SPLC hails decision by major ‘conversion therapy’ group to shut down

Exodus International, one of the leading conversion therapy networks in the world, announced that it is shutting down after years of promoting a dangerous and discredited practice that claims to convert people from gay to straight.

The SPLC today hailed the decision.

“We hope that this will be the first of many organizations to abandon this harmful practice,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which has worked to expose organizations involved in providing it. “The fact is, conversion therapy is a fraud. The only things that need converting are the attitudes of those who continue to promote this junk science.” 

The SPLC is also fighting conversion therapy in court. In 2012, it filed a lawsuit accusing a New Jersey organization – Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) – of consumer fraud for offering conversion therapy services. It is the first time a conversion therapy practitioner has been sued for fraudulent business practices.

The decision by Exodus – the result of a unanimous vote by its board of directors – was announced yesterday and comes after Exodus International President Alan Chambers posted an apology on the group’s website, saying it is time for someone to “finally own and acknowledge the hurt of others.” 

“I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced,” he wrote. “I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly ‘on my side’ who called you names like sodomite—or worse.” 

Exodus’ board decided to shut down the group and create a separate ministry “after a year of dialogue and prayer about the organization’s place in a changing culture,” the group said in a statement on its website. Local ministries affiliated with the group will continue to operate, but not under the Exodus name. Exodus International has described itself as “the world’s largest ministry to individuals and families impacted by homosexuality.” 

“We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, but a new generation of Christians is looking for change – and they want to be heard,” board member Tony Moore said in a statement. 

Chambers said in the same statement that Exodus has “been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.” 

The underlying premise of conversion therapy – that a person can “convert” to heterosexuality – has no basis in scientific fact. The practice, also known as “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapy, has been discredited or highly criticized by all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations. It is the longstanding consensus of the behavioral and social sciences that homosexuality is a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation.

People who have undergone conversion therapy have reported increased anxiety, depression, and in some cases, thoughts of suicide. Conversion therapy also promotes the notion that gay men and lesbians choose their sexual orientation, an idea that encourages a climate of anti-LGBT bigotry. 

The American Psychological Association has expressed concern that the positions espoused by some of the leading advocates of conversion therapy “create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”

An analysis of FBI hate crime statistics by the SPLC shows that the LGBT community is the minority most victimized by violent hate crimes.

Sean Sala, a conversion therapy survivor, told The New Civil Rights Movement yesterday that the SPLC case against JONAH may have helped motivate Chambers’ apology. He said the Exodus leader “was sorry after groups like JONAH were sued. He was sorry after this election. He was sorry after the tide has turned in our nation.”