An Older, Wiser Ex-Gay Movement
Since its beginnings in the 1970s, the ex-gay movement has engaged gay advocates in a battle of testimonies. Transformed ex-gay leaders are the best argument for their movement. Likewise, those who've left the ex-gay movement in despair and disgust are the best counterargument. The debate continued this June, when Exodus International held its 32nd annual conference in Irvine, California, featuring dozens of speakers and seminar leaders who have quit homosexuality. Down the road outside the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, a news conference featured three former Exodus leaders saying "ex-gay" is a delusion.
New research may change the terms of debate. Psychologists Stanton Jones of Wheaton College and Mark Yarhouse of Regent University released today a book detailing their findings from the first three years of an ongoing study. They are investigating participants in 16 different ex-gay programs associated with Exodus, the largest ex-gay ministry group.
The results show that some participants experienced significant change, though the change was usually partial, not complete. Furthermore, participants showed no additional mental or spiritual distress as a result of their involvement in the ex-gay program. This study is the first to use multiple interviews and questionnaires over a period of years, assessing participants from near the beginning of their involvement in an ex-gay program.
Jones and Yarhouse launched the study to try to resolve differences between their professional community, which warns that "reparative therapy" for homosexuals is both impossible and dangerous, and testimonies they have heard from those involved in ex-gay movements. Though critics of ex-gay movements sometimes cite research findings in warning against reparative therapy, Jones and Yarhouse found that published research did not actually bear out their claims. The existing research about homosexual change, though mostly dated, indicated some possibility of change. New research meeting contemporary research standards was needed.
Some of Jones and Yarhouse's key findings:
- By most measures, the average participant experienced statistically significant change in his or her sexual identity and sexual attractions.
- Such changes were generally modest, though, with decreasing homosexual attraction more significant than increasing heterosexual attraction.
- Exodus can describe 38 percent of its programs' participants as successes, changing to either a "meaningful but complicated" heterosexuality (15 percent) or a stable chastity (23 percent).
- Surprisingly, a "truly gay" subpopulation showed the clearest changes in sexual identity and attraction.
- No evidence of increased mental distress was found.
Jones and Yarhouse take pains to emphasize that their study does not clarify the likelihood of successful change for any particular individual. Participants were self-selecteda highly motivated, highly religious group working with Exodus. (For a more complete review of this research, see "The Best Research Yet.") Still, the study marks a crucial point in the ongoing maturation of the ex-gay movement. Once a small experiment, the movement has endured growing pains, learned from setbacks, and achieved a stable pattern of ministry.
Ex-Gay Comes of Age
The breadth of the ex-gay movement can be seen in PATH (Positive Alternatives to Homosexuality), which claims 13 groups from across the Judeo-Christian spectrum. PATH includes Courage (Roman Catholic, with an emphasis on chastity), Homosexuals Anonymous (modeled on aa as a confidential lay organization), JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), and NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, a non-religious organization of mental health professionals). Largest of the groups is Exodus, a coalition comprising more than 100 local Christian ministries in the United States, linked to similar ministries overseas.