Following Executive Director Alan Chambers’ announcement that Exodus International would shut down and begin a separate ministry, the “ex-gay” movement has again been pulled into the spotlight.
In January 2012, Chambers sparked off controversy at a Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference, where he said, “The majority of [ex-gay people] that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation…The vast majority of people that I know do still experience some level of same-sex attraction.”
GCN is not an ex-gay organization, nor does it promote or provide ex-gay “conversion” or “reparative” therapy. The organization today issued a press release applauding Exodus International’s decision to close its doors. However, GCN also does not insist that acting on same-sex desires is admissible and in keeping in line with their Christian faith.
Instead, GCN claims its goal is to share “Christ’s light and love” with all gay Christians–which it breaks down into “Side A” and “Side B.” “Side A” Christians are openly gay and do not see their homosexuality as sinful. “Side B” Christians are openly gay and accept their homosexuality, but choose celibacy to avoid conflict with their religious beliefs, believing that acting on same-sex desire is sinful. “We believe there’s room in the church for a disagreement about the morality of gay sex,” stated Executive Director Justin Lee in today’s press release. “What we don’t support is the idea that gay people can go through some program and come out straight. That doesn’t work, and we’re glad to see Exodus publicly acknowledge that.”
Both ex-gay and “Side B” individuals have attracted scholarly attention. In line with Chambers’ comments, studies have found that most of the “successes” Exodus can claim involve decreasing homosexual attraction rather than increasing heterosexual attraction. S.J. Creek, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at Hollins University, previously conducted interviews with people who turned to and then left ex-gay groups, distinguishing the study’s participants as “Side A” and “Side B.” Her new study interviews five individuals who identify as Side B, exploring the issues they face in suppressing homosexual attraction, admitting same-sex attraction, and making their celibacy public.
But as a 1998 report, Calculated Compassion: How the Ex-Gay Movement Serves the Right’s Attack on Democracy, co-authored by PRA, pointed out, “a review of ex-gay literature reveals that by ‘conversion,’ ex-gay leaders do not mean that same-sex attractions will not occur, only that they should not be acted on.” Thus, it is questionable how distinct “Side B” ideology is from the traditional ex-gay movement.
The growing condemnation of harmful ex-gay conversion therapy is a welcome development. Yet given Chambers’ connection to GCN and the promise to launch a new ministry following Exodus International’s closure, it remains to be seen whether the ex-gay movement will continue under a different, more subtle, but still dangerous guise.