The Rise and Fall of the ‘Ex-Gay’ Myth

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IN JUNE 1998, fifteen anti-gay organizations launched the “ex-gay” Truth in Love campaign with full-page ads in America’s largest newspapers. The first ad appeared in The New York Times and featured an “ex-lesbian” who smiled under the optimistic headline, “I’m Living Proof That The Truth Can Set You Free.”

The religious right jumped on the “ex-gay” bandwagon because its traditional fire-and-brimstone rhetoric was beginning to backfire. Harsh condemnation of GLBT people started to sound merely cruel, as more people came out of the closet or were forced out due to HIV-related illnesses. The “ex-gay” concept offered a way to appear compassionate while still rejecting gay equality. Their new message: gay people don’t need equality; what they really need is sexual conversion. And since we love the sinners, though not the sin, we can help those trapped in this miserable lifestyle to escape and lead “normal” lives. Anti-gay activists were so enthralled by this campaign that Robert Knight, who worked for the Family Research Council at the time, called it “the Normandy landing in the larger cultural wars.”

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