Ex-Gay Adverts on London Buses

Well this took me by surprise.

London buses have been booked to carry a Christian advertising campaign expected to start next week, which asserts the power of therapy to change the sexual orientation of gay people.

The full length advert, which will appear on five different routes in the capital, is backed by the Core Issues Trust whose leader, Mike Davies, believes “homoerotic behaviour is sinful”. His charity funds “reparative therapy” for gay Christians who believe that they have homosexual feelings but want to become straight. The campaign is also backed by Anglican Mainstream, an worldwide orthodox Anglican group whose supporters have equated homosexuality with alcoholism.

The advert will say: “Not gay! Post-gay, ex-gay and proud. Get over it!” Post-gay and ex-gay are terms used by Christians and some psychotherapists and psychiatrists to refer to homosexual people who have undergone spiritual or pastoral therapy and, according to an Anglican Mainstream definition, have “now left a homosexual lifestyle [and experienced] an increased emotional and sexual attraction to the opposite biological gender and possibly a reduction in or loss of same-sex attraction.”

The buses are due to roll out on Monday morning on some of the most popular routes. They will be seen for two weeks travelling past St Paul’s Cathedral, down Oxford Street, round Trafalgar Square and through Piccadilly Circus as well as across other parts of the capital.

The campaign is an explicit attempt to hit back at gay rights group Stonewall, which ran its own bus advert saying: “Some people are gay. Get over it.” The Christian groups have used the same black, red and white colour scheme as Stonewall and accuses it of promoting the “false idea that there is indisputable scientific evidence that people are born gay”.

The Rev Lynda Rose, a spokesperson for the UK branch of Anglican Mainstream said because her group adheres to scripture that all fornication outside marriage is prohibited, it believes that homosexuals are “not being fully the people God intended us to be”.

Interesting. I had no idea that this was happening and I’m not sure what to make of it. In some senses I’m eager for the Church and wider society to really grapple with the reality of human sexuality and sexual identity. On the other hand, we’ve seen this kind of stuff before (famously Exodus ran a campaign in newspapers in the late 90s) and I’m not sure how well this will work without good media follow-up. When you look at the different names that Anglican Mainstream has put up as contacts and quotes, only one (Mike Davidson) is actually ex-gay / post-gay. Once again we have people talking about us, but no-one ask us to actually talk about our experiences.

What is fascinating and predictable is the visceral response from some. The Guardian report continues,

The former Europe minister and gay ex-vicar, Chris Bryant MP, said the advert was cruel, particularly to teenagers struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, for promoting the idea that you could become “ex-gay”.

The emotional damage that is done to the individuals who try to suppress their sexuality, the women they marry and the children they might have is immeasurable,” he said. “Most sane Christians believe that homosexuality is not a lifestyle or a choice but is a fact to be discovered or not. The pretence that homosexuality is something you can be weaned off in some way is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of creation.”

The emotional damage is “immeasurable”? Really? And the high quality academic study (rather than just anecdotal reports) that evidences this would be? And look at the language – “suppress” sexuality. Chris Bryant has obviously never read my piece on being “post-gay” – it has nothing to do with suppressing sexuality (indeed you can’t really begin a post-gay journey until you become honest about your sexual attractions) and everything to do with trying to align your sexual identity with your moral framework.

Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, said the adverts were clearly homophobic and added: “The only reason some gay people might want to stop being gay is because of the prejudice of the people who are publishing the ad.

“The promotion of this voodoo therapy is hugely irresponsible given the damage that it appears to do to some people.”

Attempts to “treat” or alter sexual orientation have been strongly condemned by leading medical organisations. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned that “so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish” and concluded in 2010 that “there is no sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed”. The British Medical Association has also attacked “conversion therapy”, a related field to reparation therapy, passing a motion asserting that it is “discredited and harmful to those ‘treated’ “.

The RCP’s statement was never supported by any clinical evidence. It was simply a statement of opinion. Similarly, the BMA never supported their statement with any academic research.

Here’s the thing – we have as much evidence that Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) work as we do that they don’t work. The only way to be absolutely sure would be to do controlled multi-cohort samples with separate non-therapy control groups to compare. Since this work hasn’t been done by *anyone*, it is simply incorrect to claim that these therapies don’t work. At the same time it is wrong to over-state the case for SOCE. The best research, the Jones and Yarhouse study, had a “success rate” of around 15% and success in this case was a change along the Kinsey scale on average of 1 point.

The rest of the evidence is just anecdotal and it exists on both sides. Beyond that there is just posturing and dogma with very little engagement with the hard facts on the ground.

If there are any journalists out there who want to talk to someone who is a reasonable conservative voice on this issue and who has personal experience, you know where to find me. In the meantime, I’ll try not to let me head get to big about the fact that an intellectual concept I first invented and wrote about 5 years ago is now on the side of the number 9 to Piccadilly…

Update

Transport for London are pulling the ads. This is going to be interesting…

“We do not believe that these specific ads are consistent with TfL’s commitment to a tolerant and inclusive London.”

So they’re being tolerant and inclusive by pulling an advert that offers people a different perspective?

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  • Tom Jones

    BBC 3 aired a fascinating programme last night, “I woke up gay” in which a young man in Wales tells about how he seemed a heterosexual rugger-loving lad before he had a stroke but afterwards had a complete change of personality including becoming gay. He lost the support of most of his friends and family but said he was actually happy with his new persona and had fallen in love. Dr Qazi Rahman who is described as a leading expert on sexual orientation (co-author  with Glenn Wilson of Born Gay which summarises the best research that gayness is a the result of biological processes before birth and that it is not a lifestyle choice or the result of upbringing) rather doubted that the stroke caused the change. But another doctor, expert on strokes, said he knew of one other case where a man reversed his sexuality, this time in the opposite direction gay to straight (which seemed to me to rule out any idea that homosexuality per se is the result of brain damage, which is a conclusion that might have otherwise been used by the anti-gay lobby). The man in question was frustrated that people, including his boyfriend, insisted that he must have been gay before the stroke but had been keeping it repressed. He found some support for his ideas talking to another stroke victim who suddenly found he had an artistic gift which he never had before. Indeed it was now completely compelling. Like our guy the new persona was resented by his family and friends. Don’t know how much it tells us except that we probably don’t have control over our sexuality, so that the ex-gay therapies are probably useless – rarely people do sometimes change sexuality but no amount of praying or exercising in playing masculine games is going to bring it on to order.

    It is being aired again tonight at 20.00 hrs on BBC 3.

  • Matthew Gotham

    The best research, the Jones and Yarhouse study, had a “success rate” of around 15% and success in this case was a change along the Kinsey scale on average of 1 point.

    15% at the 3-year mark, but Jones and Yarhouse are now reporting 23% success after 6-7 years.

    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0092623X.2011.607052
    http://exgaystudy.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Jones-and-Yarhouse-APA-8-09-Paper-FINAL.pdf

  • alathia

    This is not about the right of Christians – it is about an advertisement of dubious validity.

    The Stonewall ad just states a fact – some people are gay. The AM sponsored ad make claims that are at best optimistic based on little substantial evidence. As you note elsewhere, Revd Ould, there has not been any INDEPENDENT longitudinal studies that back up the claims of ‘gay conversion’ therapies

    I well remember visiting Martin Hallett at True Freedom Trust in Liverpool in the mid-80s and meeting his then colleague – an ‘ex-gay’, with whom Martin shared his house (along with his colleague’s wife and their two children).

    In 1992, I happened to be visiting a friend in Lancashire who at the time attended a large Evangelical House church – a fellow member of this church was the same TFT’s co-worker’s ex-wife and children. The ‘cure’ had been a dud and four lives were ruined! (This is not confidential stuff, by the way – it was openly mentioned in TFTs newsletters (the days before webpages)). For a time I was very friendly with a leading light in the ‘ex-gay’ movement – he once wrote and told me of what a fraud he felt, standing up in front of an audience at Spring Harvest, telling how, as an ‘ex-gay’ man, he lived a life of fulfilment in the arms of a loving church – when in reality he was under the care of a psychiatrist for depression and reliant on anti-depressants to function. He told Evangelical Christians what they wanted to hear, but not necessarily the truth!

    This is not an attack on Christians. Indeed there is a certain irony in the fact Boris Johnson was very keen to employ a Christian, ‘family man’ as his DEPUTY when he first came to office – much was made of this by some conservative Conservatives. Alas, unbeknownst to Boris, this clergyman was under investigation by his diocese for financial irregularities (allegedly stealing from parishioners and church funds), eventually he had to resign (thanks to the Evangelical Bp of Barking (my former boss) dobbing him in – see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2008/jul/07/forafewheadyminutes); leaving egg on Boris Johnson’s face and tainting his administration – perhaps, Johnson has some reason to be suspicious of Christians and what they say is ‘truth’ since that unfortunate debacle!

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      I’m not sure what would constitute an “independent” longitudinal study. Perhaps you could elaborate?

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/LMH7GXHN6AB52C7IYJGXTGQCZY Will

      Alathia, your last paragraph rather amused me because it reminded me of what happened some years ago when a relative of mine, then teaching in the independent sector, thought that he would like to live in the north of England again and wrote to several schools, enquiring whether they were likely to have any teaching vacancies in the near future and enclosing his CV, which included the information that he was a “communicant member of the Church of England”. I can still remember, near enough verbatim, a passage in the reply that he received from one school head:

      “I would advise you against stressing the fact that you are a communicant member of the Church of England (although I am practising C. of E. myself). The last two rogues and useless members of staff paraded their religion, and I have become rather suspicious in consequence.”

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