An emotional screening last night on the Sony lot in Los Angeles of Lisa Ling’s documentary “God and Gays” brought added impact to this week’s Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage.
The film, and the panel that followed it, featured angry survivors of a controversial ‘gay conversion therapy’ program run by the Exodus International ministry, along with the program’s founder-turned-critic, Michael Bussee.
Exodus was in the news last week when its current president, Alan Chambers, announced on June 19th that the Irvine, Calif.-based ministry for those with same-sex attractions would shut down, citing “a changing culture.” Since the 1980s, the organization had promoted the belief that gays could overcome their homosexual nature and become straight, using the slogan “change is possible.”
Bussee, who long ago conceded that the therapy offered a “false cure,” drew applause when he announced during the panel Thursday that he and his partner now plan to marry in September. In the doc, made just two months ago, the burly, bearded Bussee breaks down as he confesses how much it would mean to him if, after decades of shame and denial, he could one day “stand up before God and my friends and say ‘I do’ to the man I love.”
“Yeah,” Bussee continues, struggling with tears, “I want that moment to come.”
In light of Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling, the OWN network re-aired the documentary last night. It had premiered just a week ago, June 20, as part of Ling’s “Our America” series on OWN, a day after Chambers announced that the Exodus ministry was no more. Chambers himself had set the doc project in motion earlier this year, when he contacted Ling to say he wanted to apologize to survivors of the conversion therapy, since he has come to recognize that it doesn’t work. Ling assembled a group of the so-called “ex-gay survivors” of the Exodus therapy in a church basement and set up her cameras. Fireworks ensued.
In watching the doc, the most striking thing about the “ex-gay survivors” is how utterly sincere they initially were in their desire to convert to straight. As Christians, they had been taught that God could not accept and love them as they were. No matter how they begged God to intervene, however, the cure didn’t take. Ultimately, they felt abused and damaged by the Exodus program and its aggressive therapies and false promises.
“I’m gay and I’m Christian,” Bussee says at one point in the film. “To try to deny either of these things causes a split that is just unbearable.”
Chambers, in his apology, also comes across as sincere, saying, “There are things you can’t undo, wounds that won’t be healed in this life. All I can do is say ‘I’m sorry.’”
Some of the ex-gay survivors seemed ready to forgive Chambers. “His heart for saying this has come to an end is so clear to me,” says one.
But in the panel that followed the screening, others were more skeptical, even after the news that Chambers had shut the doors on Exodus. “As long as his message is that loving LGBT relationships equal sin, it’s still a harming message,” said another.
Also speaking at the event were state Sen. Ted Lieu, who last October successfully sponsored a bill (SB 1172) that made California the first state in the nation to ban conversion therapy to change the sexual orientation of minors, and California Senate president pro tem Darrell Steinberg.
The event was presented by Courage Campaign.org, an online network that activates for progressive change in California and across the country. Jamie Lynton, a board member of Courage Campaign, is married to Michael Lynton, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Enteratainment, which provided the Cary Grant theater for the event.