The Closet and the Cross

Three decades ago, Michael Bussee helped found the mammoth ex-gay ministry Exodus International. Now, he’s one of the movement's biggest critics

"You can live with the desperation for so long," he says, glancing at the altar behind him. "And then you crack up."

White lived to tell the tale, and he has since gotten comfortable in his homosexual skin. But he can go on for hours about others who were not so lucky.

Work with Soulforce has made White a "preacher who floats." Even without a church, he's called upon to bury kids who commit suicide across the nation. "Invariably, they're from a Christian family and, invariably, an ex-gay treatment center," says White. He cites a University of Minnesota study that states gay young men are seven times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts. "What they don't say is that most of those kids come from Christian families."

The ex-gay movement "leads to death—directly to death," he says. "And it's all good people doing it. All sincere, good people doing it."

Incidentally, White was the man who put Bussee's beloved in the ground. He had been living in Laguna Beach when he got a call from a very upset Bussee, who was trying to find a minister to inter his deceased lover. Cooper's last wish was to have his funeral at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, where he first became a Christian. But upon learning he had died of the "homosexual disease," the minister lined up to do the service had backed out.

"Mike, calm down: God is in control," said White, breaking it to his friend that he was an ordained minister and would be honored to lead Cooper's service.

Under White's care, the funeral blossomed, said Bussee. Cooper was laid to rest at Westminster Memorial Park on Beach Boulevard. The plot of land next to Cooper has no marker, but it's reserved, says Bussee, for himself.

*   *   *

When Eric Leocadio was in the ninth grade, he decided he wanted to die.

He'd known he was gay even as a child and believed it to be socially unacceptable. His parents had recently divorced, and he was at an all-time low, feeling out of place as a Filipino in Long Beach

So he took two handfuls of pills one evening and popped them into his mouth one at a time. At 14, he believed that if he kept going, he could stop his heart.

Leocadio had a smidgeon of a Catholic background, so he put a rosary around his neck before he passed out on his bed in his mother's home.

Two hours later, he woke up, weak and woozy. Then, he felt as though he were being carried to the bathroom, where he proceeded to throw up.

The clocked blinked 7:00. Then 8 p.m., then 9. Every hour on the hour, he'd wake, look at the clock and somehow find himself at the porcelain throne, coughing up pills. Eventually, the morning peeked through Leocadio's window. He felt sick and wished he were dead.

"God wasn't done with me," says Leocadio, who believes his stomach was pumped by divine intervention, as he can't imagine having the strength to have walked to the bathroom on his own.

The experience turned Leocadio into an outspoken Christian who believed and taught others that being gay was sinful.

"My only outlets of expressing my sexuality were limited to those things done in secrecy. This further fractured my sense of self as I maintained a dualistic life—one lived in public light, and the other lived in private darkness," he would write in a 2007 blog entry.

He prayed for God to change him, and he eventually wound up in Anaheim's Desert Stream Ministries. For two years, he attended support groups and enrolled himself in the Living Waters program, designed to assist people with their "sexual and relational brokenness."

Leocadio thought he was broken. "After spending several hundred dollars and countless hours in the ex-gay program, I graduated still believing that being gay was a sin and that being straight was the ideal," he wrote. "Unlike so many others who have survived traumatic experiences from programs like these, I was one of the lucky ones who didn't exit the program terrorized. Perhaps it was because I bought into their notion that I may have to live with being gay for the rest of my life, but that there were tools that I could implement to suppress my homosexuality so that I could outwardly present myself as straight—as ex-gay."

Though Leocadio subscribed to what Desert Stream preached, he was also wary of the mixed signals the ex-gay program put forth: namely, that God's love was unconditional, but the acceptance of the church wasn't.

Acceptance was dependent on conforming to the church's interpretation of what wholeness was, he says. And "to be whole meant to be straight." The disparity rocked Leocadio and led him to embrace himself as a Christian homosexual in 2005. These days, he speaks out against ex-gay culture and attended the survivors' conference.

The equation of wholeness and heterosexuality was a constant theme at the Exodus general sessions the Weekly was allowed to attend last month. But when quizzed about it, Alan Chambers waved it off as the mainstream media's misinterpretation of "Christianese."

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