On 7 October 2008 an article appeared in The Times called The camp that ‘cures’ homosexuality. The reporter Lucy Bannerman took a little trip to an Exodus International conference where she met some people who were intent on kicking their Same Sex Attraction (SSA).
The article is interesting, but it left me feeling sad, unbelievably sad, that beautiful people are still putting themselves through these sorts of programmes. I know of several people who have been involved with these sorts of organisations, all of whom have now accepted their sexuality as part of who they are. The damage that is caused when people try to change their true nature can be catastrophic, and I still believe that some people will never recover from the emotional trauma they are put through. Not only is damage done to those people who attend the programmes but the assertion that marriage is evidence of healing” also means that spouses, and children, are damaged too. The idea that getting married and living this fake life is evidence of healing scares me. Living an inauthentic life can never be evidence of true healing.
Instead I believe that individuals who truly find out who they really are, and who learn to celebrate their identity are those who truly find healing. I have been involved with Courage for many years and originally they were an ex-gay ministry… these days though they are gay-affirming and it feels like a very different place to be. Jeremy Marks who heads up Courage is mentioned in the article…
“One ex-gay leader who has come to the same conclusion is Jeremy Marks. A mild-mannered 56-year-old from Surrey, he pioneered one of the first ex-gay networks in the UK. But after ten years, the attempted suicide of a former resident led him to question the value of SSA therapy. He found that, rather than helping people, it led to depression and dysfunctional behaviour. They stopped going to church, stopped going to work, he recalls. The only ones who appeared to be doing well were those who accepted that they were gay and got on with their lives. Marks is now openly gay and runs Courage, a support group for gay Christians.”
To be honest I think he nails it with this quote…
Really, what the ex-gay movement is all about is salving the conscience of the Christian leaders who don’t like to be accused of homophobia, he says. That way they can say we don’t hate gays – look how we are welcoming them’.
The article also mentions Peterson Toscano who is an ex-gay survivor and along with Christine Bakke set up an organisation called Beyond Ex-Gay They offer help and support for those who have been through ex-gay movements and allow them to share their stories, often stories that have been hidden for many years behind layers of guilt, shame and a sense of failure.
Whilst organisations such as Exodus exist the need for people like Peterson and Christine will continue. We need those who have gone before to share their stories and show that the pressure that is put on people to conform to a particular set of values, roles and identities is not necessarily the right way. We need people to show that there is light at at what might be a very dark tunnel for those who struggle with their sexuality and identity. We also need those people who are straight allies. Those who will share the pain, stories, tears and the hopes and fears with those who are trying to work things through. We need people to advocate in our churches, who will continue to suggest that ex-gay programmes do not work and in fact will be damaging for the beautiful LGBT people in our congregations.
Life would be so boring if we were all the same. Who wants to be surrounded by people who are identical clones? Let us share in the glorious mess of humanity, the wonderful different people we come across and celebrate the individuality we find around us every day.