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.