'Save Me' Doesn't Stereotype Ex-Gay Ministry

Here's the plot: Mark, a young gay man with a penchant for drugs, hustlers and wild nights in cheap motel rooms, hits bottom. His brother takes him to Genesis House, an ex-gay ministry run by Gayle, who is hell-bent on "curing" men of their homosexuality. Over smoothies one day at a shopping mall, she confesses to him why she is so intent on her calling. But the plot is thickening: Mark is developing a friendship with Scott, also at Genesis House for the "cure," and their sexual attraction is becoming more and more difficult to keep at bay. . . .

Gays versus the religious right. Culture wars that promise to heat up in this fall's election. Lines drawn in the sand. Right versus wrong. Pick your side, and paint the other as the devil.

And that's precisely what the creators of "Save Me" were determined not to do with their film, which is set in New Mexico and opened Friday in New York, to be followed by a national rollout this fall.

"As an actor, you are your characters' best friend, you can't hate them, or judge them," Judith Light, who plays Gayle, told ABCNews.com. Light ("Ugly Betty," "Who's The Boss?") is a longtime activist and friend of the LGBT community.

"Gayle is a woman who is very intent on creating a world for herself that will absolve her of her own personal guilt," continued Light. Gayle's teenage son, she reveals to Mark that day in the parking lot, was gay and died of a drug overdose.

"Gayle has turned to her religion to, in a sense, save her and has gotten hoisted on her own petard," said Light. "The love story developing between the two men has the potential to teach her about love. Her husband gets it, and she is unwilling to listen."

Nevertheless, added Light, "she is not evil in any way. She thinks she's doing the right thing."

A Hot-Button Issue

Light was one of the film's producers; the script was in development for 11 years, as the controversial issue of ex-gay ministries and the idea of "curing homosexuality" has moved in and out of the political and media spotlight.

Two years ago, the Rev. Ted Haggard, after being outed as gay by a male escort and resigning as leader of his Colorado megachurch and as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, reported having spent three weeks in intense therapy and announced at the end that he was "completely heterosexual."

Exodus International, an ex-gay ministry with more than 150 ministries in 17 countries, bills itself as an "interdenominational Christian organization promoting the message of freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ." Just last year, three former Exodus leaders apologized at a news conference in Hollywood for the harm they had caused men and women who believed that prayer could change sexual orientation.

Although Light's performance is sympathetic toward Gayle – "We weren't painting her into a corner," she said – the actor, through her involvement with the LGBT community, is adamantly opposed to the concept of ex-gay ministry. She told ABCNews.com that she has seen "the damage that is done in the name of religion to these young people's lives." Some people she's talked with "believed they were unworthy and wanted to kill themselves. Instead of building up one's self esteem and honoring who one is, they're told by society, a government, their religion, their family that it's not OK to be who they are."

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