’Ex-Gay’ Organizations Have Spread Worldwide

by Conswella Bennett

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday February 1, 2011

The existence of ex-gay or "reparative therapy" ministries have been around since the 1970's. Such groups have long been a source of eye rolling in the gay community and are the subject of derision. But the effects of their efforts are very real -- not only in the ruined lives and suicides among gay men and lesbians who have found that it's no more possible to "cure" being gay than being short or being born in the United States.

No, these groups have not been content to spread their implied message that homosexuality is something worthy of a "cure." They are actively propagating their message and operations abroad operate, where they are busy spreading their propaganda and claims to cure people of their same sex attractions through religion.

Last week, the world was horrified by the brutal murder of one of the Uganda's best-known LGBT activists, David Kato The murder occurred about two years after an Anti Gay Conference was held in an African nation where being gay is considered a disease, and the only options are being "cured" or incarcerated or murdered. Kato's death brings home the ugly truths of the international tentacles of the ex-gay movement and its uglier aftermath.

The Family Life Network, a local Ugandan Non Governmental Organization that also included the participation of American evangelicals, organized that Anti Gay Conference. After the conference, an Anti Homosexuality Bill was introduced.

According to the Network for Church Monitoring website, "The Americas who participated were Scott Lively, founder of Abiding Truth Ministries and editor of The Pink Swastika, a work that blames homosexuals for the Holocaust and attempts to link the gay-rights movement to the Nazis; Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus International and representing the International Healing Ministries who advocates "curing" homosexuals; and Caleb Lee Brundidge, an African-American who describes himself as a former gay man and leads "healing seminars" that "rehabilitate" homosexuals and lesbians."

Brundidge and Lively advocated keeping homosexuality illegal but proposed giving those convicted the choice of prison or undergoing approved "therapy" to cure them of their gayness. Schmierer took a similar line, telling those in attendance that homosexuals could be converted into heterosexuals," according to the Network for Church Monitoring website.

Kato, who died on Wednesday, Jan. 26, after being beaten in the face and head with a hammer, had served as the advocacy officer with Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). SMUG is a network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people's organizations based in Uganda, according to the organization's website.

According to a message on a Ugandan support group website, Ice Breakers, SMUG came out two years ago urging that the repressive Anti Homosexuality Bill (also known as the "Kill the Gays" bill) be opposed. Acceding to pressure from Western diplomats, the bill "was tabled in Parliament of Uganda on Oct. 14.

In a brief email correspondence with EDGE, a day before Kato's murder, Pepe Julian Onziema, a fellow activist and friend of Kato spoke of the bill. "Most people think the Anti Homosexuality bill is a non-issue or that it has gone away forever," wrote Onziema. The email interview was unable to be finished because of Kato's death. The group's website has been down in the days following the murder.

Reparative Therapy? No, Irreparable Harm

Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, noted that the most disturbing feature of a bill like the Uganda Anti Homosexuality Bill is that, "it makes it a legal requirement to expose any person who is lesbian or gay to the authorities. It shuts down any explorative questioning or their own attempts to address their homosexuality."

The "reparative therapy" groups' claims have been met with much resistance from gay advocacy groups and mental health organizations. In fact, the whole notion that homosexuality can be cured through therapy has been debunked. That only adds to harm such therapies have on the mental health of young LGBT people, including depression and suicide.

Organizations that claim to cure homosexuality can cause harm to young LGBT youth, Johnson advised. "It silences them, and it makes them afraid," Johnson said of the programs that do not allow the young people to go through a natural process of self-discovery.

According to Johnson, there was a case in Nigeria and elsewhere involving Exodus International where people who thought they were gay or expressed confusion about their sexuality have been beaten, tied up or drowned. (Johnson added that such cases are not exclusive to other nations; they happen in the U.S. as well.)

Exodus International is the world's largest and best-known ministry to individuals and families impacted by homosexuality. Since 1976, Exodus has grown to include over 240 local ministries in the USA and Canada," according to the group's website. "We are also linked with other Exodus world regions outside of North America through their Exodus Global Alliance."

Anyone associated with Exodus International, which is based in Orlando, Fla., refused to talk to EDGE for this story.

Truth Wins Out is a non-profit organization formed by Wayne Besen, who was one of the first and most prominent journalists to counter the claims that homosexuality could be cured. Besen's describes Exodus International as a worldwide umbrella group for ex-gay organizations with more than 100 affiliated ministries or counselors.

The Orlando-based organization has a $1 million dollar annual budget and 15 staff members, according to Besen. Executive Director Alan Chambers' tenure is marked by increasing the group's political lobbying efforts.

Johnson agrees with Besen that there is no truth to the ex gay ministry's claims to cure homosexuality. "There are any number of ministries in the United States and branches in other parts of the world that portray homosexuality as a mental illness," Johnson said. "They have camps and centers for brainwashing," he added of these organizations tactics. "There is no cure for homosexuality because it's not a mental illness."

Peterson Toscano, a theatrical performance activist who uses comedy and storytelling to address social justice issues, he knows first hand the failures of ex gay or reparative therapy. On his website, Toscano spoke of undergoing years of reparative therapy through counseling and ex-gay support groups in the US, England and Ecuador. And after undergoing several programs, he came out as gay in January of 1999.

According to his website, "He has worked to undo the damage of gay reparative therapy in his own life, and he also has raised public awareness about the harm that comes from seeking to suppress and change one's sexuality and gender differences... He spent 17 years and over $30,000 on three continents attempting to change and suppress his same-sex orientation and gender differences."

Recently, the Catholic diocese has also jumped on the bandwagon with their claims of helping people to cope with same-sex attractions.

The Catholic diocese has begun a 12-step program. According to a press release, The Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, at the initiative of Bishop Michael Sheridan, is taking steps to begin ministering more effectively to this underserved community:

The Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs is borrowing a page from Alcoholics Anonymous by launching a 12-step program that offers pastoral care and support for homosexuals.

"It's not about therapy and not about activism," said the Rev. Larry Brennan, diocese director of priest formation said in a press release. "It's about support." The Catholic Church views homosexual relations as a sin, but not homosexual thoughts. It expects those with same-sex attraction to be celibate. The Courage Program has 110 chapters worldwide, including one in Denver, according to its website.

Psychiatry's View: Two Thumbs Down

But just how valid are these ministries claims to cure same-sex attractions? Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York, said unfortunately, personal testimony (the usual method of ex-gay claims of success) does not constitute scientific validity (for which no scientific claim can in fact be made).

The American Psychological Association's came out with a report on the lack of science underneath such claims. According to the report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, "Researchers and practitioners provide such treatments to those who are distressed by their sexual orientation but not aim to alter their sexual orientation."

"For such individuals, the focus would be the frameworks that include acceptance and support, assessment, active coping, social support and identity exploration, development and integration without prioritizing one outcome over another," the Task Force's report added.

Although many of theses religious ex-gay ministries have been condemned and are viewed as dangerous and harmful, some of these organizations have been given various perks. Such is the case of the government of Canada giving Exodus Global Alliance, a tax-free pass as a charity in their country.

The website, change.org states, "the Exodus Global Alliance has been registered as a charity with Revenue Canada since 1999, under the official mission of: "Educating and training in dealing with abuse and family issues. Developing ministries to help families and individuals in pain. Teaching church groups, schools and youth. Helping and teaching at conferences."

Sounds like a noble mission, but the Exodus Global Alliance conveniently left off the biggest part of their mission: "curing" homosexuality. According to change.org, in Canada, groups that are registered as charities must prove that they provide a service that benefits the public. Earlier this year, the government of New Zealand actually refused to grant the charity status of the Exodus Ministries Trust Board, under the guise that "curing" homosexuality was hardly in the public's interest. Exodus Ministries "was not performing any public benefit because homosexuality was not a mental disorder and did not need curing," the New Zealand's tax authority ruled.

Just a few months ago, Metro Weekly reported that Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) had been listed as an eligible organization in the World Bank's 2010-2011 Community Connections Campaign, which would give the ''ex-gay'' group matching funds provided by the bank for any employee donations given to PFOX through the drive.

For the first time, the World Bank's 2010-2011 Community Connections Campaign included PFOX immediately above Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) on its list of eligible organizations, a fact confirmed by a World Bank spokesperson.

After Metro Weekly's Nov. 10 report, Truth Wins Out and Change.org started a petition campaign, concluding the petition by having signatories tell the bank, ''I urge The World Bank to cease funding or matching gifts for hateful groups like Parents and Friends of Ex-gays.'' A spokesman initially defended the decision.

But the World Bank eventually relented. On Nov. 15, a memo told employees of a change in the policy that will keep PFOX and 25 similar organizations from getting any more matching funds during this year's campaign, according to Metro Weekly.

A list of some of the leading ex-gay ministries some of which also operate internationally

• Courage is a Roman Catholic group with about 15 centers in North America. They share with Protestant ex-gay/transformational ministries the belief that homosexuality is pathological, and not a natural, normal sexual orientation. However, unlike many of the other ministries, Courage does not claim that gays and lesbians' sexual orientation can be changed. They recognize that adult sexual orientation is fixed. They teach that the only valid path for homosexuals is to seek celibacy.

• Evergreen International Inc. is a Mormon treatment center, founded in 1989. It has 13 branches in the US, Australia and Canada. They believe "that individuals can overcome homosexual behavior and can diminish same-sex attraction, and is committed to assisting individuals who wish to do so." They claim a 30 percent success rate.

• Exodus International North America was created in 1976 by a merger of many "ex-gay" ministries. It includes churches, agencies and individuals as members. Exodus currently has about 75 ministries in the U.S., and has a presence in Asia and Europe. 4,5 Their pamphlet "Exodus: A Way Out," offers "Freedom from homosexuality, not through a method but a person, the Lord Jesus Christ!" Many ministries (e.g. Breaking Free, Cross Over, Regeneration, Straight Ahead Ministries, Straight Path Ministries) are affiliated with Exodus." To form a bona fide chapter, a ministry must be active for two years, and its directors -- if they were gay -- must have abstained from their 'former lifestyle' for two years." They claim a success rate in excess of 70 percent.

• Homosexuals Anonymous (HA) has chapters: 38 in the U.S., one in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia Canada, and one in Canberra, Australia. It was formerly known as Quest. They have created a 14-step program that is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-step recovery program: five steps are taken from AA; the other nine came from "Colin," one of HA's co-founders. Group support meetings are held weekly. Their FAQ section states "that there is no such thing as a homosexual, only men and women, created by God heterosexually, who because of the broken world we live in, are confused over their sexual identity."

Love in Action: This is a residential program located in Memphis, Tenn. About 10 men aged typically 21 to 50, live together in a large farmhouse, attempting to become ex-gays. Most clients spend 13 to 18 months in the program.

• New Direction for Life Ministries of Canada: This evolved from a Bible study group for gays and lesbians in Toronto. Formed in 1985 as New Beginnings Ministries, its name was changed to the present one in 1990. It appears to be the main Transformational Ministry in Canada. They describe themselves as "A pro-people organization offering Christian support to men and women choosing to leave homosexuality, and equipping the church to minister effectively and compassionately."

• P-FOX On 1996-OCT-9, the Family Research Council announced the creation of their new organization Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays.

• Transforming Congregations was a ministry of 40 United Methodist Churches in 1997-OCT. By May 2000, it had grown to 76 churches. They "affirm the Biblical position that God loves all persons, that homosexual practice is one sin among many and that the Holy Spirit is available to transform all persons - including homosexual persons."