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Hope for Wholeness, a national “ex-gay” ministry network that advocated for conversion therapy, is disbanding. It comes after the organization lost two of its most recent directors, and a year after its original founder, McKrae Game, came out as gay.
Widely debunked and declared ineffective by former “ex-gay” leaders, conversion therapy seeks to forcibly change an LGBTQ person’s sexuality or gender identity. Such efforts can take the form of talk therapy, or more extreme measures such as aversion or electroshock therapy.
“It has been a tumultuous several years for us. We lost the founding director, searched for two years for his replacement, hired a new director and then lost that director as well,” the board of directors for Hope for Wholeness wrote in a memo sent to supporters. “After much prayer and discussion, we have made the difficult decision to dissolve the organization. This was not an easy decision. But we do believe it is the right decision.”
The decision to disband coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week finding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination.
According to the board’s email, the organization’s discussion groups on Facebook — which are set to private — will have their names changed and leadership will be removed “once we’ve given time for people to respond to this news.”
Any of the organization’s remaining finances will be donated to Abba’s Delight, another ex-gay ministry based in Louisville, Ky., in hopes of rebuilding a similar ministry network in the future, reports Newsweek.
The Spartanburg, S.C.-based organization, originally founded as Truth Ministries in 1999, was centered around the idea that homosexuality was not consistent with “God’s design” and that those who struggle with same-sex attraction could repress their desires and live virtuous lives.
Over the years, it expanded to incorporate several satellite ministries in at least 15 different states, most of which located in the American South, becoming one of the nation’s most prominent conversion therapy advocates.
The organization underwent a name change in 2013, following the dissolution of Exodus International, its parent organization, which was previously known as the world’s largest “ex-gay” ministry.
That organization’s former president, Alan Chambers, later apologized to those who had attempted to change their sexual orientation or gender identity unsuccessfully, telling Metro Weekly in 2016 that he is sorry for having been a polarizing figure whose work pushed LGBTQ-identifying people away from religion, and advocating for a ban on youth conversion therapy.
Currently, 20 states, plus the District of Columbia, ban the practice of conversion therapy on minors, as do several dozen cities and counties throughout the United States.
There have even been bills introduced in Congress attempting to classify conversion therapy as a form of consumer fraud because it promises a product or service — a change in one’s orientation — that critics say it cannot deliver.
When Game, the founder of Hope for Wholeness, came out last year, he admitted that the central premise of conversion therapy — that one can change their sexual orientation or gender identity by repressing their feelings is “a lie,” “very harmful” and “false advertising.”
Game said at the time he had met with people who had undergone conversion therapy through Hope for Wholeness and saw the damage it had done.
“I was a religious zealot that hurt people,” he said. “People said they attempted suicide over me and the things I said to them. People, I know, are in therapy because of me. Why would I want that to continue?”
He also said that he’d like to see all “ex-gay” ministries and organizations that promote conversion therapy shut down.
Mathew Shurka, a co-founder of the Born Perfect project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which seeks to ban conversion therapy in all 50 states, told NBC News that the disbanding of Hope for Wholeness is “enormous,” given the number of people who subjected themselves to conversion therapy by following the organization’s guidance.
He noted that conversion therapy is based on a financial model, in which those who wish to change their identity will pay large sums of money to undergo it.
“Conversion therapy is an industry, and whether those individuals are licensed professionals or they’re nonprofits, there’s still money to be made,” Shurka said. “So the fact that Hope for Wholeness has reserve funds that’s going to go somewhere else speaks to that fraud. It’s a vicious cycle.”
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