Is It the End of the Ex-Gay Movement As We Know It?

This was the question asked by Warren Throckmorton on his blog yesterday following last week’s acknowledgment by John Smid, the former executive director of Love in Action, the country’s oldest and largest ex-gay ministry, that “I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual”.  Smid also acknowledged that despite his many years of being heterosexually married, “I would consider myself homosexual and yet in a marriage with a woman.”  He loves his wife and has no plans to leave her, but wrote, “This doesn’t change the fact that I am who I am and she is who she is.”

Throckmorton says,  “As one who was once associated with the ex-gay movement, I look at the trends and wonder if we are nearing the end of the ex-gay movement as we know (knew) it.”  He adds,  “If it is, I feel fine” about it.

In another article in the Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg calls John Smid’s about-face, “just the latest blow to those who believe sexual orientation can be altered.”  Goldberg says,  “Smid’s disclosures may not bring the end of the ex-gay movement, but it is one of many indicators of decline.  Unquestionably one of the biggest hits was the revelation that former NARTH board member George Rekers had taken a European vacation with a young ‘rent boy’ hired from a gay escort service.  Then the case of Kyle Murphy revealed that Rekers scientific work on preventing homosexuality was built on significantly distorted research.”

It’s deja vu all over again as this was not the first time the “ex-gay” case has been based on significantly distorted research.   Not that long ago, a widely reported study was published by psychiatrist Dr Robert L. Spitzer announcing that  “Homosexuals Can Change!”   Newspapers across the county carried the story.

I personally had responded to an ad Dr. Spitzer placed eliciting testimonies from people who had been involved in  “ex-gay” ministry when this study was conducted.  I underwent a preliminary phone interview with one of Dr. Spitzer’s associates where it was determined that my background was exactly what they were looking for for participation in the study.   Then during my telephone interview with Dr. Spitzer, he disqualified me from participating in his study after learning that I did not believe reparative therapy worked.  Dr. Spitzer explained he was  “looking to  speak with people who believe that gays can change.”  If others who answered his ad were disqualified from participating on the same grounds, one need not be a rocket scientist to figure out how Dr. Spitzer reached the conclusion he did.

Both the media and his peers blasted the study charging that Spitzer misrepresented his research and distorted his findings.  The American Psychiatric Association (APA) denounced the study at their annual meeting and noted the research was based on a scientifically insignificant sample of 200, the study was not submitted for peer review — a fundamental prerequisite for the credibility of any study — and Spitzer interviewed his subjects by telephone for 45 minutes, hardly a basis for reliable data.   The 200 “ex-gays” Spitzer reported on were also recruited from Exodus and other “ex-gay” and “reparative therapy” ministries, groups known for believing that simply labeling oneself as heterosexual constitutes progress in the right direction regardless of whether one’s sexual orientation has actually changed.

Spitzer did acknowledge that the number of homosexuals who could become heterosexual was likely to be “pretty low.”  He also noted “the difficulty finding subjects [over a period of 16 months] suggest[ed] the likelihood that the substantial changes reported by our subjects are relatively uncommon in all individuals who make a change effort.”  Spitzer did not practice “reparative therapy” himself, said his findings “should not be misused to justify coercive treatment” and stood by his 1973 support of the APA’s decision to drop homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

Spitzer was instrumental in getting the APA to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973.  While some alleged this was done for political reasons, fact is the APA removed homosexuality from their list of psychiatric disorders for scientific reasons.   In order for a mental condition to be classified as a psychiatric disorder, the requirement was it had to meet a two-pronged set of criteria set by a scientific committee, in consultation with experts in the field, for the revision of the whole DSM.  Additionally to satisfactorily meet the two-pronged set of criteria, it had to meet both and not just one.  The two-pronged set of criteria that had to be met to be classified as a mental illness or disorder was: (1) in full blown manifestation, it had to be distressing to the individual, and (2) in full-blown manifestation, it had to be invariably associated with social dysfunction.

Since they concluded that homosexuality clearly did not meet this two-pronged set of criteria as do actual psychiatric disorders such as alcoholism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, et al. —  it was appropriately removed from the DSM.  Had homosexuality been retained in the DSM, it would have stood out as a sore thumb as the only category not meeting the two-pronged standard set by the scientific committee for the revision of the whole DSM.

Throckmorton also noted on his blog yesterday that Exodus, the international umbrella organization of “ex-gay” ministries, has not only continually moved away from the language of orientation change but most recently and without comment removed reparative therapy books authored by Joseph Nicolosi from their online bookstore.  Nicolosi is a founding member and advisor to NARTH, which promotes change therapy intended to reorient gay people and is the same organization former board member George Rekers resigned from following the revelation that he had taken a European vacation with a young “rent boy” hired from a gay escort service.

All this also comes right on the heels of the new study published in Edification, a journal from the evangelical Society for Christian Psychology reporting that “sexual behavior changes but not sexual orientation.”  According to the published study, after an
average of 16 years in mixed-orientation marriage, the same-sex oriented spouse is still same-sex oriented.  On the basis of self-reports, there’s no shift toward heterosexual orientation on the part of the same-sex oriented spouse despite there being some participation in sex acts within the marriage.


About Alex Haiken

Born to a Jewish family in New York City, I came to faith in Christ in 1982 after trying to disprove the Bible. I found so much evidence in support of the claims of Jesus and the Bible that it required more faith to reject it than to believe it. I hold a Master’s degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and among other things am a lecturer, teacher, blogger and conference speaker. I came out as gay at a young age but was taught when I came to faith that I could not be both Christian and gay. I served for a time as a leader of an ex-gay ministry but shifted my views after recognizing that when the few passages generally appealed to in this debate are examined more closely and in context, the traditional anti-gay interpretations do not hold up to scrutiny. I learned that the ex-gay route is a scripturally unsound mirage, a specious illusion that deceitfully draws people not to a life-giving oasis but to a deeper and deeper spiritual desert. Seeing the immense need for education in this area, I began to speak and write about my experience and new-found convictions. I am also passionate about helping the Church better understand her rich Jewish roots; helping other Jewish people understand Jesus as their Jewish Messiah; and helping other gay people integrate a theologically sound, committed Christian faith with their sexuality. It is my hope that the reflections in this blog will prompt you to explore the paths they suggest, leading to your own more eloquent thinking, exploration and action. If you want, visit the “Contact” page and let me know what you think.
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3 Responses to Is It the End of the Ex-Gay Movement As We Know It?

  1. StraightGrandmother says:

    I thought this was a very good article you wrote. I hope you don’t mind that I re-posted a portion of it over at Warren Throckmorton’s website.

  2. Hey Alex,
    I asked Yardhouse about the article in Edification you mentioned when he visited here at Fuller Theological Seminary. He was straightforward with the findings. I also asked him how pastors should council mixed orientation potential marriage partners and he suggested that he would advise against it due to the affect on the partners/spouse. Thanks for providing this information. It was very helpful for thoughtful discussion. Keep up the good work.


  3. Alex Haiken says:

    Steve: Further to the above, this past Friday, January 6, Exodus International President, Alan Chambers, spoke as a part of a panel discussion at the annual conference of the Gay Christian Network. When asked about Exodus International’s “change is possible” slogan, Chambers noted the following:

    “The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.”

    This was quite an explosive admission coming from Exodus. It does not seem possible to hold both the claim that “change is possible” and the knowledge that “the majority meaning 99.9% of [people] have not experienced a change in their orientation” within the same organization. This illustrates yet again that the only “changes” we actually get to see from Exodus and similar ministries are the turnover in their testimonies, personnel, promises, definitions, expectations and claims, not changes in sexual orientation.

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