Metro Weekly

Former ex-gay leader: Conversion therapy does not work and must be stopped

John Smid led "ex-gay" ministry Love In Action for 22 years, but now advocates against conversion therapy

John Smid (left) with his husband Larry McQueen — Photo: John Smid

A former leader in the “ex-gay” community has categorically stated that so-called conversion therapy does not work.

Conversion therapy, or ‘gay cure’ therapy, attempts to forcibly change a person’s sexuality or gender identity, through methods including aversion therapy, sleep deprivation, or even electroshock therapy.

The practice, which has been denounced by most psychological and mental health organizations as well as the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, has been banned in at least 20 states, as well as the D.C. and numerous municipalities.

And now John Smid, once the executive director of Christian organization Love In Action, has spoken out against any attempt to forcibly change an LGBTQ person’s identity.

Writing for the Advocate, Smid reflected on his own history with conversion therapy, as well as recent conversion therapy drama Boy Erased, which included a character based on Smid played by writer-director Joel Edgerton.

“The film was difficult to watch because it vividly illustrated the horrific reality of my own journey over a 25-year period,” Smid wrote. “In 1987, I was taught that my homosexual desires were rooted in sinful places in my dark heart. I was told to submit to God so that he would forgive me of my sinful nature.”

Smid married a woman in 1988, and in 1990 began his 22-year stint as leader of Love In Action, a now defunct organization that was part of the wider umbrella of ex-gay organizations called Exodus International.

Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, came out and closed the organization down in 2013 and told Metro Weekly in 2016 that people should be warned against conversion therapy: “This is not something that’s going to work. This is dangerous. It creates shame. It is not something that is going to produce an orientation change in you.”

Smid delved deeper into the duplicity of the ex-gay movement, writing that he would attend conferences where “[l]eaders shared stories of their own transformation while covering up that they actually remained unchanged.”

He also admitted that it “haunts” him to know that there are still ministries active in 2019 that purport to change someone’s orientation.

“They blithely disregard the mountain of evidence: Thousands of people in their care are not becoming straight as advertised, yet these programs cruelly condition God’s love on transitioning to heterosexuality,” Smid wrote, adding, “As a former leader in the “ex-gay” movement, I wholeheartedly agree with the leading medical and mental health organizations that condemn sexual orientation change efforts.”

Smid — who married a man in 2014 — also offered some insight into why he continued shilling conversion therapy to vulnerable people and their families for over two decades.

“I can now say that I was swindled into believing I could change,” he wrote. “In so doing, I subsequently deceived many because of my own inability to be honest with myself. I continued to solicit clients and donations for our ministry with a watered-down message that somehow God was providing the miracle of change.”

Finally, Smid said he is spending “a tremendous amount of energy” trying to make amends for the damage wrought by ex-gay ministries like Exodus International and Love In Action — including advocating that conversion therapy be stopped “before more young people…are harmed.”

“It is imperative that sexual orientation change efforts stop before more young people, as well as adults, are harmed,” he wrote. “Conversion therapy in any form is dangerous and potentially lethal. The answer is not self-denial and lies. It is self-acceptance and living one’s truth.”

Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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