Metro Weekly

The Decline and Fall of the Ex-Gay Movement

How a multimillion-dollar industry that seeks to ''cure'' gay people was brought to its knees

HOW IT ENDS

The ex-gay movement has been broken, but it is not dead.

Declaring September “Ex-Gay Awareness Month,” supporters of ex-gay therapy gathered for their first annual Ex-Gay Awareness Dinner and Reception last month at an undisclosed location in D.C. Although Metro Weekly was denied media credentials for the dinner, The Christian Post reported that about 60 attended. Earlier in the day, about 15 ex-gay activists participated in a lobby day on Capitol Hill. Organized by Parents and Friends of ExGays and Gays (PFOX), the dinner was shrouded in secrecy, organizers said, because of threats. Liberty Counsel’s Mathew Staver, who is challenging the two state bans on ex-gay therapy and is dean of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University School of Law, was honored with the Ex-Gay Freedom Award for his efforts.

Speaking at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit this month, Sandy Rios, a host on American Family Radio and Fox News contributor, said there are “tons of ex-gays with fabulous stories,” while insisting there is a Christian duty to help gay people so as to halt the spread of HIV and disease.

“Anybody know an ex-gay?” Rios asked a silent ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in D.C. “You know, they are everywhere and the reason you don’t hear about them is because they are maligned and threatened.”

With the shifting wave of public opinion, growing momentum for legal LGBT equality and the disintegration of the ex-gay movement’s most celebrated institutions, it is difficult to image how this once flourishing industry will recover. For Wayne Besen, that reality is comforting, but the threat the ex-gay movement’s holdouts still pose to vulnerable youth is no less serious.

“The ex-gay myth has all but collapsed and lost credibility in the public sphere. They’re like cartoon characters jumping out of a clown car,” he says. “But as long as there’s prejudice and discrimination there’s going to be some charlatan willing to exploit for money or for ideology.”

For many of those who survived ex-gay therapy, salvation did not come through praying to be different — it came through acceptance.

“When I was in the group I was pretty narrow-minded,” recalls Tracey St. Pierre. “My feeling at the time during the early part of being in the group was nobody has to be gay. I overcame it. And they also taught me that if you’re gay it’s because of something sinful and horrible that you did in your past and Jesus will forgive you and change you and you just need to forget about it.

“They would say you allowed this evil into your life because you had some weakness from a bad relationship with your mother, a bad relationship with your father, you were a abused, blah blah blah. I could never really figure out a root cause of what made me gay. Nothing seemed to fit. I could stretch and try to imagine it. And I was adamant about it, [that] if I could overcome this and I was controlling my behavior and suppressing my behavior, that anybody could.”

St. Pierre would leave Maranatha Campus Ministries 12 years after she joined. She became disillusioned with the leadership, and says her attempts to suppress her same-sex attractions had become like a “pressure cooker.”

While it didn’t take long for her therapist to insist the ministry had done no less than brainwash her, St. Pierre wasn’t in a position to come out yet. Maranatha Campus Ministries was not just socially conservative, but politically conservative as well, encouraging members to get involved in politics. St. Pierre had taken the message to heart, and after graduation moved to D.C. to work for three different Republican members of Congress and in the office of Vice President Dan Quayle. St. Pierre was working for Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.), a key backer of the Defense of Marriage Act, when the Human Rights Campaign began circulating a nondiscrimination pledge among members of Congress.

“Of course the guy I worked for would not sign it,” says St. Pierre. “I realized, ‘Hey, I can’t continue working for someone who would fire me if they found out I was gay, who would not be able to accept me as a lesbian.'” So she came out to her boss and resigned from her position as chief of staff. What’s more, she then took a job with HRC. “Canady aide quits to lobby for gays,” read the headline on the front page of The Hill newspaper.

When she came out, St. Pierre lost a lot of friends she had made while a member of Maranatha Campus Ministries, including some of the seven women for whom she had served as a bridesmaid. Shortly after leaving her job on Capitol Hill, St. Pierre met over coffee with the woman who had cast the demon of homosexuality out of her years earlier. “I basically spilled my heart and told her about this 15-year-long struggle. She looked at me and she said, ‘Well, if I weren’t walking with the Lord I’d backslide too.’ And that’s all she said. She was implying that because I had turned my back on God I was not walking in the faith — that I had gone back to my sinful ways.”

St. Pierre has been married to her wife, Julia, for 10 years. They had a church wedding in 2003 and a legal wedding in D.C. in 2011. She works for the federal government now, and the couple lives in Northern Virginia with their two children. They connected at party one night when Julia found herself dumbfounded that Tracey didn’t recognize a popular song that came on. It had been released during what St. Pierre calls her “’80s blackout” — when she was involved in the ministry and forbidden from listening to secular music.

“She was very interested in hearing my story, so we sat down and talked and talked and talked and now it’s 13 years, two weddings and two kids later,” St. Pierre says.

St. Pierre still prays and considers herself spiritual, but hasn’t found a church where she feels at home. She’s occasionally seen members of Maranatha Campus Ministries, which shuttered in 1989, but says those meetings have often been brief and awkward.

“I think there’s a healing process when you leave a group like that,” she says. “I’ve gone through phases of being angry and I still sometimes have sad dreams over some of the friendships, but I also realize that nobody made me go in that group. Those were choices that I made for whatever reason. That’s my journey and I made those choices and I can’t really be angry at other people. And they made me who I am today. If I had joined marching band instead of a cult my life would’ve taken a completely different course. I’m not resentful towards them. I can’t be. But I still have some wounds that haven’t completely healed. Everyone wants to be accepted and loved.”

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