The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Another Former ‘Ex-Gay’ Therapist Repudiates Controversial Practice

By Ryan Lenz on October 12, 2011 - 3:54 pm, Posted in Anti-LGBT, Christian Right

John Smid, the former executive director of a prominent “reparative therapy” practice that seeks to turn gays straight, has repudiated the practice after years preaching that homosexuality is a sickness.

In a piece published last week on the website of his new ministry, Grace Rivers in Germantown, Tenn., Smid expressed disgust at “Christians pervert[ing] the gospel as it relates to homosexuality.” He went on to castigate “ex-gay” therapists for peddling a philosophy that “homosexuals aren’t welcome in the kingdom unless they repent (which many interpret to change.)”

“One cannot repent of something that is unchangeable,” Smid wrote. “I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.”

Such sentiments were not born suddenly for Smid, and, in fact, had been developing since he left Tennessee-based Love in Action (LiA) three years ago. It was there, Smid wrote, that he sought refuge from his own sexuality. “I tried my hardest to create heterosexuality in my life but this also created a lot of shame, a sense of failure, and discouragement. Nothing I did seemed to change me into a heterosexual.”

It’s a remarkable statement, considering Smid’s history. For years, he sat on the board of Exodus International, a major umbrella group that now represents about 270 ex-gay ministries in 18 countries. In a 2007 piece about the growth of ex-gay ministries across the United States, the Intelligence Report also noted that Smid was then running the LiA compound in Memphis that subjected many who had come for “treatment” to lessons aimed at correcting their sexuality – lessons that focused on things like throwing a football and changing motor oil.

Such lessons – and many more that mimic the bizarre therapies depicted in the cult film “Clockwork Orange – make up the core so-called reparative therapy. Based on a foundation of pseudo-science, the practice has been called sharply into question by virtually all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations. In 2006, for example, the American Psychological Association criticized the practice by declaring, “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”

Such therapeutic practices have much to do with battling the gay rights movement by trying to prove that sexuality is a choice, rather than an immutable characteristic like race or gender. If sexual orientation is a choice, after all, that means people can change who they’re attracted to — and religious right organizations can portray themselves  as merely seeking to keep people away from “sinful” practices. Some ex-gay programs have also become full-fledged propaganda machines depicting gays as sex-addicted, mentally ill and/or stunted heterosexuals.

As it happens, the Southern Poverty Law Center yesterday joined Truth Wins Out, an organization that opposes ex-gay therapy, in rolling out a national campaign targeting conversion therapy centers across the country. In the coming weeks, a series of community meetings will be held in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., for survivors of the practice to share their stories – survivors who are in many ways like Smid and other practitioners who have abandoned their ways. And Smid is hardly alone in giving up on reparative therapy.

In June 2007, for example, three former leaders of Exodus International issued an apology for harming those they had claimed to help. “Some who heard our message were compelled to try to change themselves and their families. Although we acted in good faith, we have since witnessed the isolation, shame, fear and loss of faith that this message creates,” Darlene Bogle, Michael Bussee and Jeremy Marks, each Exodus leaders, wrote at the time.

In the weeks and months ahead, perhaps many more will come to the same conclusion.

  • Gregory Olsen

    Do you know why this reparative therapy really fails time and time again? It’s because these quackpots therapists and religious cult nuts are using extreme force to bring homosexuals into heterosexuality. All this psychobabble about mental illness coupled with “fire and brimstone” sermons is only driving homosexuals further down into their LGBT rabbit hole. They are so deep now that they will listen to no one expect to those of their own society. Not only that, but it makes real Christians such as myself look like homophobic bible thumpers with stones as the ready. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a 100% lose-lose situation there.

    Has anyone ever thought of just talking to homosexuals. A nice calm discussion about why they chose the path they did. From there, you can explain your views without forcing it down their throats. If they listen, fine. However, if they walk away, then at least you tried. Try it. You might be surprised by the results.

  • Jim Howell

    The real purpose of the ex-gay movement is to justify the religious fundamentalist’s discrimination against lgbt citizens. It’s a “lifestyle,they say, ” a “choice,” a “behavior, not a class of people deserving civil rights,” “unlike skin color that is unchangeable.” It is their religious freedom to oppose equal rights for lgbt.

    It makes no difference to them if the ex-gay therapy doesn’t really work as long as they can claim that it does, it justifies their anti-gay religious beliefs and psychological damage caused by the treatment is for them a small price to pay for this propaganda tool. Phony claims are nothing new to these people, Lies, smears, fear-mongering, whatever it takes to maintain their fanatical worldview is apparently ok.

  • Grant

    I am fairly sure there is no way I could become a homosexual. I am just as sure I could not make someone a heterosexual. God made that person. If it was a choice to be gay and hence end up in eternal misery; was it also the choice of an individual to be raised in an area so remote that they may never encounter a religious teaching and subsequently not be rewarded with heaven. I really wonder; why do they care? What is it in them that they feel they need to ‘heal’ others, aren’t they shooting a little too high? It is my understanding of their beliefs that they work for the healer; they are not the healer. If it is such a sin to be a homosexual, why not love the person for who they are and let God deal with the rest? Don’t they teach that he loved all? -Much of these issues have alienated me from religiosity.- I’d like to see ‘miinistries’ focus on making the world a better place for all: sans judgement, hate and rigidity. I feel it would better serve their cause to focus on their beliefs of right and wrong as they pertain to what they are doing, not everyone else. Attraction and seeing the product work is often a greateer mechanism to spread a message. Don’t preach and condemn…….. but love and teach with compassion.

  • Table1945,Ph.D.

    There is only one thing that will remove the stain of sin that is deeply embedded in the soul of every man. That is blood. But not just any blood. It must be the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. It is the blood that was appointed by God to make atonement for the soul-to remove the sin stain from the soul of man. It was shed blood, and not the blood in the veins of the sacrifice, but the blood upon the altar. If there is no blood, there is no salvation. If no blood, there is still a sin-stained soul. If there is no blood, there is not eternal life. Sin will not enter heaven.

  • Jean Armstrong

    I am a firm believer in practicing what you preach, therefore,
    I don’t understand how religious leaders don’t read their own bibles. I distinctly remember and I quote, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

  • Concerned Citizen

    I think this demostrate the fanaticism of those who wants to change people, just because they are different from the so called norms. All of the brohaha about same sex marriages. This is good time to bring up the fact that many gay, lesbian and transgender couples mirrors the same ratio as heterosexual marriages, the majority stick to their own race and culture rather than race mixing. Conservative anti gay homophobes needs to educate themselves about the LGBT culture. They may be surprise to learn a few things.

  • Charles Austin

    It just goes to shows you that the wonderful Frank Kameny (who passed away day before yesterday) was right and that religion is an evil sickness which seeks to keep people enslaved to it. Money and profit are the only thing religious counselors are after, Find a good Freudian psychotherapist they won’t let you down. Be happy ! There is no such thing as god or its kingdom!

  • Kevin

    Good for John Smid for (a) stopping the immoral and unethical practice of so-called reparative therapy and (b) speaking out against those who demand it of gay and lesbian people. What is left in the wake of such “therapy” is not conversion but instead psychological carnage.

  • Mick

    I do not know too much about therapy treatment , only what I read on the INTERNET . Sounds a little like the Schlick Centers we have in our area that use a method that associates negativity with the action so when you reach for a cigarette or a drink something is triggered ? I know no one one .personally who has done this . I have had experience with men who through spiritual and belief in God sought to live lives as heterosexuals . Some actually did , some actually did not . Perhaps some were not really homosexual to begin with , but somewhere along the line were confused . But I remember their stories of being made to feel as less then Christian in some circles of organized religion when they spoke about their issues to other Christians , or were shunned in the homosexual community because of their desire to with as heterosexual . I got to the point where I figured I should be a friend regardless , but I never forgot their friendship or the worship services , they loved God with all their heart . They were just trying to find their way .

    But it would be interesting to note if some of these men who had changed their course in life had gone into what some others think as respectable counseling services , would their desirere to change have been ridiculed , told it was impossible , or some other information given to make them believe it was not possible ? Because from my experience it has happened . Can not say why . Or why for some and not for others .

  • Chuck Mielke

    I think it’s significant that most of these “treatment services” are called “ministries.” That should be a big, fat clue that such “services” are aimed at getting one to accept a religious doctrine, not individual mental health. If your “therapist” starts quoting bible verses or talking for “god,” run, don’t walk, out the door and report that “therapist” to his/her oversight agency. While some ministers/priests are qualified to do counseling, they should not be using the counselor’s hat to proselytize.

  • Douglas

    I am actually thankful for reparative therapy as it helped me to accept myself as a gay man. After attending a few meetings I realized that, like the others there, I would have little slips for the rest of my life.

    I realized these slips demonstrated that no one was changing, including myself. It was hard to admit, but I then realized that it was time to learn to be a gay man.

    For those still in reparative therapy, the longer you wait to accept your gayness, the more damage it will do to you

  • Jason

    I just don’t know why people are so hell bent on “healing” people!?! If someone is not just like them, think like them, act like them, then something must be wrong and they need to be fixed! If you believe that because of someone’s actions that they’re going to burn in hell, what concern is it of yours? These poor people have been drilled and pounded their whole lives to be told that they are unworthy, that they are scum of the earth and not even recognized by God. What happened to the teachings of love, mercy, grace, etc? As a gay man in his mid 30’s who just told my family less than 3 yrs ago, their church teachings are such that I was excommunicated and shunned not only from my church (every congregation) but also by my family associated with the church, which is mother, father, brother and 1 aunt.
    There is NO cure for the way a person feels! Life and circumstances may change how you view things and how you handle stress, but the most inward parts of your soul that develope from childhood on, can not be changed by electrotherapy, no amount of brain-washing, torture, and/or verbal or physical abuse. I pity the people who feel to “save” themselves that they have to go through these things, and I pray for the ones who won’t have anything to do with them unless they do. Love and peace!