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Former ‘ex-gays’ share psychological horror stories

by Paige Schilt

David Christie (left) with Brandon Tidwell as reads his statement to the press in Memphis, Tenn.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — At a program held here in mid-July, two former clients spoke out against Love in Action (LIA), a Memphis residential program that claims to help people “break out” of “homosexual attraction and behavior.”

Brandon Tidwell of Memphis and David Christie of New York told the assembled media and supporters that their experiences at LIA and other “ex-gay” ministries caused emotional, spiritual and financial hardships. They then presented framed artwork depicting their stories to staff at the facility.

Tidwell and Christie are part of the Survivor’s Initiative, a national campaign to share the stories of “Ex-gay Survivors” — men and women who feel that ex-gay messages and programs did them more harm than good. To date, similar actions have occurred in Los Angeles, Colorado Springs, and Salt Lake City.

Christie, who spent 13 years attempting to alter his sexual orientation in various forms of “ex-gay” conversion therapy, spoke eloquently of the mental anguish and spiritual turmoil that he experienced:

“Throughout all of this, I constantly battled feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred and guilt,” Christie testified. “This led to a chronic depression for which I had to take costly medications from my late teens until I finally came out, at the age of 28. On a few occasions, in panicked despair, I seriously contemplated suicide.”

The American Psychiatric Association has identified “depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior” as possible risks associated with “ex-gay” conversion therapy. In fact, all of the major mental health associations have issued policy statements opposing such treatments.

In 2005, LIA was investigated by the state of Tennessee for operating a mental health facility without a license. LIA has since changed its operating procedures to avoid state regulation. Most recently, LIA closed its controversial Refuge program for teenagers and replaced it with “Family Freedom Intensives,” a four-day program for parents of gay or questioning teenagers that costs $600 per person.

“I grieve for my own years of anguish, but also for the confusion and pain I caused my ex-wife, my family, and my friends. And sure, I spent a lot of money in the process, but what I want back more than anything is the time and energy I put into it,” Christie continued.

At the recent Ex-gay Survivor Conference in Irvine, Calif., many “ex-gay” survivors told of finally accepting themselves as gay men and lesbians, only to find themselves in difficult financial straits after years of costly therapy and conferences. LIA charges $7,000 for three months of residential treatment.

In his statement, Tidwell — who entered LIA in 2002 — spoke about the process of accepting himself and reconciling his sexuality and his Christian faith:

“Today, I stand here as a gay man of Christian faith, a man with hopes, dreams and aspirations to live a life of authenticity and service to this world. Through Soulforce and other partner groups, I hope to be a voice among many who are calling for God’s love and acceptance to prevail in this struggle,” Tidwell said.

LIA is part of a larger “ex-gay” movement, which continues to thrive in spite of Americans’ growing conviction that sexual orientation is not subject to change and despite a growing willingness on the part of faith communities to accept gays and lesbians as whole and valuable members.

“And to the people at Love In Action, I say to you that God loves you just as you are and that you can find hope and peace outside of the ‘ex-gay’ life,” Tidwell concluded.

— The Survivor’s Initiative is organized by Soulforce, a national social justice organization. Their 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

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