The main difference between the ex-gay movement in the UK and the US is that, well, that there isn’t really much of an ex-gay movement as such in the UK. In the US, the movement tends to be focused and visible, largely thanks to Exodus. In Britain, Exodus doesn’t have much going on.
The most prominent ex-gay ministry in Britain is the True Freedom Trust, and its leader, Martin Hallett, broke off from Exodus International a few years ago. He is now backing off from claims of actual conversion to heterosexuality, and gave up the Exodus affiliation for precisely that reason. He was increasingly wary of the rhetoric from North America, believing it tended to “set up people for disillusionment”. Though he still pays lip service to the idea of some people being able to grow out of homosexual orientation, in our conversations he has been surprisingly – refreshingly – candid about his own sexuality.
Until 2000, the other main ex-gay organisation in the UK was Courage, which became a gay-affirming ministry when leader Jeremy Marks realized that twenty years of trying to make gays straight was simply not working.
We don’t have ex-gay billboards here; we don’t see much of them on TV; and there’s no explicitly ex-gay residential centres as there are in the US.
But that’s not to say that there isn’t something going on. It’s just not a unified, visible movement. As Mike Airhart said back in October (quoting Peterson Toscano, in turn quoting the Contemplative Activist), it just goes on underground. In which case, it’s potentially more dangerous. At least in America it’s all out there in the public square, where here ex-gay ministry is the fundamentalist equivalent of a backstreet abortion. (I realize I’m oversimplifying the situation on both sides of the Atlantic here, but hopefully you get the point.)
Over the next few months I’ll be investigating ex-gay ministries in the UK, and sharing with you a little of what I find. I have coffee coming up with a charismatic leader in Liverpool whose ex-gay ministry stems from the work of New-Yorkers Ron and Joanne Highley, whose ministry promises “complete freedom from homosexuality, from both the desires and the activity.” They believe in nothing less than 100% reversal of homosexual orientation. “They think Exodus is too liberal,” someone told me only half-jokingly.
If any British readers have leads or suggestions for my research, feel free to email me.