In an article in the St. Lewis Riverfront Times called Pray the Gay Away by Chad Garrison, Jim Venice expounds about his ex-gay counseling for Pure Heart Ministry.

Much of Venice’s message is the familiar one about how gay people don’t truly identify with their own gender. As a rather bizarre example, Venice says:

“At age five or six, a boy will tell himself, ‘My pee-pee is not like her pee-pee, and my pee-pee is like Daddy’s pee-pee, so I must be like Daddy,” Venice explains. “At this time boys start learning from Dad what it means to be a man, how to be masculine and do boy things like play in the dirt, roughhouse and catch frogs, et cetera.

“For girls it’s the opposite,” Venice continues. “They’re filling their bowl with femininity and things that are soft and pink and pretty and pajama parties and hopscotch and jump rope and Barbies and tea parties.”

As usual, Venice’s ex-gay ministry makes great claims:

Venice says he has a solid track record of putting his clients back on the straight and narrow, but, until now, he has shunned publicity in the secular press.

“Stories like mine are a dime a dozen, but you won’t ever find them on the five-o’-clock news, because the media is pro-gay,” he says.

Venice plays the typical ex-gay martyr. He provides no verification of his successes but blames a liberal media for not publishing his unsubstantiated claims. Perhaps he doesn’t recognize that his definition of success is not consistent with what most people, reporters included, would consider success.

For example, Venice provided Garrison with “Don”, who three years after beginning his journey away from homosexuality, says he’s happier with himself but readily confesses to having an impure thought every now and again.

“My attraction level went down, but it didn’t go away,” he says. “It’s a daily thing. It’s not like you’re going to go to a class and you’re healed instantly. I’m not going to tell you that.”

For Venice, though, Don represents another success story and boasts that 75 to 80 percent of people who adhere to his program eventually cleanse themselves of homosexuality.

“Let me ask you,” Venice begins. “What if over the course of the year someone’s attraction level went from a ten to a one or a two? Would you say that’s successful? I would, and most people who continue with the program will see their attraction level eventually go down to zero.”

What Venice fails to clarify is how a gay person with an “attraction level” of one or two, or any number at all for that matter, is somehow no longer gay. They may not spend their afternoons cruising bathrooms or obsessing about porn (or whatever it is that unhappy people with “attraction levels” of 10 do), but they are still attracted to the same sex. Most rational people, reporters included, would not see a “former homosexual” but instead would see a chaste gay man.

Venice claims the Exodus standby of molestation and absent father for causing his attraction to men. But Venice has a twist:

Jim Venice was born in St. Louis to teenaged parents. He was just four years old when his father went to prison — purportedly for a crime so distressing that Venice still won’t talk about it. With three baby boys to feed, Venice says, his mother worked two jobs, often leaving little Jim and his brothers with female babysitters. Twice, he claims, the sitters molested him. He declines to elaborate.

“What does it matter,” he asks brusquely, “if I was molested or raped? Molestation is traumatic no matter how it’s performed.”

The reporter balances her article with a story about an Exodus survivor, David Belt:

Twice Belt walked down the aisle, only for his marriages to end when he could not rid his mind of homosexual desires. In 2000, toward the end of his second marriage, Belt began reading literature put out by the ex-gay ministry.

Out of view from his wife, he pored over books like Homosexual No More and Pursuing Sexual Wholeness. Belt even completed an online version of the twenty-week Living Waters course. But it wasn’t until he attended an Exodus support group (then held at church in west county) that Belt concluded the ministry — and its message — was not for him.

“I could suppress acting on being gay, but it didn’t make me happy or whole,” he says. “The irony is, had I not done Exodus I don’t think I’d ever have come out. I’m a bit of a rebel, and when they started telling me what to believe and how to act, my natural reaction was to go against the grain.”

Demonstrating Venice’s ignorance about Belt and his life and Venice’s immediate dismissal of any experiences outside the Exodus mantra:

People like Belt, says Venice, realize there is a way out of homosexuality but don’t want to change for fear of losing the life they’ve known or come to expect.

But it was Belt’s “heterosexual lifestyle” that made him miserable. He did change and lost the life he’d known and come to expect. And is much happier.

Overall the article was fairly balanced. Initially it seemed like a piece of propaganda for Venice’s viewpoint. And the reported did not directly challenge Venice’s assertions. But that could have been overkill, anyway. In presenting the positions of the psychiatric community and a MCC minister, Venice’s positions took on a sheen of self-delusion. My only criticism would be that all people interviewed, gay and anti-gay, seemed to view homosexuality as some great burden, not a position I espouse.

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