Slap Into Action: “Curing” Gays Isn’t Charity

September 3rd, 2010

Slap Into Action

Update: I’ve set up a sub-page to help organize a campaign. Visit http://www.slapupsidethehead.com/action/

On Wednesday, I posted a story about how Exodus Global Alliance—a religious organisation that offers “freedom from homosexuality” through prayer and something they call sexual reorientation therapy—was denied charitable status in New Zealand.

This piqued my curiosity, and a quick search of Canada’s registered charities showed that Exodus is, indeed, enjoying tax benefits as a registered charity here in Canada.

Since Wednesday’s post, a lot of people have emailed me in agreement that “curing” gays should not be considered a charitable activity in Canada and have been asking what they can do about it. Here’s what I know, and what I think can be done.

First, though, a bit about Exodus Global Alliance and what they do.

What is Exodus?

Exodus is a U.S.-based religious organisation whose slogan is “proclaiming freedom from homosexuality.” Despite all scientific evidence, Exodus claims that homosexuality is a mental disorder and that gay people can change through prayer and reparative therapy.

Exodus, in association with the American Family Association, a U.S.-based, anti-gay lobby group, is mainly responsible for the Love Won Out conference, held several times a year across the U.S. and Canada. This conference includes unaccredited counseling sessions, seminars for dealing with gay family members as if they are disordered, and prayer sessions.

Why is this a bad thing?

Reinforcing the idea that people should detest their natural sexual orientation can lead to demonstrable harm, but more basically, sexual orientation is not a recognised disorder and cannot be changed. There are simply no peer-reviewed studies to support it. The best that Exodus can cite are participant surveys like Jones and Yarhouse, published in a non-scientific journal by InterVarsity Press, a Christian publishing company; Schaeffer, et al., published by the in-house press of Biola University, a private Evangelical Christian school in Los Angeles; and Ponticelli, who hand-selected a statistically unusable sample size of only 15 participants for her results. As participant surveys, none of these are objective studies. (A participant survey of suicide cult members, for example, would suggest that joining such a cult is a life improvement because the members would report satisfaction and believe that they’re doing the right thing. It’s an extreme example, but it demonstrates the flaw.) And yet, even these surveys largely show that a majority of participants were unsatisfied with their experiences at Exodus!

While Exodus likes to spin the same argument around and claim that the “gay lifestyle” (whatever that means) is harmful even if gay people don’t agree, this is not backed up by the medical and psychological community. The world’s largest and most well-respected medical organisations have all gone on record to say that homosexuality is not a recognized disorder, that gay people are not inherently worse off than straight people, that sexual orientation is unchangeable, and that attempts to change it often result in serious psychological harm. These organisations are easily citable and instantly recognisable, including the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association, and many others.

The consensus from the medical community is further evidenced by Exodus’ spectacular failures, including the coming out of two of its founding members and several former Exodus leaders, as well as the countless private members who have left their organisation confused and distraught.

Do Exodus’ activities violate Canada’s rules for charitable status?

Probably. All registered charities operating in Canada must provide what the Canada Revenue Agency calls a “public benefit.” This is a long legal definition that I can’t claim to fully understand, but, of particular note, a charitity’s activities must be “regarded as valuable by the common understanding of enlightened opinion,” and such value “must be weighed against any harm that may arise from the proposed activity and a net benefit must result.”

Since homosexuality is not a recognised disorder by any respected medical organisation, it’s questionable as to what benefit could come out of trying to treat it as one. Moreoever, the consensus in the medical community is that all attempts to treat homosexuality as a disorder may cause serious psychological harm. With no clear benefit, and demonstrable harm from Exodus’ actions, I think there’s a strong case to argue that Exodus’ activities do not meet Canada’s criteria for charitable status.

Exodus has already been awarded charitable status; can it be revoked?

Yes. Charitable status can be revoked for one of three reasons: Voluntary revocation (unlikely in this case), Revocation for failure to file taxes (also unlikely), or revocation for a cause other than a failure to file. The latter is complicated, but states that charitable status can be revoked for “a failure to comply with the requirements of registration,” which may include the “public benefit test.”

According to Revenue Canada, claims of public benefit by any charity “may be [...] rebutted by concerns raised,” and there is definitely legal precedent of this.

How do I raise a concern with Revenue Canada?

Contact Revenue Canada’s Charities Directorate at 1-800-267-2384 and ask for your concerns to be directed to the Charities Compliance Division, or write to them:

Charities Directorate
Canada Revenue Agency
Ottawa ON K1A 0L5

You can also submit your concerns via email. CharitiesComplianceDivisi.LPRA@cra-arc.gc.ca

While you’re at it, contact the Office of the Commissioner and Office of the Deputy Commissioner of the CRA:

Mrs. Linda Lizotte-MacPherson
Commissioner — Chief Executive Officer of the CRA
7th Floor
555 MacKenzie Avenue
Ottawa ON K1A 0L5

Mrs. Lyse Ricard
Deputy Commissioner of the CRA
7th Floor
555 MacKenzie Avenue
Ottawa ON K1A 0L5

I recommend simply stating something along the lines of the following:

I’m concerned that the activities being performed in Canada by Exodus Global Alliance, a registered charity, do not meet the criteria of a public benefit as defined by the Canada Revenue Agency.

Exodus’ primary activities include the promotion and treatment of homosexuality as a mental disorder—a notion not supported by the medical and psychological community. Since homosexuality has not been listed as a disorder in medical literature since the mid 1970s, it does not require treatment as promoted by Exodus. Several respected medical and psychological associations, incuding the American Medical Assocation and the American Psychological Association, have issued official statements attesting that such treatments may even result in serious psychological harm.

For these reasons, and in the interest of Canadians, I believe Exodus Global Alliance’s charitable status should be re-evaluated according to the Canada Revenue Agency’s public benefit criteria.

I think it’s reasonable to expect that, with enough expressed concern, and backed by a supply of evidence that Exodus simply can’t refute, the CRA will launch the process of revocation for a cause on Exodus Global Alliance. But they need to hear our concerns first. Slap into action, share this story with your friends, and let the Canada Revenue Agency know that “curing” gays shouldn’t be a charitable activity in Canada.

Where can I learn more about these gay “curing” societies?

The activities and distortions of several Exodus-like organisations are well-documented. I strongly recommend visiting Truth Wins Out, an organisation dedicated to exposing the myths and political motivations behind organisations like Exodus. Box Turtle Bulletin also regularly posts exhaustive investigations into these organisations, exposing the deliberate distortions used to back up their claims.