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Former leaders of ex-gay ministry in U.S. apologize for their efforts

Three former leaders of an international ministry that calls on gays to change orientation apologized for their efforts, saying that though they acted sincerely, their message had caused isolation, shame and fear.

The former leaders of the interdenominational Christian organization Exodus International said Wednesday they had all, over time, become disillusioned with the group's ideas and concerned about what they described as the wrenching human toll of such gay conversion efforts.

"Some who heard our message were compelled to try to change an integral part of themselves, bringing harm to themselves and their families," the three, including former Exodus co-founder Michael Bussee, said in a joint written statement presented at a news conference in Hollywood. "Although we acted in good faith, we have since witnessed the isolation, shame, fear and loss of faith that this message creates."

The news conference was held in a courtyard outside an office of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. It was timed to coincide with the opening of Exodus' annual conference, which is being held this week at Concordia University in Irvine and expected to draw about 1,000 people.

Exodus' president, Alan Chambers, said he disagreed with its critics and the ministry's methods have helped many people, including him.

"Exodus is here for people who want an alternative to homosexuality," Chambers said by phone. "There are thousands of people like me who have overcome this. I think there's room for more than one opinion on this subject, and giving people options isn't dangerous."

Bussee left Exodus in 1979 after he fell in love with a man who was a fellow ex-gay counselor with the group. He speaks out frequently against ex-gay therapies.

The others speaking at the news conference included Jeremy Marks, former president of Exodus International Europe, and Darlene Bogle, the founder and former director of Paraklete Ministries, an Exodus referral agency based in Hayward, California.

Chambers, who is married and has children, said he and other current Exodus officials are careful to warn those who seek help that such a path is not easy.

Sexual orientation, he said, "isn't a light switch that you can switch on and off."

Founded in 1976, the Orlando, Florida-based Exodus has grown to include more than 120 local ministries in the United States and Canada and over 150 ministries in 17 other countries. The group has monthly newsletters, annual conferences, speaking engagements and Web services. It promotes "freedom from homosexuality" through prayer, counseling and group therapy.

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