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A group of 24 former “ex-gay” leaders signed onto an open letter denouncing conversion therapy and supporting a bill to ban it in the commonwealth.
The letter, written by Michael Bussee, a co-founder of the ex-gay organization Exodus International, outlines the problems with trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including that most practitioners don’t have formal psychological training and that the therapy is ineffective in achieving its stated goals.
“At one time, we were not only deeply involved in these conversion ‘therapy’ programs; we were the founders, the leaders, and the promoters,” reads the letter, which was published in several Kentucky newspapers, including The State Journal and the Courier-Journal.
“Together, we represent more than half a century of experience, so few people are more knowledgeable about the ineffectiveness and harm of conversion therapy,” the leaders add. “We know firsthand the terrible emotional and spiritual damage it can cause, especially for LGBTQ youth.”
The letter was also signed by members of the Former Ex-Gay Leaders Alliance, including Alan Chambers, a former president of Exodus; and other leaders from Exodus or the former ex-gay group Love in Action (now known as Restoration Path), including Anthony Bishop; Bill Prickett; Bradford Allen Reubendale; Cat Chapman; Darlene Bogle; David Foreman; David Matheson; Don Brown; Jeff Coe; Jeremy Marks; Jim Marjoram; John J. Smid; John Paulk; Kim Brett; McKrae Game; Paul Martin; Randy Thomas; Roy A. Blankenship; Tim Rymel; Wendy VanderWal Gritter; Wenn Lawson; and Yvette Cantu Schneider.
“We once believes that there was something morally wrong and psychologically ‘broken’ about being LGBTQ. We know better now,” the letter reads. “We once believed that sexual orientation or gender identity were somehow chosen or could be changed. We know better now.
“We once thought it was impossible to embrace our sexual orientation or sexual identity as an intrinsic, healthy part of who we are and who we were created to be. We know better now.”
The leaders say they were taught growing up that being LGBTQ or engaging in same-sex relationships was morally wrong, and that those with same-sex attractions could curb those feelings by recommitting themselves to God — beliefs they call “toxic” and harmful to young people struggling with their identity.
“Recovery from conversion therapy is difficult at best,” the leaders note. “Some remain forever scarred, emotionally and spiritually. Conversion therapy reinforces internalized homophobia, anxiety, guilt and depression.
“It leads to self-loathing and emotional and psychological harm when change doesn’t happen. Regrettably, too many will choose suicide as a result of their sense of failure.”
Noting that almost every mainstream medical and mental health organization opposes conversion therapy, the leaders call on Kentucky legislators to pass a bipartisan bill to ban the practice of conversion therapy on youth that was introduced earlier this year.
“We can’t take back the harm that we caused, but we want to prevent future damage,” they write. “The bills proposed by state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R-Lexington), and state Rep. Lisa Willner (D-Louisville), strike the right balance of protecting LGBTQ youth and individual freedom by appropriately regulating the conduct of licensed mental health professionals and protecting public funds from misuse.
“It is our firm belief that it is much more productive to support, counsel, and mentor LGBTQ individuals to embrace who they are in order to live happy, well-adjusted lives.”
Tanner Austin Mobley, the executive director of Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky, which is backing the bill, says he appreciates the former conversion therapy advocates coming forward to denounce the practice, and hopes their experience will assist in convincing lawmakers to support it.
“The fact that we have 24 former leaders in the movement coming forward and saying ‘We were the founders, the promoters, the people that helped create these programs, and what we did was harmful. It didn’t work. And it resulted in some individuals even committing suicide,’ I think it’s really powerful,” Mobley told Metro Weekly in an interview. “It shows that, if even these people are coming forward and saying this doesn’t work, I think we can all agree it’s time to end these practices.”
Lawmakers will hold a hearing of the Joint Interim Licensing, Occupations, & Administrative Regulations Committee to discuss the conversion therapy bill on Tuesday, Aug. 25.
“With a lot of people, it’s not that they even really have an opinion on conversion therapy,” Mobley added. “It’s that they don’t know that it exists or the information they have on it is very limited. And having people that clearly have the expertise, and have been on both sides of this practice coming out and saying ‘This is harmful,’ I think is convincing. And I think we’ll see that have an impact as we go into the legislative session in the spring.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comment from Tanner Austin Mobley, the executive director of Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky.
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