“We Did Everything Right”: An Ex-Gay Tragedy

Jim Burroway

July 3rd, 2013

This talk by Rob and Linda Robertson is going viral a second time, this time after having been posted on Huffington Post, which is augmented by a video of the Robertson’s speaking before Exodus International’s final conference in Irvine, California two weeks ago. As I wrote at that time, I thought the talk was remarkable due to the fact that the Robertsons described doing everything “right” when they learned their son was gay — “right” according to what Exodus had taught parents at the time — only to find it all lead to unspeakably tragic consequences. This was precisely the kind of talk that never would have been allowed at prior Exodus conferences.

I had the privilege of meeting the Robertsons the night before they gave their talk. That say behind me in the last row as Chambers was announcing Exodus’s closure. They introduced themselves and said that they were going to speak the next morning, and were rather nervous about it because they knew that their message wouldn’t be the traditional Exodus message. They were there because of a surprise invitation from Chambers himself to come and speak, and he gave them carte blanche to say whatever they wanted to say. The result is not only what you see above. If you’re eyes are moist after seeing this, so were most of the eyes in the audience at Exodus. It truly struck a nerve. What’s more, the Robertson’s talk was followed by a remarkable round table discussion which included the Robertsons, other ministry leaders and pastors in a pretty frank discussion of many of the problems in Exodus’s approach to gay people.

Rob and Linda Robertson are also supporters of BIOLA Queers, a quasi-underground student group at the extremely fundamentalist BIOLA University in the LA area. You can find Linda’s blog here. They are truly amazing people. I can’t speak too highly of them.


July 3rd, 2013

And while NARTH and the Restored Hope Network continues their message that reparative drive theory/therapy is not harmful to patients, they continue to perpetuate lies — lies cloaked as biblical principles.

Thank you for sharing this. I had never before seen it, and I’m glad I have now.


July 4th, 2013

This was very powerful for me. While watching, I held my breath saying to myself “please don’t say he took his life”. When I finally heard he had died from an overdose, I truly felt it was accidental and that he was on the other side of discrimination. Had he committed suicide during all the rejection, well, the tears would certainly be more present.
It seems the greatest lesson is not to judge. That can be so sooo difficult for people on both sides of this issue. I was reminded to “walk in another man’s shoes” even if in my mind, then it’s much easier to forgive.
Great post, thanks.


July 4th, 2013

Thank you, Jim, for posting this video. I’ve had others send me the link, but watched it here, and I’m sure it’s because you were there in person.

Jerry Sloan

July 4th, 2013

Sorry, I found this couple absolutely deplorable. I could not watch the entire video. They put their son through HELL on earth with all their Bible thumping. He was torn between being who he knew he was and what his parents wanted him to be.

They are just another in the long line of Bible thumpers who have virtually murdered their own children.

While they may be somewhat more enlightened now they will always bear the fact they killed their son.

Mark F.

July 4th, 2013

“Sorry, I found this couple absolutely deplorable.”

It’s not deplorable to recognize how wrong you were. These people will have to live with the loss of their son all of their lives. Have a little sympathy.


July 4th, 2013

I am very glad Alan invited them to speak at the conference. I also had the pleasure of meeting them in person and hopefully striking up a friendship. Their story breaks my heart and of course you can’t walk away not impacted. At least I can’t.

Lots to think about.


July 5th, 2013

Jerry, perhaps since you did not watch the entire video, you did not see them say publicly and firmly how wrong they were and how their son’s death has changed them. They are quite aware their actions harmed their son and led to the despair that led to his death. They do bear that burden.


July 5th, 2013

I agree with Jerry Sloan above. I applaud the fact that this couple acknowledges that they were wrong, but the fact remains they tortured their child and are responsible for his death. What some people apparently find charming about this couple I find grating and annoying. Their dog and pony show seems utterly inappropriate. Their stupidity is astounding, and, to me, is unforgivable. Instead of continuing to exploit their son even after his death, they should denounce the false teachings of their church. It is so absurd to have them credit God for condemning their son and then credit God for not condemning their son. Such delusion should be pitied not celebrated.


July 5th, 2013

My God this is the first time I have seen this, I really cried. It is the churches that do this to parents, to people. Did you listen to the mother? She had a whole prayer warrior group praying on her son. Had him meet weekly with his youth counselor.

They went down the false Reparative therapy path, bought it hook line and sinker. This story will repeat and repeat and repeat untilthe churches STOP. The churches have to stop no more prayer warrior groups praying on a child to not be gay. You CANNOT Pray Away the gay.

It has got to stop. Thechurches HAVE to say that it is okay to be gay. That there is no shame in being gay. How arrogant of anyone to think that they know the heart of God on this (non) issue. How very arrogant.

I wish this would be shown all over, of what NOT to do if your child tells you they are gay. I am really emotional after watching this. What a beautiful son they had. How could parents do that to their child? Especially when her own bother is gay. Now they have a lifetime of repenting to do, I hope they can save others from this same fate.


July 5th, 2013

This had turned into an accident waiting to happen, it didn’t happen overnight. And yes, accidental the death was, TECHNICALLY. But putting Ryan IN HARM’S WAY WHERE THE OVERDOSE COULD HAPPEN is the true issue here, and that took years, of chipping away at Ryan for simply trying to be himself.

The horrible conflict the religious right put into Ryan’s mind and heart over long, excruciating periods of time via his parents was what actually killed him, as it went against every precept of unconditional love and unhinged him to no end. He had no firm footing anymore.

That conflict was what ultimately threw him under the bus. That overdose never would have happened without the extremism of the religious right and their unbounded capacity for unfeeling, non-empathic, ram it down your throat self-righteousness, at all costs. They were RIGHT, and it was their way or the highway. All sanctioned by the elders.

They were right, all right. Dead right.

Elders take note: I’m talking to you. You are the leaders, the ones everyone in your flock looks up to and follows the advice of. You are directly responsible for the interpretation of the Word of God. Those parents followed YOU, and you are ultimately the responsible party here.

Robert, (Straight Former Catholic. Post was finished before Straight Grandmother’s (excellent!) post appeared, I had not seen it yet)

College Jay

July 7th, 2013

Jay and Jerry Sloan, you’re just as bad as the religious fundamentalists you despise. Mercy, forgiveness, sympathy, and lack of judgment are human values. No one is beyond redemption, and the Robertsons are making amends and spreading a positive message. They aren’t exploiting anything. They’re shedding light on the damage that reparative therapy causes. If you’re mad because they’re still Christians, then, well… too bad? There are plenty of gay-affirming Christians out there. Not everyone’s going to be an atheist just because you think they should be.


July 7th, 2013

College Jay: yes, mercy, forgiveness, sympathy, and lack of judgment are human values that this couple should have practiced toward their son. They didn’t, but now expect to receive such treatment from others.

I am glad that they now realize that they were wrong in how they treated their child. But I’m not nominating them for parents of the year.

They are free to believe whatever they want to believe, but the fact that they can’t see the utter contradiction between what their church taught them then and what they now believe just makes me think they are not very smart.

They seem to think they somehow deserve some badge of courage because they have come to the realization of how badly they treated their child. Well, they don’t.

College Jay

July 7th, 2013

You’re projecting. I see nothing saying that they think they deserve some badge of courage. I know that they were asked by Alan Chambers personally to speak at the conference and were reluctant about it — as they’ve said on Linda’s blog and elsewhere, they aren’t public speakers and have never done anything like this before.

And how can they not see the contradiction between what their church taught them and what they now believe? Did you actually listen to the speech? They realize that what they were taught was wrong. They have a different view of God now. Many of us were raised in fundamentalist environments and have rejected those rigid, harmful, bigoted beliefs… but we still believe in God’s grade, love, and mercy. There’s no contradiction there. It’s simply growing in one’s faith and as a human being.

They’ve lost their son. They realize what they did to him. They carry that burden. You saying that they somehow don’t deserve forgiveness or mercy — and instead choosing to continue to heap stones on them — is downright sadistic and cruel.

And for what it’s worth, it is courageous to admit to one’s mistakes. It’s courageous to stand up and refute the beliefs that you were raised with. It’s courageous to admit that your actions hurt the ones you love. It doesn’t absolve you from your mistakes, but it is courageous. If it wasn’t, people would do it more often. The Robertsons are notable because many parents in their situation still refuse, out of fear, guilt, or delusion, to admit their own culpability. These redemption stories should be encouraged, not mocked with ridiculous cynicism like yours.


July 7th, 2013

College Jay,

I agree with what you said.
Lets not forget though, that this issue is not just about reparative therapy, it is about discrimination through fear based biblical “clobber passages”….. a thing Randy Thomas and Alan Chambers will still proclaim in their continued defective and damaged upcoming ReduceFear schtick. The negative data bout “god’s plan” that comes from the proclamation of those passages will continue to create suicides regardless of whether a gay person feels they have to be celibate or marry straight, both unnatural to a truly gay person.
Nevertheless, the Roberson’s “redemption story” brings up some very strong questions. They have tossed out the “clobber passages” with which they were “taught wrongly” and in turn advocated for their son to find a guy and settle down. A full 180 reversal away from god’s message. This is formidable at the very least. Nothing new. Many things in the bible have been tossed out as irrational or unrealistic.
But it poses the question; what do Christians now do with those clobber passages? Rational thought is overtaking religious doctrine. What now? Do they get out the bull horn and bowl them down or do they sit quietly in their pews and shrink when asked if they believe everything in the bible is true? How do you see resolving such a blatant contradiction, seemingly between god and nature?

College Jay

July 7th, 2013

There are a lots of progressive, liberal denominations and theologians who have tackled questions about the “clobber passages” and other difficult points of Scripture. You’re acting as though there aren’t any openly gay, affirming, liberal, rational Christians out there. There are. There are quite a few of them, in fact, and many of them would be able to answer questions about their beliefs confidently and clearly. I don’t know if the Robertsons would at this stage, of course. I don’t really know them. But it at least looks like they’re trying to figure things out and change their former worldview, which they recognize was harmful. I can only encourage that.

You may not agree with liberal Christianity, of course. But if atheism is your only solution for every faith-related issue, then you’re going to have quite a difficult road ahead.


July 8th, 2013

College Jay said: “You saying that they somehow don’t deserve forgiveness or mercy — and instead choosing to continue to heap stones on them — is downright sadistic and cruel.”

I said nothing of the sort. I am not interested in heaping stones on them. What I object to is the idea that they somehow deserve a medal for coming to the realization that what they did is to profoundly hurt their child.

They are the ones who subjected him to the horrors of homophobic teaching. I am glad that they realize what they did and want to atone for it. However, by remaining members of a homophobic church they are doing nothing but contributing to the horrors that other people’s children will face.

Let’s be clear: the problem is not with these parents who undoubtedly thought they were doing a good thing by indoctrinating their kids with homophobic rubbish because they believed what their church taught. The problem is the church and their belief. As long as people expose their children to hate in the name of God, they are practicing child abuse.

College Jay

July 8th, 2013

But they don’t believe the same things anymore, so I don’t know what you mean when you say that the problem is “their belief.” Their church? Maybe. But churches have also been known to change viewpoints on these issues before, and who knows? Maybe the Robertson’s story will help their church become more progressive and accepting.

And no one said they deserve a medal, but we do think that sharing stories like this is commendable because these stories give faces and names to the harm institutionalized homophobia causes. This is how we change the minds of our opponents, and that’s the only way culture will change, period.


July 9th, 2013

I am speaking directly to religious extremism, fundamentalism e.g. the Robertsons etc who have finally breathed the breath of sanity, though the stench of insanity cost them dearly.
In your opinion, what would be best for THAT striation of the religious fold (if only but a handful) now to say/advocate regarding the “clobber passages”. You seem to be quite geared towards redemption e.g. the right wing Robertsons releasing “wrong teachings”, those being the clobber passages released by default that accompanied their redemption and their renewed sanity. In your opinion, how do you personally now see those passages that drove Ryan and countless others to their death; are they still correct and applicable today as they have been in the past? Do you recommend people speak out against them so as not to have these travesties such as what the Robertson’s experienced, continue? You seem quite defined in your support for redemption on these matters. How literally biblically far does that go for you?


July 13th, 2013

College Jay,

Since your belief is still that gay sex is a sin (though you portrayed above to me and the room you had changed that view), and you therefore use parts or all of the clobber passages to cause suicides among gays e.g. Ryan Robertson, it is a little confusing when you come on here with the banter above rooting to change perceptions to the “good”, since good to you is “keep it in your pants” because fully functional gays are evil doers and an abomination to God.

I doubt the Robertsons would allow their son your input (if you hadn’t already advocated for the belief that killed him) once they knew your gig. You are being quite dishonest here on this thread.

Really, make up your mind man. Either you are anti gay sex or you are not. One kills, one doesn’t. Either you are right or wrong. And in case you forgot, let the Robertsons remind you, it is wrong to kill.


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