Exodus International's 'Gay Cure' App Failed to Turn Me Straight

By Nicholas Jackson

mzl.atyfdqqw.320x480-75.jpgGay rights activists are outraged -- and rightfully so. More than 90,000 people have signed a petition hosted on Change.org demanding that Apple remove an application from the iTunes Store that promises to deliver "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ."

Developed by Exodus International, an Orlando, Florida-based Christian organization, the application claims to be "a useful resource for men, women, parents, students, and ministry leaders." But Truth Wins Out, a nonprofit organization that defends the LGBT community against anti-gay misinformation campaigns, finds the app offensive at best. "Exodus' message is hateful and bigoted," the petition states.

On its own website, Exodus celebrates the release of the app in a short, two-sentence blurb that appears at the top of the main homepage. One of those sentences is reserved for flaunting the fact that the app received a 4+ rating from Apple, a designation the company uses for applications like Angry Birds and Java Scoop, an app for determining how many scoops of coffee you need to make a mild cup of Joe. A 4+ rating means that, at some point in an approval process used in the past to weed out fart applications and an app that used an icon too similar to an iPhone, it was decided that Exodus International's program contained "no objectionable material."

So I downloaded the (free) app, which was launched on March 8. A giant resource bank, the app contains lists of events, videos and news stories that are carefully curated to reflect the mission of Exodus International, which states that individuals can "grow into heterosexuality." Nothing available on the app would lead me to question my homosexuality, but maybe I'm not fictile enough. Truth Wins Out claims that the new iPhone app "is the latest move in Exodus' dangerous new strategy of targeting youth," in the petition for removal. "In light of the recent wave of LGBT youth suicides," it argues, "this tactic is particularly galling as it creates, legitimizes, and fuels the ostracism of LGBT youth by their families."

I first learned about Exodus International when doing some preliminary reporting on reparative therapy. Also known as conversion or reorientation therapy, reparative therapy has been rejected by the American Psychological Association and every other major professional medical organization in the United States. Considered harmful and damaging by mainstream scientific organizations, reparative therapy is a set of practices built around the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder that can be fixed. Using that as a starting point, reparative therapists use masturbatory reconditioning; social skills training; prayer groups and even aversive treatments, such as the application of electric shock to the genitals, in an attempt to turn gay men and women straight.

While these shocking practices aren't, as far as I can tell, recommended on the app itself, they are supported by the organization behind it. By allowing this product into the iTunes Store, Apple is sending mixed signals.

The company has a history of supporting gay rights -- it gave $100,000 to defeat proposition 8, a 2008 California ballot measure to ban gay marriage -- but also of allowing apps opposing homosexuality to sneak through the cracks. In December, the Manhattan Declaration, a group with nearly 500,000 supporters, developed an iPhone application that equated homosexuality with "immoral conduct," according to PCWorld. Apple removed the app after 8,000 people signed a petition asking them to do so; in the months since, more than 62,000 Manhattan Declaration supporters have signed their own petition asking for the app to be reinstated. So where does the company stand? "Apple doesn't allow racist or anti-Semitic apps in its app store," the Truth Wins Out petition notes, "yet it is giving the green light to an app targeting vulnerable LGBT youth with the message that their sexual orientation is a 'sin that will make your heart sick' and a 'counterfeit.' This is a double standard that has the potential for devastating consequences."

At the time of this writing, Apple has not responded to requests for comment from anti-homophobia groups and the Exodus International app is still available for download in the iTunes Store. Based on 144 reviews, the app has a one and a half star rating, which seems inflated. Judging by the most recent "customer" responses, many users awarded one star because it's a required minimum to post a comment: "How can apple have let this app pass?" adam.iphone asked. "This app is promoting religion based bullying and homophobia. As a straight Christian I am appalled! I don't even want to award a star but I will do i can show my disgust!" 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/03/exodus-internationals-gay-cure-app-failed-to-turn-me-straight/72783/