Youth in the Crosshairs: the Third Wave of Ex-Gay Activism: Task Force Policy Institute report reveals ex-gay movement’s tactic

March 02, 2006

Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications

Inga Sarda-Sorensen, Deputy Director of Communications

A copy of the full report can be obtained here.

"This report exposes the extent to which these zealots will go, including reformulating their ex-gay snake oil at the expense of vulnerable children and young adults." — Matt Foreman, executive director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

MIAMI, March 2—A report released today by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute reveals the ex-gay movement's new tactic of targeting lesbian, gay and bisexual youth for "conversion-therapy" and "preventive" measures. The report, Youth in the Crosshairs: The Third Wave of Ex-Gay Activism, reveals how groups such as Exodus International and Focus on the Family promote widely discredited theories on the root of homosexuality and now recommend "prevention" and conversion therapy treatments despite the growing body of research that shows these treatments to be ineffective and even harmful for many participants.

"It is morally repugnant and downright dangerous the way these extremists demonize young people and prey on the fears of parents through their so-called ex-gay programs," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "This report exposes the extent to which these zealots will go, including reformulating their ex-gay snake oil at the expense of vulnerable children and young adults."

He added, "These programs and conferences are often established in states that are fertile ground for right-wing organizing efforts, notably in states that are considering anti-same-sex marriage ballot measures. It is no wonder that their organizers are viewed as politically motivated."

Florida is among the states facing the threat of an anti-same-sex marriage constitutional amendment on the ballot in the next two years. It is also home to Exodus International, one of the nation's largest ex-gay organizations, and will be the site of Focus on the Family's ex-gay conference, Love Won Out, in Fort Lauderdale on May 6. The report was released today at a press conference in Miami in conjunction with the Winter Party Festival. Among the speakers at the press conference was Florida resident Justin Flippen, a survivor of an ex-gay program.

"Jesus tells us the truth is what sets us free," said Flippen. "The truth that we are made in God's image, male and female, gay and straight, must be given bold testimony, particularly when affronted by the falsehood of misguided theology. So-called Christian reparative therapy is repugnant to the intended purpose of God's creation. The psychological damage such misguided therapy inflicts upon others shamefully thwarts untold numbers of Christians from fully sharing in the community of faith we call the church."

In an effort to demonize and block lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from attaining basic rights, extremist groups have long promoted the notion that homosexuality is a disorder that can be cured through psychotherapy and/or religion. Over the past few years, however, the ex-gay movement has taken a new approach — targeting lesbian, gay and bisexual youth with both "preventive" measures and conversion. The report places this "third wave" of ex-gay activism in the historical context of the first and second waves of ex-gay activism, starting in 1973.

A key finding of the report shows that, in this third wave of ex-gay activism, ex-gay programs and their evangelical Christian right allies are focusing less on "curing" adults of homosexuality and more on preventing its development by targeting parents, children and adolescents. Whether through ex-gay teen programs or traveling ex-gay conferences like Focus on the Family's Love Won Out ex-gay programs are recommending that parents commit their children to treatment of "prehomosexuality" even if it is against their children's wishes. Heterosexual youth are also being recruited in schools and churches to spread the message that homosexuality is a treatable mental illness.

"One of the most disturbing accounts in this report is a case involving a 5-year-old boy who was subjected to conversion therapy to address 'prehomosexuality.' The case involves a psychologist who claims that his theories and treatments are scientific," said study co-author Jason Cianciotto, the Policy Institute's research director. "To the contrary, conversion therapy is opposed by nearly every medical and mental health professional association, including the American Academy of Pediatrics."

He added, "Studies cited by ex-gay leaders to support their claims suffer from fatal methodological flaws, and are contradicted by respected, peer-reviewed academic research. Tragically, ex-gay and evangelical Christian right leaders are using bogus theories and discredited research to frighten parents into doing something more likely to harm than help their children."

Among other key report findings:

  • Not only does ex-gay therapy not work; there is a growing body of research documenting the harm it causes and the ethical violations it embodies, especially when applied to children against their will.
  • Ex-gay programs and conversion therapy practitioners could be shut down and even held liable for the harm they cause to clients based on malpractice, consumer fraud, false advertising, or under contract or child abuse and neglect laws, particularly for minors forced to attend an ex-gay program.
  • For decades, anti-gay leaders have portrayed homosexuality as a malign choice to support their "special rights" argument. However, that message is contradicted by theories posited by ex-gay leaders and evangelical Christian right leaders, who claim that "pre-homosexuality" develops as the result of dysfunctional relationships between parents and children, as well as child sexual abuse. These claims are based on flawed research, most of which would not withstand the scrutiny required to be published in respected, peer-reviewed academic journals.
  • A study of 202 former conversion therapy clients published in 2002 reported that 176 participants experienced significant harm, including depression, social isolation, low self-esteem, internalized homophobia and even attempted suicide. The study also found ethical concerns and violations, including the use of false and prejudicial information disguised as science to convince clients that they needed treatment.
  • Perhaps because of the growing number of ex-gay leaders who have publicly "fallen off the wagon," ex-gay programs have confusing and conflicting definitions of what it means to "change" as the result of their programs. For example, Exodus International claims that "change is possible," but John Smid, director of Love In Action, has said, "There is no cure for homosexuality." Ex-gay leaders also cite wildly varying and conflicting numbers of people who have "changed" as the result of their programs, ranging from "hundreds" to "hundreds of thousands."


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.