Christine Bakke walks into a church in suburban Denver, a long, low building that used to be a supermarket. It's closed, but the 35-year-old graphic designer, whose wide smile and quick wit have always opened doors, tells the security guard that she is a former congregant and just wants to see the old place again.
He lets us into the hangar-size sanctuary, and Christine strides up front to a stage, then stops. "This is where it happened," she says, no longer smiling. "And after it was over, this is where I was on the floor crying."
She still remembers the excitement in the air that night, the music pounding, the people pogo-ing up and down in revelry. "The preacher wanted me to say something," she recalls. "I didn't want to, at first, so he kept saying, Repeat after me, repeat after me,' until I finally yelled it out at the top of my lungs: I want to be the woman God created me to be!' It was this real heal-the-lesbian moment.
"Then he put his hand on my head and I felt myself falling backwards. They're all praying that the demon of homosexuality will leave me. I'm crying on the floor, having this religious experience and being told God loves me."
She looks down, wincing, and messes with her medium-length brown hair.
"I don't want to trivialize this," she says. "It meant a lot to me at the time."
In fact, it meant everything to her. She spent nearly five years trying desperately to be cured of homosexuality by "ex-gay ministries," and that night in the sanctuary marked the moment she truly believed it might work.
"Ex-gay" therapy has been around since the 1960s and has been openly opposed by gay groups and most medical professionals for decades. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association announced that homosexuality would no longer be considered an illness, and in subsequent years came out with stronger and stronger warnings about the danger ex-gay therapy posed to mental health. In the past few years, however, it has made a comeback in religious communities. The therapy itself is done by counselors or ministers in individual or group sessions at churches all over the country, but it is also offered in more extreme ex-gay "boot camp"-style programs, the best-known of which is Love in Action in Memphis. (Most ex-gay programs are funded through an umbrella organization called Exodus International.) And while there are no reliable figures for how many people get the therapy or how often it is successful, its Christian proponents are energetically promoting it among teens and young adults. Most recently, it was reportedly used to "cure" the Reverend Ted Haggard, the evangelical superstar and senior pastor of a megachurch in Colorado Springs. After admitting to sexual encounters with a male prostitute and losing his post, Haggard underwent three weeks of ex-gay counseling, which he described as "three years' worth of analysis and treatment." Soon after, he was proclaimed "completely heterosexual" by a church official.