Michael Bussee

That week, we created Exodus International. I think we actually coined the term ‘ex-gay.’ We took it as a statement of faith. If we said it, it would happen. If we believed it, we would get a miracle. But we didn’t. No one did.”
—Michael Bussee

NCLR Contributor

I first became aware that I was gay at a time when it was considered a sin, a sickness, and a crime. During elementary and junior high, I was regularly bullied and beaten by boys who sensed somehow that I was different, who called me “homo” and “sissy.” Before I even reached my teens, I had decided that someday – somehow – I would find a way to change.

I went to the local library to find out if there was a cure. There were five books, kept in a locked case for subjects too taboo to have on the open shelves. The authors all agreed: being gay was a mental illness and very difficult to treat, but, with enough motivation and the right professional help, it might be possible to reverse the affliction.  I gave the books back to the librarian and left feeling both despair and determination.

I told no one. I couldn’t tell my Mom or Dad. The books said they had caused it. But they were never anything but loving, supportive, and dedicated parents. The books said they must have abused me. But they never did. The books said I must have been molested. But I never was. I just liked boys.

In my senior year of High School, I became a born-again Christian.  It was at the height of the Jesus Movement, and my ministers said that God could do miracles – if I only had enough faith and prayed hard enough. I devoted myself to intense Bible-study and begged God to change me.  He didn’t.

When I went away to college, I got involved in Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim, California. People said that miracle healings happened there. I wanted so much to believe I would get one of those miracles. But, when I finally went to my youth pastor and told him I was gay, he insisted that I wasn’t. He told me to get engaged to a girl I knew from high school and that if I “stepped out on faith,” God would give me straight feelings.

I decided to start a small Bible study and prayer group for other “same-sex attracted” Christians like me. Maybe full time ministry would help. We called the group, “EXIT”, believing that we would find the way out. In 1976, with two other friends, we hosted a conference, the result of which was something brand new. That week, we created Exodus International. I think we actually coined the term “ex-gay.” We took it as a statement of faith. If we said it, it would happen. If we believed it, we would get a miracle. But we didn’t. No one did.

Instead, the people who came to us for help began to get even more troubled and depressed. Some dropped out. Some started to use drugs or alcohol to drown their despair. Some attempted suicide. One man in our “ex-gay” program repeatedly slashed his genitals with a razor and poured Drano on the wounds – to atone for the guilt he felt.

About this same time, my marriage began to come apart.  I never developed straight feelings, even though we did have a child.  I also realized that I was falling in love (for the very first time) with another man in the Exodus ministry named Gary. He was also married, had three kids and was hoping desperately for change that never came. We came out to each other, then to our wives and kids. We decided that we could no longer pretend to be “ex-gay.” It wasn’t true.

In the almost 40 years since I started Exodus International, I can honestly say that I have never met a gay person who became heterosexual through conversion therapy or ex-gay programs. Yes, some stayed celibate for a time. Some even married and said they were happy. But most of those marriages ended with very painful divorces.

Gary and I divorced our wives, moved in together, held a commitment ceremony and lived happily as a gay couple until his death. Before he passed away, we told our story of the harm done by “ex-gay programs in the documentary film, “One Nation Under God.” A year ago, I helped organize a meeting between several “ex-gay” survivors and Alan Chambers, who was then the leader of Exodus. This confrontation was filmed and became a special report by Lisa Ling, broadcast on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Exodus closed down the day before it was televised.

Splinter groups like Restored Hope Network (RHN) and pseudo-scientific organizations like the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) continue to promote ineffective and harmful practices that promise change but deliver psychological and spiritual harm instead. But many former leaders of Exodus have come out and are trying to educate the public about the damage these programs do to countless individuals and families. Today, I am retired and devote my time to undoing as much of the damage done by these unscientific and potentially deadly practices as I can.

That’s why I’m coming out in support of #BornPerfect to end conversion therapy. It is my hope that one day, these false cures will be exposed for what they really are and that conversion therapy will be put to rest for good.  The truth will eventually come to light.  Being gay is nothing more than a natural variation in human sexuality. And conversion therapy is nothing more than abuse. And the public, particularly young people, deserve to be protected from this abuse.

If you are a survivor of conversion therapy, consider sharing your story and speaking out to protect others.  Your email to us will be confidential. We will not share your story without your permission.  Even if you do not want to share your story publicly, hearing about your experience can help us learn more and protect others from being harmed by these damaging “therapies.”

    Please reach out to us.