed a severe threat to our community.

Responding to Ex-Gays

1. Are Ex-Gays a Threat?
  1. Many people in the gay community see the ex-gay movement as a threat. In answering this question, it is imperative to separate the ex-gay ministries proper from the Political Religious Right (PRR). The ministries themselves might share in the political beliefs of the PM but they tend not to lobby nor do they tend to be politically active as groups.
  2. Beyond this, however, there remains the question of whether the ex-gay movement is a threat to the GLBT community. There is ample testimony from ex-ex-gays that show the damaging effects of ex-gay therapy (see the HRC's booklet, Finally Free). Similarly, all of the Professional Mental Health organizations have affirmed the position that homosexuality is not a pathology and that ex-gay therapy has the ,potential to damage those who.pursue that path.
  3. If we assume that ex-gays themselves are not a political threat, but are a potential psychological threat, we need to focus our dialogue with ex-gays on that issue and not accuse them of political attacks.
  4. Our goal, then, is to find a compromise between protecting our own community and protecting the freedom of expression of religion. Regardless of how we might judge the ex-gay for wanting to pursue that path, it remains his prerogative to do so and to prevent him/her from doing so diminishes all of our rights. We as members of the gay community have been fighting for our right to live our sexual lives as we choose and to prevent the ex-gay from following his/her conscience becomes an act of hypocrisy on our part.
  5. Valuing diversity means valuing ex-gays as well, regardless of how we feel about them.
2. Finding Ways to Dialogue Constructively
  1. Primarily, we must recognize the diversity among ex-gays. There are ex-gays who believe gays can also be Christians, who support partnership agreements, adoption of children, etc.
  2. We must also recognize that ex-gays and gays represent two, sides of the same community. We have similar childhood experiences as being "sexually different," including social problems, internal conflicts and confusion, rejection from family, friends, employers and churches, etc. Even by choosing the ex-gay path, many people are unable to understand the term ex-gay and continue to perceive the ex-gay as gay, especially if the ex-gay exhibits the more stereotypical "homosexual" traits.
  3. Seeking balanced information is crucial. Both the gay community and the PRR are notorious for spreading propaganda about the opposition. Myths exist on both side that are damaging.
  4. Both groups have some similar interests, such as promoting self-esteem in sexually-different children, preventing gay bashing, etc. In American culture, many bashers, employers who discriminate, etc, don't care whether or not a person is actually gay, but only if they appear gay. The methods for achieving the goals of youth and adult safety are currently quite different. However, considering the magnitude and immediacy of the problem of youth suicide, gay bashing and discrimination, collaboration seems to be a crucial development in the evolution of our two sub-groups, both of whom have a vested interest in decreasing these problems.
  5. The use of appropriate language is a crucial part of constructive dialogue. In any situation when dialoguing across emotionally charged issues, neutrality of language is important. Using "I" statements ("I feel like..."), refraining from generalizing ("All of you Christians do this ....") and treating each other with respect, regardless of differing opinions, are crucial parts of marinating communication and resolving problems.
3. Bridges Across the Divide- Mission Statement--Bridges-Across the Divide provides models and resources for building respectful relationships among those who disagree about moral issues surrounding homosexuality, bisexuality and gender variance. A. Terminology:
  1. SGA, SGB, SGF, SGI sga: Same Gender (sexual) Attraction sgb: Same Gender (sexual) Behavior sgf Same Gender (sexual) Fantasy sgi: Same Gender (gay) Identity
  2. OGA, OGB, OGF, OGI oga: Opposite Gender (sexual) attraction ogb: Opposite Gender (sexual) behavior ogf Opposite Gender (sexual) fantasy ogi: Opposite Gender (heterosexual) identity
  3. Never put "ex-gay" in quotes-it presumes that ex-gay is an hypothetical category and not a reality for those who choose that label
  4. Never use the word "the lifestyle" because it has the connotation of of myths propagated by the PRR-promiscuity, child sexual abuse, etc

B. Values

  1. We are unanimous in the view that every individual human being is of immeasurable worth.
  2. We agree that is wrong to mistreat anyone or to promote mistreatment of anyone. We find common moral ground on the question of whether or not it is right for any person to be harassed, intimidated, insulted, beaten, ridiculed, humiliated or murdered.
  3. We recognize that for dialogue to be fruitful, those who engage in it must be prepared to listen carefully and with respect, as well as to be listened to. We value the process of dialogue, of conversation.
  4. While we have "agreed to disagree" on some matters, and therefore do not expect to change each others' minds, we are united in the desire to change many people's attitudes. We deplore the demonization of one group of people by another, and especially public and political attacks. We find sweeping generalized statements, whether about "the homosexual agenda" on the one hand, or about the "Religious Right" on the other, to be decidedly unhelpful.