By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
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By Courtney Hamilton
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By Charles Lam
“We just wanted to make sure that the statement we put out was exactly what represented our position,” Chambers later told the Weekly over the phone. “Why now? Because it was necessary. If we hadn’t done it, someone would have criticized us. If we had done it earlier, we would have still been criticized for it.”
Bussee sees a different explanation. “They stalled and stalled and stalled,” he said after his speech. “They finally issued a formal policy against criminalization . . . just in time for the Exodus conference.” Bussee thinks it’s part of a campaign to put a gentler face on the ex-gay movement. To that effect, Exodus has tried out a series of euphemisms to describe their adherents, abandoning “ex-gay” for “former homosexual” and using “SSA” or “same-sex-attraction.” Recently, they swiped the term “post-gay” from gay-rights activists who used it to describe a world where homosexuality is universally accepted. All these buzzwords, Bussee points out, essentially mean, “you’re still gay,” and yet Exodus’ promotional materials don’t readily disclose that their conferences work toward “holiness,” not heterosexuality.
To Bussee, the biggest tragedy of all might be that Exodus’ involvement in Uganda is a symptom of the illness that he thinks has struck the ministry: politics. When Bussee was with Exodus, the group turned down requests for support from the anti-gay campaigns of Anita Bryant and Orange County congressman William Dannemeyer. By the late ’80s, though, the organization had changed.
“Exodus morphed into something terrible after we left,” Bussee said. “They took this detour, but this detour is turning deadly. Their product wasn’t selling here in the United States anymore, so they decided to [export] it to Africa.”
Standing in the sun-filled Irvine United Congregational Church lobby after giving his talk, Bussee was approached by Zoe Nicholson, a Newport Beach activist for women’s and LGBT rights since the 1970s. “I just want to hug the stuffing out of you,” Nicholson told him before wishing a happy birthday to Bussee’s grandson.
Bussee and Nicholson began talking about Exodus and the criticism Bussee had received from some in the gay community for helping to found it. Some say that, for all his penance, he still has “blood on his hands” from the psychological damage Exodus caused.
“The lives you’ve saved, the hearts you’ve opened,” Nicholson said. “You’ve helped people believe they weren’t sinners.”
Bussee wiped his eyes as tears began to well up. “I didn’t want to hurt people,” he said. “That was never my intent.”
Editorial Intern Kevin Short contributed to the reporting of this story.
This article appeared in print as "Rated Ex: Michael Bussee and other activists use some strong language to denounce the upcoming conference of the ‘ex-gay’ ministry Exodus International."