Exodus Co-Founder: When People Left Our Program They Just Disappeared

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

Daniel Gonzales

May 13th, 2010

As notable ex-gay survivor Peterson Toscano wrote in 2007, ex-gay programs and Exodus have absolutely no sort of after-care or follow-up when a participant leaves a program:

Never once has an ex-gay program I attended ever done any sort of follow-up. I mean I can’t buy a soy latte these days without having to fill out a survey about my coffee experience. Yet folks can spend tens of thousands of dollars on reparative therapy and nothing–no aftercare, no reflections on what worked and what didn’t work.

I’m admittedly curious about what goes through the mind of an ex-gay leader when a participant stops coming.  Do they assume the person is cured?  Have they gone back in the closet? Are they living the dreaded homosexual lifestyle?

It’s not an easy thing to confront as you can tell by Michael’s body language in this segment and that I had to ask the question three times before we got into the meat of the issue.

(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: “When People Left Our Program They Just Disappeared”]

[voice of interviewer:] When you left Exodus did you make contact with other people you knew who had previously left the program who were now living as gay?

When I left Exodus I didn’t know any gay people or any gay Christians.  I only knew the people I had been involved with at Exodus.  I knew our group members, I knew group leaders and I knew members of other ministries but I had absolutely no support group when Gary and I decided to leave

[voice of interviewer:] Sorry, so when you were a leader and people would leave the program did you just assume they would go out in to the world and just be straight?  Were there ever any failures that you knew about?

Were there any failures that I knew about?

[interviewer laughing:] yes

Constantly, every Tuesday.  Every Tuesday there were failures.

If it weren’t so sad it would be funny, every Tuesday we would open with prayer and we’d read a Bible verse and discuss that and then talk about the struggle the previous week and there’d be confessions of having fallen… having gone to a bookstore… having cruised a guy at a restaurant… having given in to masturbatory fantasies. And we’d all listen very attentively to these lurid stories of falls and sexual encounters, and then we’d lay hands on the person who had fallen and we’d pray that they would find strength.  We might pray for deliverance if we believed there was oppression happening with them.
There was constant falling.

[voice of interviewer:] But people who left the program for good, and had failed, as a leader what did you think had happened to them? Where do you think they had gone?

I had no idea, when people left our program they just disappeared.  We lost all contact with them.  We had no system for follow-up.  We had no way of knowing what happened to them.  They just disappeared, they just stopped coming and nobody heard about them.

We pretty much assumed they had gone back into [air quotes] the gay lifestyle.

I never assumed that they had become straight, that they had finally succeeded and didn’t need the program any longer.  It was pretty much know that if somebody stopped coming to the Bible study or stopped coming to the group that they had fallen and had gone back to the gay lifestyle.

Many years later I met people who had gone through the program who had dropped out or I’d wondered for years what had happened to them.  I’m happy to report that most of them had actually gotten much better.  They had left too and gone through a period of struggle and then finally accepted themselves as gay or lesbian and were doing fine.

Some even said that they thought the experience of going through the exgay program was positive for them that it was a step toward realizing who they were and it was ok to be gay. And some of them thanked me for the experience which was a relief because I worry alot about what had happened to these people, where they went, what happened to them.

[closing credits]


May 13th, 2010

No follow-up? What is the definition of credible ……….. or should I just say incredible?

paul j stein

May 13th, 2010

Sounds like it was a way to milk the gays for MONEY. Like most religion…SHOW ME THE MONEY! GIVE ME THE MONEY! I WILL SAVE YOUR SOUL!

Paul in Canada

May 13th, 2010

Ex-gay ministries, Exodus being the one I’m familiar with, catagorize those who stop coming to the program, in 3 ways:

1. those who declare that they’ve had enough are “lost” – having given in to the devil – those ‘poor demons’ are prayed for once, and then forgotten completely.

2. those whose attendance is sporadic or diminishing over time, are indeed not contacted, but prayed for that God’s spirit will continue to ‘protect’ them and bring them back in order to be saved from the ‘life-style’.

3. Those, like me, who proclaim that they accept their orienation as a gift from God and proudly embrace their sexuality, are quickly escorted out and the others are warned that any contact with them means certain damnation.

Ironically, going to Exodus ‘sessions’ was the spring-board that allowed me to come to terms with, and accept who I am. It allowed me to consciously confront my sexual orientation instead of hiding from it, keeping it locked deep down. And opened my eyes to the hypocracy of fundamental christianity and find my own authentic faith in the Sacred/Devine.

Thanks Exodus!

Robert Goodman, MS

May 14th, 2010

As someone who has studied gay identity development, and did his masters thesis, in part, on the subject, I know that when people want to be straight and “fail”, some do advance in their development and come to accept themselves as gay. However, those who are not able to accept the truth about themselves, become highly vulnerable to suicide. So, while Mr. Bussee is relieved that many of the folks he spoke with are now doing fine, he is only seeing a part of the picture. What about all of those folks he has not connected with? I’ll bet, if long term follow up had been done, we would find that many of those folks are no longer with us–and probably spent the remainder of their lives in great pain.

Mark F.

May 14th, 2010

Well, it’s pretty obvious that Michael Bussee still has not totally come to terms with his involvement in Exodus, although he’s making a great effort. I also noticed the uncomfortable body language here. I can’t blame him for trying to find a silver lining, but Mr. Goodman does make some good points re: the situation.

Off topic: Michael is a very sweet and attractive man. His partner is very fortunate.

Michael Bussee

May 14th, 2010

Robert, I certainly did NOT mean to imply that they were all doing well. Far from it.

I left the program over 30 years ago, and have met many who have been through this same kind of experience in the decades since I came out.

Many still struggle with depression, guilt, loss of faith. That’s why I continue to speak out against what has been done in the 30 years since I left — and will continue to do so.

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