It's terrific news that Exodus International, the largest and most known group that promoted "reparative therapy," is shutting down. But don't be fooled into thinking this is anything more than a re-branding for the "pray-away-the-gay" movement. It's certainly not a surrender.
The damage the group has done to thousands of LGBT people in the more than 35 years since Exodus International came into existence is immeasurable. We've long known that these crackpot therapies don't "convert" people to heterosexuality, hearing from the many who went through them, including one of Exodus' founders, Michael Bussee, who denounced the group and apologized for having helped create it. And in recent years we've learned more about the emotional and psychological harm done by these groups, with studies confirming it. The president of Exodus, Alan Chambers, issued an apology, stating that "from a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we're all prodigal sons and daughters" and that "Exodus International is the prodigal's older brother, trying to impose its will on God's promises, and make judgments on who's worthy of His Kingdom."
It was a welcome admission from a Christian evangelical leader to say that, in condemning gays, Christian fundamentalists are judging others, something that is against their own tenants. But Chambers has been moving in this direction for some time, as his group was battered with bad PR and an inability to raise money. Chambers was increasing being isolated from other Christian right groups after he admitted that for the vast majority of people who went through ex-gay programs, it was a failure in terms of converting people to heterosexuality. He also had stopped using the term "reparative therapy."
But as Truth Wins Out, the group that monitors the conversion therapy charlatans, notes, many who led these programs are now embarking on a re-branding rather than shutting down.
In response to Exodus's movements of late, hardcore fundamentalist "ex-gay" figures have moved to create their own new group, the Restored Hope Network, which is chaired by Anne Paulk, the estranged wife of John Paulk, the former poster-boy for the "ex-gay" movement who now admits that he is an openly gay man. Restored Hope's co-founder, Andrew Comiskey, has claimed that "Satan delights in homosexual perversion," which shows that this new group is committed to doing as much as or more damage than Exodus ever did.
In a world where many children are taught by families and churches that their sexual or gender difference is some sort of sickness and is condemned by God, there will always be those who are desperate to "change," no matter how wrong and futile that will be. And there will always be those who are willing to help them try to do that, either because of their own warped beliefs or to make money or both. The last thing we should be doing is believing "ex-gay" therapy is dead simply because the largest group has shut its doors. It's a measure of our success that the anti-gay right that promotes these harmful therapies has to re-brand itself. But we've got to keep exposing them, because, re-branded and underground, they could now be even more dangerous and deceptive than ever before.