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Group That Claimed To 'Cure' Gays Disbands, Leader Apologizes


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Last night, there was a striking public apology. It came from the leader of a large long-established Christian ministry dedicated to, in their words, curing gay people. He repudiated the theory that homosexuals can change their orientation through prayer and therapy. And he vowed to shut down his organization.

As we hear from NPR's John Burnett, the move has had a big effect in the small world of the so-called ex-gay movement.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Alan Chambers, president of Orlando-based Exodus International, chose to clear his conscience of all places at his organization's annual conference in Southern California. He posted a message on the Exodus website under the stark heading: I Am Sorry. To members of the LGBTQ community, quote, "I'm sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I'm sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions did not change. More than anything," he continues, "I'm sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection from Christians as God's rejection. I'm profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith, and that some have chosen to end their lives."

WAYNE BESEN: I heard the news last night, and my reaction was amazement. This is really a tidal wave, an earthquake.

BURNETT: Wayne Besen is executive director of Truth Wins Out, a group dedicated to exposing what he calls fraudulent gay-to-straight therapies. Besen says he had battled Chambers for years.

BESEN: I'm going to give Alan Chambers a lot of credit here. What he did was unique and rare because very few people will put their own livelihood, their own family in jeopardy to do the right thing. That's what he did by stepping forward.

BURNETT: Using religion and so-called reparative therapy to discourage people from unwanted same-sex attraction has become a tenet of many conservative Christian groups. From its origins in the mid-'70s, Exodus grew into an umbrella organization with chapters in 17 countries. The ex-gay movement has passionate supporters such as Christopher Doyle, who says he was cured of his homosexuality. Doyle is a psychotherapist and president of the International Healing Foundation, which contends that homosexual tendencies can be reoriented. He says Chambers has hurt their cause.

CHRISTOPHER DOYLE: It's a sad day for the ex-gay movement where the largest Christian organization that's existed for, you know, almost 40 years and has really given a lot of hope to people who are trying to come out of homosexuality is basically saying that people can't change.

BURNETT: The belief that homosexuality is curable is, of course, enormously contentious. Last year, California became the first state to ban mental health providers from offering therapy to minors that tries to change their orientation from gay to straight. That law now faces a legal challenge.

Alan Chambers said in a television interview last year that 99.9 percent of gay people who go through therapy do not change. Chris Camp(ph) is 57 and lives in Baltimore, where he's legally married to his male partner of 17 years. He figures he's spent several thousand dollars over seven years for Christian counseling to cure his homosexuality. He said not only did it fail, but it was damaging.

CHRIS CAMP: The longer time that you're in and you notice that you're really not changing anything, you start really getting down on yourself because, you know, like what's wrong with me? This is supposed to work. Maybe Jesus doesn't like me.

BURNETT: Alan Chambers will appear tonight on "Our America" with Lisa Ling on the Oprah Winfrey Network to explain his decision and to confront gay people who underwent reparative therapy that he formally endorsed.

John Burnett, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.