Previous | TOC | Next

Overview

On July 13, 1998, a full-page advertisement promoting the "ex-gay" movement ran in The New York Times.2 Featuring Anne Paulk - billed as a wife, mother, and a former lesbian, and pictured wearing a sparkling solitaire diamond engagement ring with a wedding band - the ad claimed that homosexuals can become heterosexual by accepting Jesus Christ and repenting their sins. The New York Times ad was followed by similar ads, in USA Today featuring professional football player Reggie White, and in The Washington Post featuring a group of ex-gay leaders.3 The $206,000 ad campaign sparked a media firestorm which resulted in the largest public exposure that the ex-gay movement has ever received.4

The ads were purchased by a well-coordinated and well-financed coalition of fifteen Christian Right and ex-gay organizations, including the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, Kerusso Ministries, and the American Family Association. They represent a re-framing by the Christian Right of its long-standing condemnation of homosexuality and opposition to gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender rights. By elevating the ex-gay movement, the Christian Right has shifted its message to a model of preaching personal salvation for homosexuals.5 "Calling homosexual behavior sin is not anti-gay, it's pro-life," reads one ad. "Thousands of homosexuals can celebrate a new life because someone cared enough to share with them the truth of God's healing love," reads another. But behind this mask of compassion, the anti-gay and authoritarian agenda of the Right remains unchanged. This report locates the ex-gay movement in the context in which it belongs: as part of the Right's larger social change movement, which promotes an agenda of sweeping social, political, cultural, and economic changes.

The ex-gay movement is an international network that claims gay men and lesbians can be "converted" to heterosexuality through "submission to Jesus Christ" or through secular "reparative therapy." During the past two decades, the ex-gay movement has operated as part of, but separate from, the Christian Right. For years, ex-gay leaders had difficulty convincing churches and Christian Right organizations to support ex-gay ministries, since ex-gay leaders still carried the stigma of homosexuality. The Right's position of outright condemnation of homosexuality kept it from comfortably embracing anyone who had been gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender.

Programs of psychotherapy that attempt to "cure" homosexuals, known as "conversion therapy" or "reparative therapy," date back several decades, but only in the last few years has the Christian Right fully accepted the ex-gay movement and subsequently catapulted "gay conversion" onto the screen of national public debate.6 It did so when outright condemnation began to fail as a political message, creating the need for a new and more effective way to reach people. Christian Right organizations had not realized the political opportunities that a partnership with the ex-gay movement would bring, especially the political benefit of borrowing the notion of reparative therapy from the secular Right, which has long been a proponent of conversion therapy for homosexuals. Reparative therapy has been widely repudiated by the American Psychological Association and other mainstream mental health organizations. However, Christian Right leaders are undeterred in their zeal to use the ex-gay movement for political gain. This report details the political agenda that a partnership between the Christian Right and the ex-gay movement promotes. It also refutes the claim by the Christian Right that its views on homosexuality reflect those of most Christians and Americans of other faiths.

The report reviews extensive evidence that:

      n By re-framing its attack on homosexuality in kinder, gentler terms, the Christian Right is putting forth a softer face that cloaks a hard line agenda, which includes rolling back lesbian and gay civil rights, enforcing criminal laws against gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender people, and promoting a broader theocratic agenda based on a literal interpretation of Biblical Scripture. Each aspect of this right-wing political agenda represents a grave threat to democracy and diversity in the US.

      n The ex-gay movement lends political cover to the Right's hostile political campaign against gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender people. In fact, using the ex-gay movement is just the latest strategy in the Right's decades-long attack on the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community, and the ex-gay movement must be analyzed in this historical context. If homosexuality is a "choice" that can be overcome, then, it is argued, a "gay lifestyle" is voluntary and therefore does not deserve protection under the Constitution.

      n In asserting that homosexuality is a sin that can be overcome, the Christian Right is at odds with many mainstream communities of faith which advocate equal rights for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people and also affirm their full religious equality.

A complex movement with many sectors, the Right has a multitude of infrastructure organizations, including publishing houses, legal organizations, mass-based organizations, think tanks, and funding organizations that consistently provide the basic resources needed for the movement to survive and prosper.7 These infrastructure organizations are able to respond quickly to political opportunities, such as the emergence of the ex-gay movement. Collectively, infrastructure organizations on the Right have formed an effective communications network and a structure of support for the movement.8

In furtherance of its agenda, the Christian Right seeks to impose universal standards of conduct based on its narrow interpretation of Biblical scripture - which would denote the only legitimate and acceptable form of behavior for all citizens.9 The Christian Right is attempting to pressure the Republican Party to enact this agenda through legislation, state regulations, and through media campaigns which represent a crusade for "coercive purity."10 If the Christian Right has its way, the result will be a form of Christian nationalism that would tear down the walls separating church and state. This vision is authoritarian, anti-democratic, and inconsistent with the American tradition of pluralism, tolerance, and respect for difference. The ex-gay movement subscribes to and serves the Right's broader vision

Ok to Download, Copy & Print:

Previous | TOC | Next

Online Articles:

Spotlight On
Explore

Browse Topics | Site Guide | Multimedia Bookstore | Magazine | Publications | Activists Resources

Political Research Associates

Copyright Information, Terms, and Conditions

Please read our Terms and Conditions for copyright information regarding downloading, copying, printing, and linking material on this site; our disclaimer about links present on this website; and our privacy policy.

Updates and Corrections