John Smid worked as the executive director of Love in Action (now called Restoration Path), a Christian organization specializing in ex-gay conversion therapy, for 22 years. Now, Smid says that ex-gay therapy is harmful and ineffective, according to a personal column he wrote for the Advocate.
Boy Erased, a film about a young gay man whose family, desperate to make him straight, sends him to Love in Action. Smid, who was portrayed by Joel Edgerton in the film, said the depiction of ex-gay therapy in the film, while shocking to man, is largely accurate.
In 1987, Smid was taught that his “homosexual desires were rooted in sinful places in my dark heart. I was told to submit to God… and through obedience and a faithful life, my seuxla orientation could be transformed and I would discover my latent heterosexuality.”
So, from 1990 to 2012, Smid worked in gay conversion therapy. In 1994, he wrote an article telling a gay man it would be better to commit suicide than to “go into the gay lifestyle” – an article that haunts him today.
Smid also served on the board of directors of Exodus International for 11 years, another advocate of ex-gay therapy. The group closed in 2013 after the former President Alan Chambers said, “I never met one person who changed their sexual orientation, including me.”
“When one comes from a conservative Christian background where homosexuality is discouraged, it is easy to get caught in this cycle of shame,” Smid said. “I was desperate. I was led to believe I could never be a man on integrity if I didn’t change.”
However, after trying to live as a married heterosexual man for 24 “heart-wrenching” years, Smid realized “through my own desperate attempts to alter my sexuality I also led thousands of others down that fraught path.”
“[A]ll I saw were desperate, wounded people crying at the altars of prayer… Leaders shared stories of their own transformation while covering up that they actually remained unchanged,” Smid said. “Year after year, the same stories surfaced about distressed people falling away to their own shame caused by the conditional messages that if they didn’t become ‘straight’ it was their fault.”
“Many succumbed to suicide due to their own despair,” he continued.
Smid has spent the years since trying to right his wrongs by starting a gay Christian group, Grace Rivers, which supports gay men. He also married his partner, Larry McQueen, in 2014.
Smid went on to support the findings of every major psychological association that conversion therapy can create psychological harm and the moves by 15 states to ban the practice.
“Conversion therapy in any form is dangerous and potentially lethal,” he said. “The answer is not self-denial and lies. It is self-acceptance and living one’s truth.”