Yvette Schneider spent a little over a decade as an active participant and a leader in the gay conversion therapy movement. In other words, she spent years working to convince men and women that they could stop being gay, lesbian, or bisexual through suppression and therapy.
But in 2010 she began to see things differently. At the time, Schneider did not share her feelings with her colleagues, but that same year, she was let go from her position as the director of the women’s ministry at Exodus International— a leading sexual orientation conversion organization that closed in 2013.
“I realized that no one was actually saying, ‘I’m straight,” she explains, referring to the post-treatment disposition of the Exodus clients she saw. “You can go through years of therapy and what are you left with—shame?”
Schneider, now 48, realized that simply leaving the movement wasn’t enough. On Monday, she officially apologized for her involvement in the anti-gay movement in an open letter published by GLAAD. And on Thursday she joined with eight other former leaders in the ex-gay movement to formally come out against the controversial practice in an open letter and support a widespread ban of the practice on minors.
“We know first-hand the terrible emotional and spiritual damage it can cause, especially for LGBT youth,” reads the letter, published by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “We once believed that there was something morally wrong and psychologically ‘broken’ about being LGBT. We know better now.”
The former gay conversion leaders, including Schneider, Brad Allen, Darlene Bogle, Michael Bussee, Catherine Chapman, Jeremy Marks, Bill Prickett, Tim Rymel, and John Smid, are joining the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ #BornPerfect movement aimed at expanding state bans on conversion therapy.
“Conversion therapy reinforces internalized homophobia, anxiety, guilt and depression. It leads to self-loathing and emotional and psychological harm when change doesn’t happen,” the letter reads. “We now stand united in our conviction that conversion therapy is not “therapy,” but is instead both ineffective and harmful.
Currently, California and New Jersey are the only two states that have laws in place to ban the practice of using therapy to try to “cure” minors of homosexuality, though a Michigan lawmaker introduced a bill last week that would ban the practice on minors. In fact, the Texas Republican Party formally endorsed gay conversion treatments in their official platform in June. Yet, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and most leading professional medical and social science organizations oppose the therapy given its basis in the idea that homosexuality is “curable.”
“The idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder or that the emergence of same-sex attraction and orientation among some adolescents is in anyway abnormal or unhealthy has no support among any mainstream health and mental health professional organizations,” reads an American Psychological Association brochure titled “Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation and Youth.”
Michael Bussee, co-founder of Exodus International who has been speaking out against conversion therapy since 1989, says Thursday’s letter was the next step for leaders in the movement after Exodus closed. Now, he says their efforts should be focused on educating the public and ending the practice.
“There will be people who will be understandably upset, leaders can’t undo the harm they caused while they’re a part of these programs,” says Bussee who in 2007 publicly apologized for his work in the movement from 1976 until 1979. “All we can do know is say this harm needs to stop.”