Former leaders of gay conversion program reveal consequences of damaging ‘therapy’

Former leaders of a controversial gay conversion program who struggled with their own ‘same-sex attractions’ have opened up about their regrets over participating in the harmful therapy in a new Netflix documentary.

Premiering on August 3, Pray Away chronicles the rise of the ‘ex-gay movement’ with a focus on Exodus International, an Evangelical ministry that claimed to be able to ‘cure’ people of their homosexual desires. 

In the powerful trailer for the film produced by Ryan Murphy and Jason Blum for Blumhouse Television, former advocates for gay conversation therapy detail how suicide attempts and panic attacks were brought on by the pseudoscientific practice. 

Must watch: Netflix's new documentary Pray Away chronicles the rise of the 'ex-gay movement'

Must watch: Netflix's new documentary Pray Away chronicles the rise of the 'ex-gay movement'

Must watch: Netflix’s new documentary Pray Away chronicles the rise of the ‘ex-gay movement’

Investigation: Premiering on August 3, the upcoming film focuses on Exodus International, an Evangelical ministry that claimed to be able to 'cure' homosexuality

Investigation: Premiering on August 3, the upcoming film focuses on Exodus International, an Evangelical ministry that claimed to be able to 'cure' homosexuality

Investigation: Premiering on August 3, the upcoming film focuses on Exodus International, an Evangelical ministry that claimed to be able to ‘cure’ homosexuality

Exodus International began as a Bible study in the 1970s. Its five founders were all struggling with being gay in the Evangelical church, and they started the group to help each other leave the ‘homosexual lifestyle.’

After receiving over 25,000 letters from people asking for help, they formally launched Exodus International, which went on to become the largest conversion therapy organization in the world. 

The Florida-based ministry was shuttered in 2013, with then-president Alan Chambers issuing an apology to the LGBTQ community for the ‘pain and hurt’ the program had caused, having himself renounced conversion therapy.   

Like many members of the organization, Chambers, who has a wife and children, had himself lived a ‘gay lifestyle’ before marrying a woman. In 2015, he admitted to The Atlantic that he was ‘still attracted to men’, but insisted that he and his wife Leslie had a ‘healthy marriage with a robust sex life’. 

John Paulk, a gay man who was an advocate for the ex-gay movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s, recounts his experience in the documentary’s trailer. 

Looking back: John Paulk, a gay man who was an advocate for the ex-gay movement, opens up in the  trialer about his regret over being a 'figurehead' for conversion therapy

Looking back: John Paulk, a gay man who was an advocate for the ex-gay movement, opens up in the  trialer about his regret over being a 'figurehead' for conversion therapy

Looking back: John Paulk, a gay man who was an advocate for the ex-gay movement, opens up in the  trialer about his regret over being a ‘figurehead’ for conversion therapy 

Repressed: Paulk was an advocate for gay conversion therapy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, claiming it worked on him

Repressed: Paulk was an advocate for gay conversion therapy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, claiming it worked on him

Repressed: Paulk was an advocate for gay conversion therapy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, claiming it worked on him 

Truth: 'I ached to be loved — and to love a man,' he says, looking back at his time with Exodus International

Truth: 'I ached to be loved — and to love a man,' he says, looking back at his time with Exodus International

Truth: ‘I ached to be loved — and to love a man,’ he says, looking back at his time with Exodus International 

‘I became a figurehead for this movement. My role was to get the message out. Homosexuality was changeable,’ he says, adding: ‘I ached to be loved — and to love a man.’ 

Paulk is among the former leaders and outreach members of Exodus International who have disavowed the movement and accepted their LGBTQ identity.  

‘We were the leaders of the ex-gay movement. We believed that something must have happened to “make you gay,’ another man explains in the trailer. ‘We had guys that attempted suicide because they felt guilty that they couldn’t change.’

The film teaser features footage of conversion therapy meetings and the questionnaires that people had to fill out as part of the program. 

Harm:  'We believed that something must have happened to "make you gay,' another man says. 'We had guys that attempted suicide because they felt guilty that they couldn't change'

Harm:  'We believed that something must have happened to "make you gay,' another man says. 'We had guys that attempted suicide because they felt guilty that they couldn't change'

Harm:  ‘We believed that something must have happened to “make you gay,’ another man says. ‘We had guys that attempted suicide because they felt guilty that they couldn’t change’

Spreading: Exodus International began as a Bible study in the 1970s and went on to become the largest conversion therapy organization in the world before it shuttered in 2013

Spreading: Exodus International began as a Bible study in the 1970s and went on to become the largest conversion therapy organization in the world before it shuttered in 2013

Spreading: Exodus International began as a Bible study in the 1970s and went on to become the largest conversion therapy organization in the world before it shuttered in 2013 

Bogus therapy: The film teaser features footage of conversion therapy meetings and the questionnaires that people had to fill out as part of the program

Bogus therapy: The film teaser features footage of conversion therapy meetings and the questionnaires that people had to fill out as part of the program

Bogus therapy: The film teaser features footage of conversion therapy meetings and the questionnaires that people had to fill out as part of the program

Then and now: Former Exodus International director Yvette Cantu Schneider notes in the trailer that 'the same-sex attractions, those never went away'

Then and now: Former Exodus International director Yvette Cantu Schneider notes in the trailer that 'the same-sex attractions, those never went away'

Then and now: Former Exodus International director Yvette Cantu Schneider notes in the trailer that 'the same-sex attractions, those never went away'

Then and now: Former Exodus International director Yvette Cantu Schneider notes in the trailer that 'the same-sex attractions, those never went away'

Then and now: Former Exodus International director Yvette Cantu Schneider notes in the trailer that ‘the same-sex attractions, those never went away’

‘I spent a lot of time thinking how did I believe that?’ says former Exodus International director Yvette Cantu Schneider, who was in same-sex relationships until she found Christianity. 

Cantu Schneider was a vocal representative of the anti-gay movement before she renounced her work and became an advocate for the LGBTQ community.   

‘I started having panic attacks,’ she recalls in the trailer. ‘The same-sex attractions, those never went away.’ 

Former conversion therapy poster-child Julie Rodgers was a celibate gay Christian from the ages of 17 to 26 before she helped shut down Exodus International.  

Out: Julie Rodgers was a celibate gay Christian from the ages of 17 to 26 before she helped close Exodus International

Out: Julie Rodgers was a celibate gay Christian from the ages of 17 to 26 before she helped close Exodus International

Out: Julie Rodgers was a celibate gay Christian from the ages of 17 to 26 before she helped close Exodus International 

Misled: 'I went to my first Exodus conference when I was 17 years old,' she recalls. 'I remember feeling like this is the path to be good'

Misled: 'I went to my first Exodus conference when I was 17 years old,' she recalls. 'I remember feeling like this is the path to be good'

Misled: 'I went to my first Exodus conference when I was 17 years old,' she recalls. 'I remember feeling like this is the path to be good'

Misled: 'I went to my first Exodus conference when I was 17 years old,' she recalls. 'I remember feeling like this is the path to be good'

Misled: ‘I went to my first Exodus conference when I was 17 years old,’ she recalls. ‘I remember feeling like this is the path to be good’

New message: 'We are killing ourselves by not embracing who God created us to be,' says Randy Thomas, the former vice president of Exodus International who came out as gay

New message: 'We are killing ourselves by not embracing who God created us to be,' says Randy Thomas, the former vice president of Exodus International who came out as gay

New message: ‘We are killing ourselves by not embracing who God created us to be,’ says Randy Thomas, the former vice president of Exodus International who came out as gay 

‘I went to my first Exodus conference when I was 17 years old,’ she recalls in the film. ‘I remember feeling like this is the path to be good.’

The trailer also features Randy Thomas, the former vice president of Exodus International who renounced his past work and apologized for his actions last year when he announced his engagement to a man.  

‘We were promoting an idealized version of life. Gay people could be saved,’ he says.

While Exodus International is no longer open, other ‘pray away the gay’ programs have popped up in its place.   

‘We are killing ourselves by not embracing who God created us to be,’ Thomas says of the dangerous conversion therapy.  

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