When I get antsy and distracted, as I have been waiting for the Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality, affirmative action and voting rights, there comes a moment when I absolutely cannot look at a listserv, a news alert or a screen one more second. I have to step away from the vehicle. Manual labor helps. So while I was helping a friend, sweating, lifting and moving boxes, I must have missed the big news about Exodus International.
Why didn’t you tell me? I’ve been following their work since John Paulk was a gay pup. Founded in 1976, E.I. was a non-denominational, evangelical, umbrella organization offering counseling for homosexuals to manage or renounce their unwanted same-sex attractions. After many schisms and recombinations, including the time two male leaders left the group to be with each other, the organization grew to 220 local ministries in the United States and Canada and more than 150 ministries in 17 other countries. Several of its ministers were instrumental in formulating Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill, their diabolical spin on the Do-Unto-Others precept.
For years they were on a mission. E.I. supported an “Annual Day of Truth” to combat the LGBT community’s “Annual Day of Silence” in schools. They tried to launch an app for E.I. ministers, “a useful resource,” that was run out of web town by a Change.org write-in campaign to Apple. E.I. held annual “Love Wins Out” conferences to reach out to homosexuals plagued by the sin of homosexuality. I would love to have seen those after-hours, late-night hotel bar scenes.
No telling what “come to Jesus” moment the organization’s president Alan Chambers had, and I do have my surveillance team looking into his emails and his heart, but at their 38th annual conference, Chambers announced that the whole reparative therapy, the “pray the gay away” thing was not working. He apologized, said he was super sorry for everything. And E.I. pulled up stakes, took down the tents and went on home.
I am so glad they have closure.
The intrepid Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out is not buying it. He points out that the newly constituted Restored Hope Network is trying to fill the E.I. void. Many disgruntled ex-ex-gay workers are now Restored Hope board members. They are re-jack-booted, calling for a red-shirted god’s army, comparing gay people to cannibals, and claiming that homosexuals are demonically possessed. Many individual ministries have vowed to continue their mini-series of miseries. Sons of God meet Sons of Anarchy.
My own background of rigorous Catholicity, relentless hetero-normativity and fearful passivity were my iteration of Exodus International. We played the 310 Maple Road home version. Finally in my mid-20s, I met some out, proud wild and wooly lesbians. They were my preparative therapy. I wanted what they had. I found a path out of heterosexuality through the LGBT movement.
Waiting for the SCOTUS decisions is an excruciating boo-yay moment. We have learned from the black civil rights movement how racism varies from the brutal physical version of George Zimmerman to the refined sugary racism of Paula Deen to the court’s lack of affirmation on affirmative action. Boo. We know from the LGBT rights movement how homophobia shades from the brutal murders in Greenwich Village to the unrefined “humor” of Tosh.0 to however SCOTUS decides on Prop 8 and DOMA. Yay?
The 40-year exodus of the modern LGBT movement out of the ancient desert of hate is closer but without closure. It’s no time to get rid of your sandals, bottled water and SPF 50.