The anti-gay movement, which has faced a series of legal and public relations defeats in recent years, was dealt yet another blow on June 19, when Exodus International, a prominent religious-right group devoted to so-called “conversion” therapy (meant to help individuals “overcome” their “unwanted same-sex attraction”), announced it would be shutting its doors.
“Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism,” Exodus President Alan Chambers wrote on the group’s website. “For quite some time, we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”
Speaking at a conference at the same time his online statement went up, Chambers said, “We are not going to control people any more. We’re not going to tell them how to live.” He continued: “We fought the culture, and we’ve lost. … We believe it’s time for the church to open its doors and let the marginalized in.”
Exodus had been struggling for some time. It was forced to cut its staff in 2010, and in November 2011, Chambers called together Exodus’ leaders, religious supporters and lay people to discuss ways of keeping the organization financially solvent and socially relevant. During a January 2012 panel discussion sponsored by the Gay Christian Network, Chambers admitted that so-called “conversion therapy” is all but useless, saying, “The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.”
A few months later, respected psychiatrist Robert Spitzer repudiated his own controversial 2001 study, which for years had been cited by anti-gay groups as “proof” that sexual orientation can be changed. In May 2012, after years of declining attendance, Exodus canceled its annual “Love Won Out” conference, citing lack of registration.
While LGBT rights advocates celebrated Exodus’ admission of defeat, the group’s erstwhile allies wept and gnashed their teeth. Responding to Exodus’ closure, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly (who actually has been moving his organization in a more moderate direction) compared same-sex attraction to “lust, adultery, [and] pornography addiction,” and said Focus still has “hope for those who struggle sexually.” The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, a prominent source of anti-gay junk science, distanced itself from Exodus with a press release seeking to “affirm” the value of ex-gay therapy and describing Exodus as nothing more than a “public relations voice and referral clearing house.” And Christopher Doyle, president of the ex-gay group Voice of the Voiceless, called on Chambers to apologize for throwing “daggers … at the ex-gay community.”
Exodus wasn’t the only “ex-gay” group to suffer in recent months. Voice of the Voiceless declared July 2013 to be the “First Annual Ex-Gay Pride Month,” but despite enthusiastic flyers and the announced expectation that “thousands” would participate, it was reported that fewer than 10 people showed up for a July 31 “Ex-Gay Pride” event in Washington. (The group has since rallied — sort of — and declared September 2013 to be Ex-Gay Awareness Month.)