Beyond Ex-Gay

Statement of Apology by Former Exodus Leaders

Michael Bussee 

My name is Michael Bussee.  I want to thank you for this opportunity to tell my story.  Thirty years ago, I helped create EXODUS International.  Today, I am here to apologize. Today, I am a licensed Marriage and Family therapist, a father, a born-again, evangelical Christian—and a proud gay man.  But thirty years ago, I was not so proud.

In fact, I grew up hating my gay feelings.  I endured name-calling, bullying and beatings.  Why did the other kids seem to hate me so much?  I didn’t choose to have these feelings and wanted to get rid of them.  I wanted more than anything to be “normal,” to fit in—to fall in love, settle down, have kids.  I desperately wanted to be straight.  But how?

 At about age 12, I began a personal quest to find the “cure” for homosexuality.  I made a decision to embark on my own private exodus—to find the way out of homosexuality.  My search led me to God.  As a senior in High School, I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.  That decision changed my life forever and I remain a committed evangelical Christian to this day.

Then, in 1974, I found Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim and began work as one of their volunteer hotline counselors.  At first, I told no one about my gay feelings.  Finally, I had to “come clean.”  I told the Hotline director that I was a “Christian homosexual.”  He told me there was “absolutely no such thing.”  He said that if I was truly a Christian, then I was “ no longer gay in God’s eyes.”

I needed to believe that I was now heterosexual – to “name it and claim it.”  God would do the miracle over time.  “Keep praying,” they told me.  If I had enough faith, I would eventually be “set free.” I wanted it more than anything and sincerely believed it would come true.

 At that time, there was no ministry to gays at our mega-church, so my friend, Jim Kaspar and I decided to invent one.  In 1975. We created EXIT—which stood for “EX-gay Intervention Team.”  (Sort of like “Ghostbusters” – only gay!)  We began providing individual counseling sessions, weekly support groups, Bible studies, and prayer meetings.  Even though we had absolutely no formal training, and had only been calling ourselves “ex-gay” for a few months, we were suddenly the “experts.”

Pastors and therapists began referring clients to us.  We wrote materials on “How To Help The Homosexual” and gave our “testimonies of change” at church conferences and on radio and television talk shows -- including Pat Robertson’s “700 Club.” Robertson kept asking if we thought we had once had “gay demons.” He seemed disappointed when we both told him “no.”

 In 1976, we learned of others like us who were setting up small “change” or “deliverance” ministries in their areas.  In September of 1976, at Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim, EXIT hosted the first ever conference of “ex-gays.”  A handful of ministry leaders along with approximately 60 delegates voted to form a loose-knit coalition of ministries. We called it EXODUS.  We thought that, called like Moses and directed my God, we could and would lead many gays and lesbians to the heterosexual “promised land.”

 I need to say that some had a positive, life-changing experience attending our Bible studies and support groups.  They experienced God’s love and the welcoming fellowship of others who knew the struggle.  There were some real “changes”—but not one of the hundreds of people we counseled became straight.

Instead, many of our clients began to fall apart – sinking deeper into patterns of guilt, anxiety and self-loathing.  Why weren’t they “changing”?  The answers from church leaders made the pain even worse:  “You might not be a real Christian.”  “You don’t have enough faith.”  “You aren’t praying and reading the Bible enough.” “Maybe you have a demon.”  The message always seemed to be:  “You’re not enough.  You’re not trying hard enough.  You don’t have enough faith.”

Some simply dropped out and were never heard from again.  I think they were the lucky ones.  Others became very self-destructive. One young man got drunk and deliberately drove his car into a tree.  Another (a fellow leader of the ex-gay movement) told me that he had left EXODUS and was now going to straight bars – looking for someone to beat him up.  He said the beatings made him feel less guilty – atoning for his sin.  One of my most dedicated clients, Mark, took a razor blade to his genitals, slashed himself repeatedly, and then poured drain-cleaner on the wounds—because after months of celibacy he had a “fall.”

In the midst of all of this, my own faith in the EXODUS movement was crumbling.  No one was really becoming “ex-gay.”  Who were we fooling?  As one current EXODUS leader admitted, we were just “Christians with homosexual tendencies who would rather not have those tendencies.”  By calling ourselves “ex-gay” we were lying to ourselves and to others.  We were hurting people.

In 1979, another EXODUS pioneer (Gary Cooper) and I decided to leave EXODUS—and our wives.  For years, we had both firmly believed that the EXODUS process would make us straight.  Instead, we realized we had fallen in love with each other!  We came out publicly against EXODUS in 1991.  Our story is featured in the documentary “One Nation Under God.”  Gary died of AIDS shortly before the film was completed.

Since then, I have remained one of EXODUS’s most persistent critics – not because I want to “deny hope.”  On the contrary, I want to affirm that God loves every person—and that God’s love and forgiveness does indeed change lives.  It has certainly changed mine.  It just didn’t make me straight.  I have found harmony between my sexuality and my spirituality—and I am hopeful that others can do the same.  Everyone’s journey is different.  My own private exodus has been an incredible journey.

I have lost many friends and lovers to AIDS.  I have been fired from two jobs – just for being gay.  And five years ago, I survived a violent and senseless hate crime that nearly took my life.  I was beaten and then stabbed in the back by gang members yelling, “faggot” as they attacked.  My best friend, Jeffery Owens, was not so lucky.  He was stabbed in the back five times and bled to death on an operating table.

 In spite of all of this, I consider myself a survivor.  I am a happy, relatively well-adjusted, evangelical Christian, gay man. I am in a loving committed relationship with a great guy, my partner Richard, and I serve as an Elder in my local Presbyterian church.  I love God and I love life.

 And I have hope.  I believe that we are making headway.  Groups like EXODUS will go out of business when people no longer feel that they must deny who they really are, to attempt to become what they really are not.  

Until then, for those wonderful people, (gay, ex-gay and ex-ex-gay) who have blessed my life and enriched my journey, I am truly thankful.  And to those I may have harmed by my involvement in EXODUS, I am truly sorry.

Michael Bussee was one of the originators of the ex-gay movement.  In the mid-1970s, while working as a telephone counselor at Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim, California, Bussee co-founded the Ex-gay Intervention Team (EXIT) and later hosted an unprecedented conference of ex-gay ministries at which a handful of ministry leaders, along with approximately 60 delegates, voted to form a loose coalition called EXODUS.  However, by the end of the decade, Bussee began to doubt the efficacy and ethics of the ex-gay message. Bussee and his ex-gay colleague Gary Cooper made a dramatic departure from Exodus when they publicly declared their love in 1979.  Their story is featured in the documentary One Nation Under God.  Today Bussee is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist, a father, an evangelical Christian, and a proud gay man. 

Public Apolgy from fromer Exodus Leaders