Reporting on So-Called “Ex-Gay” Activists Requires Extra Diligence

October 20, 2008
The Times UK recently had a fair, accurate and mostly well-researched story about the harms that result from the extreme practices of so-called "ex-gay" activists. The reporter, Ruth Gledhill, offered a detailed portrait of the so-called "ex-gay" industry by registering for an "Exodus boot camp" as a participant and attending "workshops" for all six days, resulting in a thorough story that effectively steered clear of misleading terminology.  Gledhill treated the subjects of her story with respect and dignity, while diligently exposing these anti-gay activists' reliance on preposterous claims and methods:
"Each evening, a roll-call of 'former homosexuals' hold up their husbands and wives like kitemarks of their newfound heterosexuality. We are told repeatedly that marriage is evidence of healing. Stereotypes are the ex-gay currency, and the heterosexual ideal is practically ringed by a white picket fence. Christine Sneeringer, the compere, jokes that her recovery is going so well that she has given up car mechanics."
Although the story examines Gledhill's experience while attending one of these "camps," she goes outside of the "camp" to provide the perspectives of advocates like Peterson Toscano and Wayne Besen, who have condemned the practices of so-called "ex-gay" organizations like Exodus. The scientific consensus by medical and mental health authorities is that sexual orientation is neither voluntary nor changeable and that attempts to turn gay people straight are quite harmful. Gledhill exposes in heart wrenching detail the psychological harms these practices have on all of the "camp's" attendees, including teenage participants forced to attend:
"A boy of no more than 16 steps up, hanging his head. When he returns from the stage to the sound of applause, his stony-faced father nods in approval. His mother weeps."
Unfortunately, even responsible journalists can fall into traps when covering the so-called "ex-gay" industry. Toward the end of the article, an Exodus spokesperson presented discredited and questionable research as fact, without Gledhill calling the information into question:
"He pointed out that a 2007 US study indicated that sexual orientation change was possible for some individuals going through religiously mediated programmes such as Exodus, and did not cause psychological harm. He said that 'these conclusions directly contradict the claims of critics ... that change in sexual orientation is impossible and attempting to pursue this alternative is likely to cause depression, anxiety or self-destructive behaviour.'"
Throughout the story, Gledhill displayed a keen understanding of the dangerous claims that underly these "camps." With greater diligence, she could have contextualized the activist's claims by pointing out that Ex-Gay Watch exhaustively debunked the "2007 US study," as did independent news sources. Additionally, an examination of the 2007 report would have revealed a significant conflict of interest -- the "research" cited by the Exodus "spokesperson" was funded by Exodus:
"In the end [Exodus] provided approximately $65,000 in funding for direct costs related to the execution of this study."
Journalists and those who read stories about the so-called "ex-gay" industry must always view any statements from these activists with skepticism. Our website “Unmasking So-Called ‘Ex-Gay’ Activists” contains several pointers for journalists on how to avoid giving credibility to the many misleading statements propagated by so-called “ex-gay” activists.