In news that has to rankle the remaining leaders of the consumer fraud consortium known as the “ex-gay” industry, nine former “ex-gay” leaders have come together to release a letter condemning religious efforts to change a person’s sexuality, calling for the end of so-called “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), and supporting state bans on the practice:
“At one time, we were not only deeply involved in these ‘ex-gay’ programs, we were the founders, the leaders, and the promoters,” they wrote. “Together we represent more than half a century of experience, so few people are more knowledgeable about the ineffectiveness and harm of conversion therapy. We know first-hand the terrible emotional and spiritual damage it can cause, especially for LGBT youth.”
As Buzzfeed points out, some of the letter’s signatories have spoken out loudly over the years in condemnation of the practice, but for some, this letter is the strongest public statement yet against “ex-gay” therapy, which is known to be harmful and ineffective, often causing lasting scars for those who are subject to it:
But for some included, it’s the most public statement they’ve made since renouncing the practice, like John Smid, who was a member of Exodus International and who served on its board for 11 years.
“We all got together and said it’s time to produce a statement that is not a statement of apology, but a statement on our beliefs on how conversion therapy harms people,” Smid told BuzzFeed. “We felt like we needed to make that statement.”
Smid said he experienced the harms of gay conversion or reparative therapy firsthand — enduring what he described as the damaging message that gay people are somehow “broken and sick and that they need to be repaired,” he said. Leading medical and psychological associations, such as the American Psychological Association, have discredited and criticized gay conversion therapy.
“In my own life, that message kept me trapped in a cycle of believing that I was emotionally ill and incapable of having a healthy life until those things are fixed,” he said. “For over two decades, I lived in that mind-set. That’s why reparative therapy is so damaging. That was the message that I received and that I taught in my involvement with Exodus and Love in Action.”
Longtime readers will recognize the names of Smid and Michael Bussee, a co-founder of Exodus International, but it’s notable that Yvette Cantu Schneider is also a signatory, having only officially recanted her past work in the industry earlier this week.
In this excerpt from the letter, the former leaders acknowledge the grievous harm caused to individuals by “pray away the gay” programs, and officially endorse efforts to legally ban them:
It can take a lifetime to get rid of that old programming and replace it with healthy, non-toxic views of yourself. Recovery from conversion therapy is difficult at best. Some remain forever scarred, emotionally and spiritually. Conversion therapy reinforces internalized homophobia, anxiety, guilt and depression. It leads to self-loathing and emotional and psychological harm when change doesn’t happen. Regrettably, too many will choose suicide as a result of their sense of failure.
In light of this, we now stand united in our conviction that conversion therapy is not “therapy,” but is instead both ineffective and harmful. We align ourselves with every major mainstream professional medical and mental health organization in denouncing attempts to change sexual orientation or gender identity. We admonish parents to love and accept your LGBT children as they are. We beseech the church to accept, embrace, and affirm LGBT persons with full equality and inclusion.
As former “ex-gay” leaders, having witnessed the incredible harm done to those who attempted to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, we join together in calling for a ban on conversion therapy. It is our firm belief that it is much more productive to support, counsel, and mentor LGBT individuals to embrace who they are in order to live happy, well- adjusted lives. We fully support the aim of #BornPerfect to bring an end to conversion therapy.
All nine are to be commended for speaking out. Click over to Buzzfeed for the full letter.