'Ex-Gay' Movement Draws Criticism, Mixed Support on Harvard Campus

* Divinity School student relates experience with Exodus International, reparative therapy

About 100 people filled a courtroom at Harvard Law School recently, as Michael D. Johnston, a "former homosexual" who has AIDS, described how he had "walked away" from the gay lifestyle.

In downtown Seattle the next day, several hundred people rallied in support of the third annual "Coming Out Of Homosexuality Day."

And around the country, millions more heard the testimonials of "ex-gays" like Johnston on the radio.

At the forefront of the ex-gay movement is Exodus International, a Seattle-based coalition of 90 ex-gay ministries founded in 1976 that encourages gays and lesbians to cast off their sexual orientation through devotion to Christ.

With branches in Latin America, Europe, the South Pacific, South Africa and Asia, Exodus has delivered its message to more than 100 million people in the last three months, says Bob Davies, the organization's executive director, in an interview.

Between 500 and 600 people inquire about the movement at Exodus' headquarters each month, Davies says.

But for all the enthusiasm of its promoters, the ex-gay movement has been beset by failures since its inception.

Michael Bussee, one of the organization's leaders in the 1970s, fell in love with a male employee and began denouncing Exodus to the media.

Davies compares the ex-gay movement to Alcoholics Anonymous: "As in any recovery type of program...there's a certain percentage of people who do drop out," he says. "That's just the reality."

While some Harvard students agree with the movement, many scoffed at the "National Coming Out Of Homosexuality Day" event at the Law School and some said they were appalled by it.

Members of the Law School's Society for Law, Life and Religion, which sponsored it, said they were uneasy about their organization's involvement.

They added that the president, second-year law student Brian J. Burt, planned it without asking for their approval.

Burt declined to comment for this article. But he did say that he does not know of a "former homosexual" on campus.

There is an "ex-ex-gay" here, however: like Bussee, Benjamin D. Perkins, a second-year Divinity School student, was part of the ex-gay movement. Perkins underwent reparative therapy for four years before coming out as a gay man.

Perkins says that although the therapy didn't help him, repressing desire may be the only way for some fundamentalist Christians to reconcile their homosexuality with their religious beliefs.