“Why are you here?” my counselor asked.
“I want to be straight. Normal,” I answered. “I want to be here six months and then never talk about this again.”
I was 19 at the time, and this counselor seemed like the answer to my eight years of praying for God to fix me, cure me, heal me, give me a lobotomy, give me amnesia or kill me. I was devoutly Christian and intrinsically gay and the two, I was told, could never mix.
While the counselor I sought help from worked under the organizational banner Change Is Possible, I am thankful he knew better than to promise that such a dramatic change from gay to straight would definitely happen. There was plenty of discussion about the sinfulness of homosexuality and the encouragement to pursue celibacy. There was also advice given on pursuing heterosexual dating and marriage. It was 1991, and the only thing that seemed abnormal about all of this was that I was attracted to other men. That was bad.
I was a good student. I had a natural and honest desire to marry a woman and live happily ever after. I believed what I had been taught about sex and sexuality, and over the years I realized I could live without gay sex and resist the temptation to give into sexual urges. I thought this meant I was healed and that change was indeed possible.
I was happy with my life and wanted to help others like me who wanted this freedom.
I got married in 1998, and for more than 17 years have found it easy to be faithful to my wife. I am more in love with her today than ever before and enjoy every part of our amazing marriage. But it took me 20 years, 12 of which I served as the president of Exodus International — the world’s largest so-called ex-gay ministry — to realize my story is just that: my story.
While I am thankful for the ministry I went to for support — there was no other place for gay Christians to go in 1991 to admit the truth — I am sorry that they and I prescribed a one-size-fits-all story for every gay and lesbian person. I’m sorry we preached an incomplete gospel and wrongly told LGBTQ people they could and should do more to be acceptable to God. Doing so was deeply hurtful and damaging to many who never experienced the kind of change we thought possible.
For too long, same-sex attraction has been categorized as sinful and in need of repairing. Such stigma has caused LGBTQ people crippling shame and fear. As a child I experienced and as an adult I perpetuated that stigma. I profoundly regret my support for and promotion of reparative therapy.
And that’s why I stand with President Obama in calling for a ban on this practice for minors and for greater measures to protect adults seeking this niche therapeutic intervention.
This ban is in no way an attempt to strip parents of their ability to be good parents or to keep them from helping their child to navigate the complexities of sex and sexuality. Nor is it an infringement on religious liberties.
Regardless of a person’s opinions on sexual morality, efforts to change someone’s primary sexual orientation are dangerous and always unsuccessful. Every adult should have the right to choose his or her own path. And if someone has a religious or moral objection to a particular sexual expression, then who are we to tell that person he or she must embrace a specific act or identity?
But this has nothing to do with that.
This is about protecting kids from unsubstantiated claims that sexual orientation can be changed. This is about protecting the mental health of kids by validating their worth as human beings who are loved by God. This is about reducing shame and stigma and providing an opportunity for them to grow into mature adults who make decisions based on reality, not fear.
As a Christian, this is about understanding the gospel in greater fullness, realizing God’s love is for all of us or it is for none of us — without exception or qualification.
And so as a Christian, I stand with the president and many others on behalf of LGBT young people who need our intervention. I don’t want to see any more kids throw themselves off of a bridge or in front of a train because we as a society have told them they are less worthy because they are “different.”
(Alan Chambers, with his wife, Leslie, is the author of the forthcoming memoir My Exodus (September 2015, Zondervan). From 2001-2013, he served as president of Exodus International, and then worked with his leadership to close the ministry. Alan and Leslie have two kids, write at www.alanchambers.org and live in Winter Park, Fla. On Twitter @AlanMChambers and @MyExodusBook.)
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