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Wow, I feel like I woke up into an alternate reality–a mind bending Inception-like film.  Nothing new for me. I am an ex-gay survivor. I spent 17 years in what is known as the Ex-Gay Movement. As a gay teen I falsely believed I would be more valuable to God, the Church, my family, and my country if I were heterosexual–or at least “less gay.”

So I signed up for string of Exodus programs starting in New York City where I attended support groups nearly every Saturday night for three years. (Exodus International is the group who had an Iphone App that Apple removed after a successful petition pointed out that the app was objectionable and violated Apple’s policies.)

Rejected Exodus Iphone AppAt the NYC ex-gay program they tried to cast out gay demons and insisted, “If any man be in Christ Jesus he is a NEW creation! The old is gone. Behold, all things are made new.” Ultimately I spent over $30,000 on three continents pursuing an elusive cure. The treatments differed from program to program, but the message remained the same. In so many words they taught—“Gays (lesbians and the rest) are immoral. You are broken and need to be fixed. You are sick and need to be healed. We will help you.”

What a surprise when yesterday I read the following statement from one of Exodus’ spokespeople:

“In no way shape or form is our message about trying to cure or do we try to promote that type of methodology or message,” Jeff Buchanan, Exodus International’s Senior Director of Church Equipping & Student Ministries, told The Christian Post.

So I turned to a sexpert, Dr. Jallen Rix, co-facilitator of Beyond Ex-Gay and author of the book Ex-Gay No Way: Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse. Jallen, was I caught in the Matrix all those years? Is Jeff Buchanan saying that thousands of ex-gay survivors were dupped into believing something Exodus didn’t actually offer?

Jallen shared with me the words of Sean, a fellow survivor interviewed for Jallen’s book,

Living in an isolated area of the country, I relied heavily on the integrity of my group’s literature to help me decide whether or not to join their ministry. I read their promises of “freedom” and “change” with great hope and decided to move to California to join them. Once there I endured months of painful struggle to deny my sexual orientation with no favorable results, and even more disappointing was the fact that no one, no matter how long they had been there, could look me in the eye and say they had really changed. Only then did I realize that the Ex-gay promises were false. Their literature creates an illusion of freedom that does not exist, and they know it.

Jallen adds,

“Cured,” “healed,” “changed,” “heterosexually challenged,” — There’s no end to the lingo ex-gay leadership coins to infer that homosexuals are damaged goods. They’ll find another term as long as heterosexuality remains supreme. All the while, the leadership ignores the harm it causes in their attempts to enforce their views.

Now perhaps Exodus has a communication problem. I know that some of the folks in the organization struggle over words. For instance, they don’t always know what to call themselves—ex-gay, former homosexuals, post-gay, straightish?

Alan Chambers, the head of Exodus since 2001 particularly struggles to get his point across. In the following clip he wrestles with Montel Williams over the words freedom and liberate. He also insists he doesn’t urge youth into ex-gay treatment (yet his number one goal this year is to reach out to middle school and high school programs)

 

 

Only after 15 years of attending a variety of Exodus-member programs, I finally heard one of their leaders admit that actual change in orientation was not a realistic goal. During my first week at the Love in Action ex-gay residential program in Memphis, TN (what would become a two year stint) the director informed us that we would never be heterosexual. Wait! What about the big fat slogan on their website and brochures–Freedom from Homosexuality through Jesus Christ? Turns out it’s just PR. They have a public message and then a private reality.

Still the staff at Love in Action (LIA) insisted that I was malformed, misshappen, sinful, addicted, unwell and desperately needed to be healed; they had the cure. If I endured their therapeutic  program, walked through their steps, spilled my guts, allowed myself to be humiliated, than just like the heterosexually-married former ex-gays who led the program, I too could experience “change.”

And I did. Sadly not the change they promised. In fact, I wished I had been warned that as a result of demonizing my desires and going to war against my sexuality and personality with the weapons that they supplied, I would change into a confused, depressed, self-hating, and suicidal mess. The “cure” was awful. During my time in LIA one client attempted suicide and another, during a psychotic break, was stuffed into a strait jacket and carried out by the police.

If you read Exodus’ literature, attend their conferences, follow their links to organizations they endorse, and buy the books they sell, you will hear over and over again that “there is hope for the homosexual. Change is possible” and similar messages worded in clever, misleading ways. And when they say Change, they don’t mean two 10’s for a 20. They target gays and lesbians weighed down with the burden of a family that rejects or may reject them, a church that says “come as you are—except queer,” and a legal system that consistently values heterosexuals over anyone else. Ripe for the picking Exodus offers hope, a way out—a cure.

I have no idea which Exodus International Jeff Buchanan works for. Perhaps he should review the About Us section of the Exodus site.

Christ offers a healing alternative to those with homosexual tendencies. Exodus upholds redemption for the homosexual person as the process whereby sin’s power is broken, and the individual is freed to know and experience their true identity, as discovered in Christ and His Church. That process includes the freedom to grow into heterosexuality.

Being an ex-gay survivor myself and personally speaking with over 1,500 fellow survivors, I can say that Buchanan is correct on one point—Exodus has no cure to offer. Instead they issue a curse for those who submit or are forced to submit to their teachings. They offer harm—psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage. They tamper with their clients’ relationships, careers, personal development, and finances. They make a mess of our lives in Jesus’ name.

So what exactly does Exodus do? They now publicly admit that no one changes from gay to straight. They claim they don’t offer a cure. They say they don’t therapize. What services do they provide? Basically they will undermine your sense of self as they reinforce the notion that you are not good enough as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer person. They will demonize your desires, and will not even be satisfied if you choose to be celibate yet insist on honestly calling yourself lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. To add insult to injury they have fought to deny happy homosexuals and transgender people legal rights and protections. They malign LGBTQ people, our relationships, our desires, our dreams, and then they export this message to Uganda, South Africa, Croatia, Singapore, Costa Rica and beyond.Peterson with his partner, Glen Retief

It took me nearly 20 years to understand that Exodus’ vague promise, “Change is Possible” was false and to discover and embrace that Authenticy and Integrity are possible and well worth pursuing.

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Scene from Transfigurations

In September I met Drew, a fellow ex-gay survivor attending the progressive seminary where I performed my  transgender Bible play. Like me, Drew once enrolled himself into the notorious ex-gay residential program Love in Action (LIA.) What I call the Homo No Mo Halfway House–gay rehab where gays try to get straightened out in Jesus’ name.

Drew attended the program for a time in the late 1980’s when it was housed outside of San Francisco while I spent two years in the program a decade later under a harsher regime in LIA’s new home in Memphis, TN.

As we spoke about our experiences, Drew insisted that his time was far less severe than what I went through. Compared to the rules and madness of the Memphis-based LIA, his was a holiday camp of sorts. At one point in the conversation Drew almost seem to defend the LIA program and staff even though he had since come out gay. I have seen some ex-gay survivors side with ex-gay programs at times when they feel that the media, activists, and other ex-ex-gays paint a dishonest portrait of the programs.

I understand that no two ex-gay programs are alike. One may advocate “casting out homosexual demons” while another would NEVER condone an exorcism and instead uses a bastardized  version of the 12-Steps in hopes of curbing the gayness in clients. The methods may differ, but the primary beliefs are the same–they insist and infer that it is wrong to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and you must annihilate your sexual orientation, queer identity, and gender differences.

The Homo No Mo Halfway House

Something else these programs have in come is the potential harm they bring to their clients.  Facing that we were harmed and still may suffer from the damage is difficult and painful. It is an acknowledgment of abuse for some of us.

Drew purchased a copy of my DVD Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House, a one-person 90 minute comic exposé of my time in LIA including scenes I reenact of my mom and dad at the now infamous Family and Friends Weekends. (You can see a trailer here)

Yesterday Drew posted a review of my play over on a Facebook note which immediately caught the eye of a famous ex-gay who was once a poster child of the movement until he was caught hanging out at a Washington, DC gay bar. First here is some of Drew’s review:

I watched Peterson Toscano’s Doin’ Time at the Homo Nomo Halfway House tonight. It was difficult to watch, challenging and delightful and heart-rending all at the same time. And although it wasn’t “totally” reflective of “my own” personal experience of Love in Action (mine seemed to be a much “kinder” and “gentler” version when it was in San Rafael, CA under the auspices of Frank Worthen and supported by a small church called the Open Door in comparison and before the ministry was absorbed into a mega-church with lots of fundamentalist money), it really opened my eyes to what the ex-gay movement turned into after I was outcast in the late 80’s/early 90’s, put God on the shelf and swore like Norma Desmond that “if I was going to be a homosexual, then by God, I was going to be a HEALTHY homosexual” (although at the times in my heart I still wondered if that wasn’t a contradiction in terms).

Looking back, and due to Peterson’s marvelously crafted work, I can now see just what kind of bad fruit the seeds of an idea that we witnessed planted in our time (Love in Action 1988) manifested into a ravenous beast sucking the life and joy out of, and even causing the deaths of many of, my brothers and sisters.

-snip-

As Peterson states at the end of the DVD, our stories need to be told and we need spaces, opportunities and platforms to tell them.My prayer tonight is that God would liberate all those who toil under the weight of an oppressive theology that denies them the happiness of an abundant and fulfilling life. Bring them freedom in all aspects of their humanity and in every act and expression of their divinity. May we find ourselves becoming more and more ourselves and more fully responsive to the God within as S/He is manifest. And may we resoundingly give voice to the call of that Spirit to once again return to the garden; naked and unashamed…After all…We are the only expressions of God upon this earth.

Thank you Peterson for having the courage to tell your story.

I am so glad I decided to use art and comedy to tell my story. Good art can move people in so many different ways.

Within the hour a well-known ex-gay chimed in. He has long since lost his position as a national spokesperson, but he comments from time to time about the issue. I was shocked by his comment:

WOW….I had no idea you felt that way, Drew. It’s ironic how you and I went through the exact same program, the same year, led by the same people and our impressions and outcomes ended up so differently. I am happy, content with my life and choices, marriage of almost 20 years, three sons, and a life that is fulfilling and at peace.

I reeled at the hubris and insensitivity of his statement. In response I wrote:

WOW, you sound like the skeptical sibling when a brother or sister admits that a parent had been abusing them throughout childhood. “But I grew up in the exact same home as you?! Look, I turned out okay, and you really need to not be …so hard on dad.” I am sure you are aware that the vast majority of people who attended LIA ultimately came out gay. Many of these had to work hard to recover from the damage done. I will not invalidate your happiness. If you are genuinely happy lving a straight life, great for you. But for the majority of us, such a life was not possible or healthy. The theories and teachings of Exodus programs caused many of us psychological, emotional, and spiritual harm (as well as tampered with our relationships, development, and finances.) My story should not invalidate yours. Neither should you experience invalidate the experiences of the majority of people who claim ex-gay treatment caused more harm than good.

To help deepen the conversation, Anthony Venn-Brown, the excellent LGBTQ rights activist and ex-gay survivor from Australia suggested the famous ex-gay take a look at Anthony’s article about Situational Heterosexuality, which includes a section about homosexuals in heterosexual marriages.

There is lots of news going on right now about the Ex-Gay Movement including a petition for Apple to dump an Exodus International iphone app. Lots of people get confused about the Ex-Gay Movement, and ex-gay leaders do not help. They massage their message for the public so they almost sound like they are doing gays a favor. But they are not. They insist that heterosexuals and heterosexuality are superior to anything else. I argue that they are straight supremacists. And sadly their efforts to “help struggling homosexuals” has mostly hurt us.

Need to laugh? Need to cry? Need to better understand the ex-gay world? Check out Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House for yourself.

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Crazy week. Over at the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) Lisa Ling provided a view into the world of Exodus International, the world’s largest organization that attempts to…well…not exactly cure homosexuality…basically, they demonize gays and a gay orientation. From having been involved with Exodus programs for almost 20 years, I can say that their goal is to annihilate gayness in themselves, their “clients” and the world around them.

Through what looked more like a PSA for ex-gay programs than actual reporting, Ling asked if it were possible to Pray Away the Gay. Sadly Ling failed to put on her journalistic glasses, and asked all the wrong questions. With faulty vision this episode of Our America with Lisa Ling misinformed the public and overlooked reality. I blogged about it earlier here.

I guess crazy brings out crazy, because Zack Ford and I interviewed “Anthony,” who recently left the heterosexual lifestyle, joined the Metropolitan Community Church, and is now a former heterosexual. Take a listen to Queer and Queerer Ep. 43 Lisa Ling, Our America has Ex-Straights.

Perhaps Apple is trying to bring balance into the world after so much gay cruising through the popular Grndr app (which recently went Android and will soon be available for straight cruising.) That or they just did not do their homework.  Apple currently offers the Exodus International ex-gay/anti-gay iphone app.

Maybe like Lisa Ling, Apple was duped into believing that Exodus simply offers an alternative to wild gay living. Sadly that is the only kind of gays Exodus seems to know about and goes out of their way to paint non-heterosexuals as depraved, sick people. We have had enough of that message. Not only is it incorrect, it is harmful. If Exodus wants to spew that stuff, they have their venues to do so; Apple does not need to give them a larger platform.

A petition that currently has over 19,000 names on it was created by Truth Wins Out. Please take a look and consider signing it. In the following video Wayne Besen explains why the app must go.

To learn more about the plight of the vast majority of people who once signed up for Exodus programs, take a look at Beyond Ex-Gay.

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