The Problem I Have with Exodus (and other ex-gay groups)Actually, after I wrote this I realized I have more than just one problem with ex-gay groups like Exodus. I actually have two. The first problem is their political activism fighting against what I see as anything that might be construed as pro-gay (from gay marriage to partner benefits to anti-discrimination laws). If you want to help turn gay people straight (or at least to stop being gay), I'd think you would want to stay out of the political warfare that easily angers so many people. But, that's not the issue I want to talk about now.
The problem that compelled me to write this post is that organizations like Exodus and others provide fuel for many anti-gay or even just non-pro-gay people (gay indifferent?) to tell gay people that they can change (and many in non-ex-gay circles will even say gays can change easily). Yes, Exodus will say that they're being used out of context, but in reality, Exodus is the one that needs to be clear to everyone out there that they are being used incorrectly. The problem is, they continue to disseminate information that reinforces these notions that gays should "just go get fixed."
Let me be clear that I am fully supportive of someone that wants to try to be ex-gay or non-gay or even gay and celibate provided they are fully informed of everything that comes along with that (i.e. the low success rates for people that do change, the intense struggle it may be, the possibility of increased self-loathing reported by some individuals as a result of trying to change, etc.). The problem for me is that I believe organizations such as Exodus, in their zeal to get the word out to gay people, don't make these notions clear enough in their sound bytes, advertisements, and even online material what "change" actually entails or even means (because it doesn't necessarily mean changing from gay to straight, even though that is clearly what the public at large is understanding in the message).
I got to thinking about this issue after reading a letter from a church Pastor posted on Good As You. In the letter, the Pastor thanks his county for denying pension benefits to a county employee's same-sex partner, but he concludes the letter by saying that his church and others can free people from homosexuality and then compares being gay to other sexual sins. It's a sad two-sentence statement that gives the impression that not being gay is easy for gay people, just as easy as not being promiscuous or not looking at porn. Sadly, people like my dad and other parents of gay people out there believe this pipe dream of easy change and can continue to see gay people as the evil "other" that just won't try hard enough to change and be straight rather than looking at them as people that have the exact same attractions, love, interests, etc., but in a different form. Being gay isn't just some other sin or some other sexual issue, but that message is too hard to swallow in a marketing campaign, so they leave it out.
I'll admit that Exodus occasionally these days will concede that change is very hard to obtain and is not attainable for all people, but this admission comes often very deep into a conversation on the subject. Yes, people like me see these admissions, but I follow gay and ex-gay issues as a hobby. My dad sure didn't understand the challenge when his local pastor referred him (and me indirectly) to an Exodus ministry. The Pastor's remarks were simply that the good news was that there was hope of change, and he told my dad where to go find help. He didn't say that change might not mean being straight, he didn't say that change wasn't even the goal, he just said that I could change if I talked to the folks over at Exodus.
So, as much as Exodus quietly will admit that not everyone will change, lets not forget their "Change is Possible, Discover How" ad campaign. Let's not forget the "Freedom is Possible" slogan right on the front of their web page. Let's not forget the endorsements page Exodus puts on their website that has endorsements about their conferences using both the words change and liberate or the press releases that specifically say that change can happen but don't really mention the struggle that will take place or what change might mean.
The bites themselves are pretty clear to someone of the anti-gay persuasion that gays can just go out and change like it's no big deal, and until Exodus fixes that, their work is going to be misused and co-opted by culture war. The question is whether they want to work to stop that from happening.