Former 'Ex Gay' Leader Decries 'Conversion Therapy' in Interviews

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday September 19, 2019

Not only has the so-called "ex-gay" movement and its associated quack "conversion" therapy lost droves of leaders and practitioners over the past few years, but also some of those who broke away and managed to embrace authenticity are now speaking out against the practice of telling LGBTQ people that they are "broken" and need to be "healed."

Such messaging - and the failure of "conversion therapy" to deliver to those to whom it offers the fiction of a "cure" for being gay - can be psychologically devastating, reputable mental health experts warn. Some former practitioners of the debunked "therapy" agree.

Among them is John Smid, who for nearly two decades was the head of a high-profile Christian program called Love in Action that purported to "convert" LGBTQ people and "turn them straight." Smid was also on the board of Exodus International. But he is now active in efforts to help those that the movement in which he once was a leader has harmed - and he's also active in spreading the word that the practice is not just useless, but downright dangerous.

Smid appeared on the Australian news program "60 Minutes" recently, where he spoke about the harm and suffering that so-called "conversion therapy" has caused.

In an interview with presenter Sarah Abo, Smid decried the essential message of the "ex-gay" movement, which is that men and women who are not heterosexual are in some way incomplete or pathologically afflicted. He also addressed a fundamental flaw in "conversion therapy" programs - namely, that prayer and psychology do not necessarily mix in constructive ways.

Smid told "60 Minutes" that those practicing "conversion therapy" believe that they have "the authority of the Bible" behind them. But, he added, the result of their efforts is not necessarily compatible with human health.

"We did not admit or come to grips with how deeply harmful it is when you start working with someone's psyche," Smid told Abo.

The story of one young man's suffering at the hands of "conversion therapy" practitioners was turned into a film last year, "60 Minutes" noted. "Boy Erased," based on a memoir by Garrard Conley, tells the story of a young man who is forced into a program that claims to turn LGBTQ youths into heterosexuals. The film depicts assaults, psychological torture, and suicide.

Smid warned that the dark turns the film takes are no exaggeration.

Said Smid:

"I would say every single one that I have had contact with has struggled terribly through the years with depression, with deep levels of anxiety...

"The people I've talked with had a lot of anger and resentment.

"There have been people that have even committed suicide as a result of that despair."

The "60 Minutes" article noted that Smid denied his own natural feelings for years, but finally left Love in Action and eventually married another man. In so doing, he joined the ranks of those who once promoted, practiced, or led the debunked "therapy," ranks that also include McKrae Game, a former proponent of "conversion therapy" and founder of "Hope for Wholeness," a program that dangled the prospect of being magically converted to heterosexuality in front of vulnerable LGBTQ people.

As previously reported at EDGE, Game recently told the news media that "ex-gay" ministries are a "lie" and warned the "conversion" therapy can be "very harmful." He also struck at the underpinnings of the "ex-gay" industry when he said that claims of "conversion" amount to "false advertising."

In a confessional Facebook post, Game frankly addressed his current feelings about his past association with the "conversion therapy" industry:

"I know that creating the organization that still lives was in a large way causing harm. Creating a catchy slogan that put out a very misleading idea of 'Freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ' was definitely harmful. Promoting the triadic model that blamed parents and conversion or prayer therapy, that made many people believe that their orientation was wrong, bad, sinful, evil, and worse that they could change was absolutely harmful."

Game went still deeper into his regrets:

"People reported to attempt suicide because of me and these teachings and ideals. I told people they were going to Hell if they didn't stop, and these were professing Christians! This was probably my worse wrongful act.

"At one time I was working with so many youths that I had a weekly youth group, where they'd share why they were there, and I would guide them in how to not be gay. What a sad commentary of my past verses today, or a bad joke as many may see it."

Game started that post with a heartfelt plea that also serves as a warning for those who might seek "conversion" to heterosexuality:

"I WAS WRONG! Please forgive me!"

As for Smid, he continues speaking out as a way of atoning. Earlier this year, Smid was interviewed by Truth Wins Out, an organization that campaigns against "conversion" therapy and seeks to protect LGTBQ youth from its practitioners.

The video's pull quote? "I've never seen an 'ex gay' success story."

Watch Smid's interview with Truth Wins Out below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.