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“Michael Bussee, You Have Blood On Your Hands”

A multi-part video interview series with Michael Bussee, co-founder of Exodus International turned critic.

Daniel Gonzales

May 21st, 2010

I expected my interview series with Michael to generate a lot of emotion, but in recent days the reader comments have taken a dramatic shift to questioning why Michael did not come out publicly against or make amends for his involvement in Exodus sooner.  One expression that’s particularly common in YouTube comments is that Michael somehow has “blood on his hands,” hence the title for this post.

In today’s video Michael explains his delay in speaking out against Exodus.  Of all the things Michael wanted to address on the day I interviewed him, this was foremost on his mind.

But before we get to the video let me personally address all the work I believe Michael has done for the ex-gay survivor community:

  • Whenever the activist community has called upon Michael, he has been happy to volunteer himself.  This includes a Love Won Out counter protest in Palm Springs (near his home) and the public apology of former Exodus leaders organized by Beyond Ex-Gay in 2007.
  • As one of the most visible ex-gay survivors myself, I am constantly contacted by media and documentary filmmakers.  When appropriate, I refer these people to Michael who is happy to speak with them One Nation Under God, filmed prior to Gary’s death (Michael’s partner), only marked the beginning of his speaking out.  Since the film’s release in 1993 Michael has continued to fight the ex-gay myth for 17 years now.
  • How many other former leaders from the early days of Exodus have since dropped out and said nothing? Remember, Michael was just a co-founder, there are plenty of other lapsed Exodus leaders out there.
  • If you believe Michael needs to do more to speak out or atone for his past transgressions then why don’t you contact him about a project he can take part in.  That’s exactly what I did. I was home in LA for a week and picked up the phone to see if Michael wanted to spend a day in front of the camera.  Michael answered every single question I put to him, even when things got painful, as you’ve seen in previous videos in this series.

But enough of my opinion.  Here’s Michael on the delay in speaking out against Exodus:

(transcript after the jump)

I’m Michael Bussee, I’m one of the original co-founders of Exodus International. I left the program in 1979 and have since reconciled my spirituality and my sexuality and now I’m a vocal critic of reparative therapy programs and of Exodus International.

[music begins]

[title: "A Delay On Speaking Out Against Exodus"]

Recently some people have asked me why it took so long for Gary and for me to speak out against Exodus. We left in 79, actually left the ministry, we stayed married until 1981 when our divorces became final.

We didn’t come out very publicly against Exodus until One Nation Under God came out which was in 1991 [sic]. So it was an almost 9 to 10 silence there and I’ve had people ask me “well why didn’t you come out immediately? why didn’t you immediately denounce the ex-gay programs?”

And I regret that I didn’t. I wish that I had, I sincerely wish that I had. There was alot going on that we were dealing with. We were dealing with our own sense of personal failure and trying to reclaim our faith, but more importantly we were raising our kids. Both of our wives were threatening to take custody of our kids and we didn’t want to risk losing them.

This was also before the internet so I really didn’t know what was happening with Exodus, I kind of assumed that I guess naively that it had just disappeared. I didn’t find out until a few years later after Gary and I had left that it was still going on, I was disappointed and shocked.

Then Gary became sick and we were busy with medical care and helping him deal with end-of-life issues and just the sadness of watching the person that you love more than anything else just slowly decline and get sicker and sicker.

Gary was the one who finally decided we had to break our silence because he knew he was dying. And he said “Mike, I think it’s time we need to tell our stories and the film One Nation Under God was the result of that.

If I had it to do over again maybe I would have come out sooner but there were those years of just trying to get well, get whole, and find our strength again, find our voice again, but by that time Gary was very sick. And I’m grateful that the film was made and that he got to tell his stor. He never got to see the film but it was dedicated to his memory and I’m glad it’s been helpful to people to hear our stories. Wish we had done it sooner.

[closing credits]

Comments

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a. mcewen
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

When someone like Michael takes the stance he does now, I think he realizes how much harm he caused. We should remember that and stop trying to tighten the screws so to speak.

I guess if we followed that frame of mind, we need to give Mel White hell for his past association with Jerry Falwell. T

Jarred
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

I’ve seen some of the comments expressing this sentiment about Michael. It’s something that actually causes me a great deal of discomfort. Whether Michael could have or should have spoken up sooner is moot. Until someone invents a time machine, we can’t go back and change the past. All we can do is make decisions in the hear and now and plan for the future. I’m thankful for what Michael has chosen to do in the here and now and his contributions towards building a better future.

John in the Bay Area
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

Daniel makes a point that I was thinking about yesterday. Michael is stepping forward, being honest and taking his lumps for his founding and participating in Exodus. The easier path would have been to just drift off into obscurity.

We’ve all been wrong at various points in our lives. How many of us have been willing to come forward so publicly and really take it on the chin for what we did and did not do?

Candace
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

Many people don’t understand that someone who has accepted their gayness while been immersed in fundamentalism needs to learn literally how to live again. Confusion, depression and extremism can abound at that time, and the enemy would LOVE to pounce on it and use it for evil. Laying low for awhile may be a very smart thing to do.

Not only that, but a wounded warrior needs at least a little time for their wounds to heal, before they head back into the battle.

Only someone who had come from this background can understand the raw pain that the decision to embrace the Gay can cause. It’s almost always painful to come out, but fundamentalists are experts in seizing on and magnifying and drawng out the emotional pain of others.

Michael Bussee
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

I sincerely appreciate these comments. I will continue to speak out whenever and wherever I can. Other ex-gay leaders and survivors are also speaking out. Here are some links:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=198541255168&ref=mf#!/group.php?gid=166704399994&ref=ts

http://beyondexgay.com/

Zach
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

I appreciate and understand the compassion that people feel for Mr. Bussee however it upsets me that the same level of understanding and compassion doesn’t seem to be being offered to those who were directly and deeply effected by him and his organization and are having a hard time finding a way to forgive him.

I’m one of those people. I won’t go into the sordid details of the hell I went through, Mr. Bussee knows. I DID share it with him. In response I got a very angry and defensive response that he was NOT going to continue apologizing for what he did. I didn’t ask for a continued apology. I simply asked for a personal apology. In my opinion, if he were truly acting Christian, he would apologize to each and every person who asked him for one without hesitation and without defensiveness, even if he had to do it a million times a million (I think that’s in the bible somewhere).

Tim, on the other thread you asked me what more I thought he could have done in those early days after he left Exodus to get his word out, in a word before the internet and Facebook and Twitter. My answer to you is, he could have done EXACTLY what he did to PROMOTE his group. He could have gone on national TV and radio to share his truth.

I made it clear that my issue with him was not when he was in Exodus in his own personal hell of confusion, denial and self-hate. It was when he left and went years before he spoke up publicly. Those were the years when he and his work were used against me, unbenowst to me or my parents that he had long since turned away from his words and lectures and publications that were still being used to destroy gay people. I actually tried to kill myself. No, not one of those attention seeking attempts. I REALLY tried, and failed to kill myself. I know I was just one of many. I don’t need anyone’s understanding or compassion at this point in my life. I’m really good with me without it. My concern is the lack of understanding and concern for those who had experiences like me, perpetrated by Bussee and Exodus who are still hurting deeply and aren’t ready or able to forgive just yet, if ever. They shouldn’t be attacked, scolded or shamed by you or anyone else who hasn’t gone through what they went through. They CERTAINLY deserve AT LEAST as much understanding and compassion as is being offered to Mr. Bussee.

Michael Bussee
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

Zach — I don’t know if I am certain who you are, but if I became defensive with you, I am truly sorry. I have no right to expect anyone’s forgiveness.

I certainly deserve whatever anger you may feel and you have every right to hold on to it. I have no desire to attack, scold or shame you.

You are absolutely correct that I should have contacted every news outlet possible to apologize back in 1979. I deeply regret that I did not. If I could turn back time, I would do it.

I personally apologize to you and anyone I harmed by believing that God expected anyone to try to “change”. If there is anything else I can do, I am completely willing to do it.

msbussee@live.com

Jarred
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

In my opinion, if he were truly acting Christian, he would apologize to each and every person who asked him for one without hesitation and without defensiveness, even if he had to do it a million times a million (I think that’s in the bible somewhere).

Actually, I think you’re thinking of Jesus’s instructions to forgive the same person “seventy times seven times.”

Though yes, the Bible also says that one should always ask for forgiveness and seek to restore those one has wronged as well.

And please don’t take any of my comments as indicative of a lack of sympathy, understanding, or empathy towards you. I’m quite empathetic towards the pain you’ve been through.

Zach
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

Michael, I’m sorry it took me so long to respond. I’ve just now been able to pull myself together long enough to type. I can’t believe the flood of emotions that your kind and sincere apology brought to the surface. I didn’t realize just how deeply this went for me or how much I really did need to hear your personal apology. It’s all I really ever wanted. I truly do forgive you. I never thought I would hear myself say that. I now understand what is meant when people say that forgiveness is for the forgiver, not for the forgiven. I feel as if a huge weight that I’ve carried for years has been lifted off of my shoulders.

I want to repeat what I said earlier. I really do appreciate the visible, vocal stand that you’ve been taking. I never questioned your sincerity or your current commitment to making amends for past mistakes. It will never be enough for some people and that should be OK. Everyone has their own way of dealing with things. I would encourage others to be kind, gentle, patient and supportive of these wounded souls. Someday, with understanding and compassion, they may be able to let go and forgive and find peace as I have today.

You cannot turn back time. You can’t put a fired bullet back into the chamber. You can only do what you can do today. I commend you for doing what you are doing and I encourage you to continue responding with kindness and compassion to those who angrily attack you. I don’t know why the response I got today was so different from the response I got the first time I shared my story with you. Perhaps I caught you in an uncharacteristic moment of frustration and anger. We’re all human after all. The moral of the story is to never give up on people. Always give a person just one more chance for redemption. The payoff can be enormous; for all involved.

I will contact you personally. I would like to help you build bridges with other people who may share the anger and frustration that I once had.

Blessings.

Michael Bussee
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

Thank you, Zach, You don’t know how much that means to me. I suspect my intial defensiveness was my own un-resolved feeings of shame. I am embarrassed by it. I should have been more gracious — more Chrisian — as you just were to me.

I am reminded of this quote: “‘To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” — Lewis B. Smedes

Whether we struggle to forgive others or to forgive ourselves, the release is wonderful when it comes. Blessings to you as well. I look forward to getting to know you. You made me really THINK.

Zach
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

Actually Michael, Christianity was one of the casualties of my experiences in the fundamentalist church and the “ex-gay” “ministry” industry. I’m a humanist Buddhist now.

I’m glad that you felt a sense of grace and compassion from me. Though it may have been Christ-like it wasn’t Christian. Unfortunately there seems to be a difference between being Christlike and Christian today. Maybe it’s been that way for a long time. I seem to recall Gandhi pointing out the disconnect.

I only bring that up to make a larger point that I think needs to be seriously addressed in these talks about ex-gay ministries and in discussions about sexuality and faith. Alan Chambers and others often talk about how many gay “sinners” are being brought to Christ through their sexual reorientation ministries. We can debate the veracity of that opinion/statement but what I don’t think ANYONE can deny is that COUNTLESS (thousands upon thousands) more people are being driven AWAY from Christ and Christianity by these groups than could possibly be being drawn to them. I think the Bible talks about a special place in hell (not that I believe in hell) for those who lead people/push people away from Christ/God/salvation.

I would love to see one of your excellent video interviews addressing this. Is this something that ever crosses the minds of the leaders of these ministries? Are they so convicted about their moral rightness on the evils of homosexuality that they don’t, or even can’t, see how many people they are driving away from the faith? Is it a conversation that needs to be had with them? Is a conversation that COULD be had with them? Who would be most likely to effectively deliver the message to them so that they could at least consider it?

I did contact you personally by email.

Fg68at
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

Typo: “9 to 10 _years_ silence”

Michael Bussee
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

Zach, you asked:”Are they so convicted about their moral rightness on the evils of homosexuality that they don’t, or even can’t, see how many people they are driving away from the faith?”

I am afraid the answer is yes. They can’t move away from their black-and-white moralistic thinking for fear of losing financial support. They have keep up their false claims of change to appease their consituency.

You also asked: “Is it a conversation that needs to be had with them? Is a conversation that COULD be had with them?”

I am afraid the answer to this one is “No”. People have tried. Even people from WITHIN Exodus have tried and more and more of them have dropped out in frustration and are becoming willing to say so. It will be nice to have their company.

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