Former "Ex-Gay" Leaders in Australia Apologize, Claim That Ex-Gay Conversion Does More Harm Than Good

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: August 16, 2007
For Immediate Release
U.S. Contact: Paige Schilt, Director of Public Relations and Media
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
Australian Contact: Anthony Venn-Brown
Cell: +61 416 015 231
anthony@anthonyvennbrown.com
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(Austin, TX) — Former "ex-gay" leaders in Australia have added their voices to a public apology for "the isolation, shame, fear, and loss of faith" caused by the message that gays and lesbians must change or suppress their sexual orientation in order to be good Christians.

On June 27, 2007, Soulforce and beyondexgay.com brought together former ex-gay leaders from the U.S. and U.K. to issue a public apology for their prior involvement in providing and promoting ex-gay conversion therapy. As part of their apology, Darlene Bogle, Michael Bussee, and Jeremy Marks appealed to other former ex-gay leaders to join the healing and reconciliation process by adding their names to the apology.

Inspired by this historic statement, Vonnie Pitts, Wendy Lawson, and Kim Brett — all former leaders of Australian ex-gay ministries–have come forward to confirm with their American and British counterparts that ex-gay ministries cause more harm than good.

Pictures and complete text of the Australian leaders’ statements are available at www.soulforce.org/article/1295 and www.beyondexgay.com/article/apology2.

"There has been an increasing uneasiness in me since 2005 that what I was teaching was harmful to people," says Kim Brett, who founded an ex-gay program that was affiliated with Exodus and Living Waters, two U.S. ex-gay groups. "I became tired and ill at ease with always feeling that this part of my life and others attending the group were broken and in need of fixing."

Wendy Lawson, former leader of an ex-gay group in Melbourne, emphasized the personal psychological impact of the ex-gay message:

"I suffered torment and huge anxiety all muddied by confusion and constant failure during the Exodus years. For me the most traumatic outcome was my personal sense of failure as a Christian and not being accepted as a part of the church family I loved," says Lawson.

Vonnie Pitts was a heterosexual church leader who organized an ex-gay support group in the Sydney area. Although her group members were dedicated and determined, she did not witness the changes in orientation promised by the group’s curriculum, which was adopted from the Missouri-based Living Waters ministry.

"If I were to see any of the people that I took through the Living Waters program again, I would say ‘I’m sorry.’ My intentions were to help you through your struggle, but I acted in ignorance," says Pitts.

The Australian former ex-gay leaders were organized by Anthony Venn-Brown, who attended Australia’s first ex-gay program in 1972 and spent the next 22 years attempting to suppress and change his sexuality. During that time he married and became a national Christian leader in Australia through the Assemblies of God Church. Through his own experiences, Venn-Brown eventually came to realize that the ex-gay message created trauma rather than freedom. He narrates this journey in the recently published book, A Life of Unlearning — A Journey to Find the Truth (New Holland Publishers) and will share some of his story on 60 Minutes in Australia on Sunday August 19, 2007.


Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.

Australia’s Former Ex-Gay Leaders Speak

Wendy Lawson

Former Exodus Leader – Melbourne

Wendy LawsonAs a mature adult and mother of four, my Christian experience was very important to me. Not only did I attend Sunday services, I taught Sunday school, lead the Wednesday evening Bible study series, and also went to Tuesday prayer meetings. Somehow keeping busy and trying to please my husband kept me from coming to terms with other evolving emotions that I hadn’t time to explore or understand. Eventually, however, I could no longer hide from them.

When it became obvious to me that my "natural desire" was not for my husband but was for a woman, I felt trapped and hopeless. I sought out any information that I could find that might be helpful. I came across an ex-gay ministry called Exodus. I joined Exodus as a Christian wanting to change her sexual orientation. I enjoyed meeting others who were battling with the same demons as myself. Somehow I didn’t feel quite so alone.

After about twelve months I was nominated as leader of this small group of about fifteen individuals. We met weekly for prayer, discussion and support. I travelled overseas to America to interview Elizabeth Moberley, a scholar and academic who suggested that legitimate same sex affection would provide a passage out of homosexuality. Over the next three years, I continued to teach, study and practice "legitimate, non-sexual same sex affection." However, it soon became clear to me that my homosexual drive was not decreasing and I was not getting any closer to becoming heterosexual.

After four years I decided that the truth for me was that I stop hiding and accept my homosexual self. Having assistant pastor status with my church, I knew I had to tell them my decision. They felt that I could no longer continue in ministry, and I was asked to step down.

Today, more than fifteen years after I stepped down from leadership of the ex-gay ministry, I have come to know that nearly every member of that group is now living their lives openly as a homosexual person (twenty people). I am only aware of one member who married and who would say that they are pleased not to be gay but to be living in a heterosexual relationship. They have been married for five years. It is also my understanding that they have not disclosed their former struggles with their partner.

Although I valued the support and friendship of the Exodus members (many are among my closest friends today) I suffered torment and huge anxiety all muddied by confusion and constant failure during the Exodus years. For me the most traumatic outcome was my personal sense of failure as a Christian and not being accepted as a part of the church family I loved.

On April 14, 2007, my long time partner and I were married at Colchester Registry Office in the UK. This wedding celebrated who we are and our love and commitment for each other. For the first time in my adult life I felt valued for being me and thrilled to at last find a legitimate home amongst my family and friends for my partner and myself.

I believe that my Heavenly Father is also pleased and relieved on our behalf. It is my sincere belief that Scripture points out that God is Love and God is Truth. The Truth shall set you free it says. Being true to my sexual orientation is freeing, and I no longer struggle with anxiety, depression, confusion and sexual dysphoria!

When one is at home with one’s sexual self and this causes no one any harm and is considerate and respectful, this is love.


Kim Brett

Former Exodus Associate and Former Leader Living Waters and Liberty Inc. – Brisbane

Kim BrettI was born-again at twenty which marked the beginning of my church teaching that same-sex relationships were wrong. I wrestled with the issue of sexuality and my faith, and the Church’s approach to people in my situation. I threw myself into Church life, looking for solutions and answers, just to find the attitude ‘Heterosexuality is what has to be’, without the practical help that brings healing to the person.

My now partner once commented how life as a gay Christian seeking re-orientation was like living in a cemetery waiting to die – this explained exactly how I felt. I had resigned myself to a life of chastity and obedience as re-orientation had never occurred for me and celibacy was my only option. My life had become shallow, small and empty.

My desire has been to support women who wish to live by their Christian convictions, not just aiming for validation by being ‘heterosexual’. In 2003 I co-founded an ex-gay group (YANA) for Christian women who were dealing with same-sex and relationship concerns. I have been involved with Living Waters, an ex-gay ministry (Liberty Inc) and Exodus. I was also on the leadership team of a street work ministry for 7 years.

There had been an increasing uneasiness in me since 2005 that what I was teaching was harmful to people. I had become tired and ill-at-ease with always feeling that this part of my life and others attending the group (same-sex orientated) is broken and in need of fixing. For a long time I had been witnessing peoples (and my own) growing frustration that no matter how repentant, prayerful and committed we all were to living a life as an ex-gay Christian, the changes we all sought and were taught possible never really materialised for most. Some people I knew were married and had married but most seemed to still be dealing with homosexual feelings.

Depression, anxiety, loneliness and inner turmoil were our constant companions because as seen through the eyes of many churches, our ‘failure’ to change equated with somehow not having enough faith, not being a ‘true’ Christian or having a demonic influence.

I do feel that there was benefit in attending some ex-gay groups in that as we journeyed together Christian maturity and personal growth was evident – I consider this is a consequence of any loving Christian group. The people I have journeyed with are the most dedicated and courageous people I have ever met. I pray God will lead us all to freedom and truth in Christ.

In summary, life has changed dramatically for me since being confronted so profoundly over the previous years. I have closed the women’s group. I have resigned from all involvement in ex-gay ministries. I have commenced a relationship with a wonderful Christian woman. I am allowing myself the time and space to investigate other thoughts relating to being gay and Christian. After nearly thirty years of torment I am finally learning to rest from fixing my sexuality and past. Above all, I am endeavouring to adopt a simple faith that I once held dear and that is Jesus’ words that say "Come follow me".

I would like to make it known that I respect and appreciate all the leaders and volunteers involved in the ex-gay ministries I have been associated with. They too are genuine and loving Christians living by their convictions. For me though, because of my own present journey I can no longer be involved with them out of respect for their ministries and their beliefs regarding homosexuality.


Vonnie Pitts (Veronica Canning)

Former Leader Living Waters and Former Pastor Christian City Church – Sydney

Veronica CanningI first heard of the Living Waters ex-gay program in early 1991. As a pastor on the leadership team of Christian City Church in Brookvale, I arranged to set up the program in our church to help those struggling with homosexuality. As heterosexuals, myself and two other pastors from the church spent four months going through the tapes and manual provided in order to be trained. We then took three lesbians and two gay men through the program over a six-month period. It was quite intense. I supported them in their struggles and as we worked through the teaching, we believed they had honestly tried very hard to come out the other end straight. When we reached the final week I asked the girls what they felt had been achieved. None of them felt the program had changed their sexual orientation. The guys who were working the program finished with similar results.

We looked at additional resources like Elijah House Counselling as a way of bringing more healing into the Living Waters Program. There were many at Christian City Church who heard about the program and wanted to join, but I was already beginning to have serious doubts about the program’s success. It became apparent that anyone who claimed to be "cured" had just gone into denial about his or her sexuality.

At this time, I began my own research into the causes of homosexuality and found there was mounting evidence that sexual orientation is determined in the womb. Now I have absolutely no doubt that homosexuals are born gay and don’t need to change. If I were to see any of the people that I took through the Living Waters program again, I would say I’m sorry. My intentions were to help you through your struggle, but I acted in ignorance.

Former Exodus Leaders Issue Emotional Apology; Statements Highlight the Dangers of Attempting to Change Sexual Orientation

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: June 28, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Director of Public Relations and Media
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Los Angeles, CA) — Yesterday three former leaders from Exodus International — the powerful coalition of "ex-gay" ministries — presented an unprecedented public apology for spreading the message that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are sinful and that sexual orientation can change.

"Some who heard our message were compelled to try to change an integral part of themselves, bringing harm to themselves and their families. Although we acted in good faith, we have since witnessed the isolation, shame, fear, and loss of faith that this message creates," said the joint apology, which was signed by Michael Bussee, Darlene Bogle, and Jeremy Marks.

The apology was presented at a press conference organized by Soulforce and BeyondExGay.com. The event was emotionally charged, especially when the former leaders presented the apology to a group of "ex-gay survivors" — men and women who once sought to change their orientation through ex-gay programs but who now believe that those attempts did more harm than good.

Each of the assembled former leaders represents an aspect of the history and expansion of Exodus’s ministries. Bussee helped found the ex-gay movement and Exodus in the mid-1970s. Within a few years, however, he began to doubt the movement’s message and tactics:

"Many of our clients began to fall apart – sinking deeper into patterns of guilt, anxiety and self-loathing. Why weren’t they ‘changing’? The answers from church leaders made the pain even worse…. The message always seemed to be: ‘You’re not enough. You’re not trying hard enough. You don’t have enough faith.’"

Bogle, former director of Paraklete, an Exodus referral ministry for women, displayed visible emotion as she read from her personal statement of apology.

"I apologize to those individuals and families who believed my message that change was necessary to be acceptable to God. In recent years I have seen the resulting damage from rejection, shame, and conditional love," said Bogle.

Perhaps the most prominent former Exodus leader to participate in the apology was Marks, the President of Exodus International Europe until 2000. Marks described his growing awareness that ex-gay ministries were not delivering promised changes in orientation and issued a call to his former colleagues:

"I now want to try and encourage all those so-called ‘ex-gay’ Christians who lead Exodus ministries — who, in their hearts, know very well that what I am saying is true — to change their minds, as I had to — to simply trust in God once again for their credibility and support, even though that may mean risking all," said Marks, who has transformed his London-based program, Courage UK, into a gay-affirming ministry.

Marks, Bogle, and Bussee are gathered in Southern California for The Ex-gay Survivor Conference, which will take place at the University of California on June 29-July 1. This conference, which will focus on the experiences of ex-gay survivors, is the result of a year of planning and collaboration between Soulforce, the LGBT Resource Center at UC Irvine, and beyondexgay.com. It is timed to provide an alternative voice to the annual Exodus conference, which is also happening in Irvine this week.

For more information about the conference, visit www.soulforce.org.


Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.

Damaged by Ex-gay Programs, Survivors Invite Exodus Leadership to Hear the Rest of the Story

Open Letter Addressed to Alan Chambers, Other Ex-gay Leaders

International Conference of Ex-gay Survivors to Coincide with Exodus Meeting

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: June 25, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Director of Public Relations and Media
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Irvine, CA) — As Exodus International, the world’s largest network of "ex-gay" ministries, prepares to hold its annual conference this week in Irvine, California, two former participants in Exodus programs have issued an open letter to the organization’s leaders. The letter, which was penned by Peterson Toscano and Christine Bakke, invites Exodus leaders to attend a dinner with "ex-gay survivors" — men and women who feel that attempts to change their sexual orientation caused emotional and spiritual damage.

"Many of us have spent months and years under your care in your ministries," the letter explains. "Sadly our ex-gay experiences caused more harm than good, and for many of us we have needed years to recover."

Toscano and Bakke are the founders of beyondexgay.com, a new web resource for ex-gay survivors. They will be in Irvine for The Ex-gay Survivor Conference, which will take place on the University of California’s Irvine campus June 29-July 1. This conference, which will draw participants from as far away as Australia and the United Kingdom, is the result of a year of planning and collaboration between Soulforce, the LGBT Resource Center at UC Irvine, and beyondexgay.com.

According to Soulforce Executive Director Jeff Lutes, "Our conference features the voices of men and women who, in spite of enormous pressures, have come to accept themselves as they are. Their stories present a hopeful alternative to the Exodus message, but we will not initiate or endorse any direct protest of the Exodus Conference."

Although no high ranking Exodus leaders have yet responded to the invitation to share a meal with ex-gay survivors, on Thursday, June 21, Exodus issued a press release indicating that the organization welcomes the possibility of dialogue between the two conferences.

"We feel encouraged that Exodus has responded to our invitation for dialogue," says Toscano. "We look forward to sharing challenges we faced in our lives as a result of our time in Exodus ministries."

Full text of letter:

Dear Exodus Leaders,

It is no coincidence that we scheduled the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference at the same time and in the same city as Exodus’ Freedom Conference. Although we do not wish to interrupt your gathering, we do long for the opportunity to connect with you. Many of us have spent months and years under your care in your ministries. We turned to you for help and received some good from our time under your care. Sadly our ex-gay experiences caused more harm than good, and for many of us we have needed years to recover.

We understand that this was not your intent. From knowing quite a few of you personally, we know that you have a heart to help people and to serve God. You meant to bless us.

Too often once we leave your programs, you never hear about our lives and what happens to us. Most ministries do not have aftercare programs or any formal means to follow-up on participants. Some stories you do not get to hear. If you do, our stories can be simplified by the press or infused with anger or hurt. In hopes of giving you the opportunity to hear about our experiences and the harm that we felt came to us as a result of our pursuit of an ex-gay life, we would like to invite you to join us for a private dinner on Friday, June 29, 2007.

The purpose of the dinner is to give you an opportunity to hear our stories. We do not wish to bash you, attack you or shame you. We simply desire to share our stories with you. No members of the press will be allowed into the dinner and it will not be recorded or filmed. We are hoping for a small gathering with a few ex-gay leaders and some ex-gay survivors. At the dinner a few of us will tell you our stories.

If you are interested in attending this dinner, please RSVP to bxg@beyondexgay.com.

Sincerely,

Peterson Toscano and Christine Bakke
Ex-gay survivors and co-founders of www.BeyondExGay.com

Registration for The Ex-gay Survivor Conference is available online at www.soulforce.org. The conference registration fee is $40, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.


Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.