The Ministries: Key ‘Ex-Gay’ Groups

Although most groups promoting so-called “ex-gay” or “reparative” therapy describe themselves as Christian, several approach their attempts to turn gay people into heterosexuals from other faith perspectives. In addition to the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, whose “research” informs the work of many ex-gay groups, here are brief descriptions of several major players that practice forms of reparative therapy.

Evergreen International
Since starting in 1989 as an ex-gay ministry serving the Mormon community, Evergreen has been separate from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even though it bases its therapy around the teachings of the Mormon church. Unlike many other ex-gay groups, Evergreen does not advocate a particular form of therapy. The LDS church, in fact, has refrained from stating a position on the causes of homosexuality; Evergreen has made a point to follow that logic.

Exodus International
Promoting “the message of freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ,” Exodus International is one of the oldest and largest umbrella organizations for ex-gay ministries across the world, listing 120 ministries in the United States and more than 150 in 17 other countries. The group formed in 1976 but was soon beset with problems. Two of the founders, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, left and announced they shared a romantic relationship. In June 2007, Bussee issued a formal apology for his involvement in promoting reparative therapy.

JONAH International
While most ex-gay groups approach reparative therapy from a biblical context, JONAH, which stands for “Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing,” look at it from an orthodox Jewish perspective. Founded in 1999 in Jersey City, N.J., by Theodore and Elaine Berk and Arthur and Jane Goldberg — each couple had a gay son — JONAH emphasizes a Talmudic condemnation of homosexuality that says gay people are “being led astray.” As expected, there have been controversies. In 2010, The Jewish Week reported that one of the group’s therapists had required patients to remove their clothes and to touch their own genitals to increase their masculinity as part of the therapy.

Love in Action
Love in Action (LiA), which formed in 1973 in Marin County, Calif., has also had to deal with several of its most prominent leaders recanting their beliefs about ex-gay therapy. Co-founder John Evans told the Wall Street Journal in 1993, after his friend Jack McIntyre committed suicide in the midst of therapy, “They’re destroying people’s lives.” The leadership troubles for LiA did not end there. Last year, John Smid, once an influential member of the group, admitted that he had “never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.”

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX)
Headquartered in Fort Belvoir, Va., Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) encourages parents to love their “children unconditionally without having to affirm their homosexual behavior.” The group sees homosexuality as an agenda-driven social-political identity. As such, PFOX has been a major player in seeking legal protections for the validity of ex-gay therapy, going so far as to file a lawsuit against the District of Columbia in 2008 for failing to protect “former homosexuals” under its sexual orientation anti-discrimination law.