April 23, 2007 — -- "Ex-gay" ministries, which attempt to turn homosexual people into heterosexuals, say they've changed thousands of lives, but one program graduate says that gay people are fine just the way they are.
Growing up, Christine Bakke struggled to make sense of her homosexual impulses, confused by what she now calls a sheltered Christian perspective
"When I really did finally say, 'Oh, there's this word for what I think I'm feeling,' … I was terrified by what it meant for me," Bakke said. "I knew that I would immediately be going to hell."
Wanting desperately to stay connected spiritually, Bakke sought out what are called ex-gay ministries, religious-based therapy programs that aim to cure homosexuality.
"I felt like it was what I needed to do to please God," she said.
Although these programs have been widely renounced by medical professionals, they are, in fact, growing nationwide.
Exodus International, the umbrella organization for Christian-based ex-gay ministries, now includes 150 programs, a 30 percent increase since 2002, and has long professed to help people overcome gay tendencies.
"It's not an easy process, but someone can choose not to be a homosexual," Exodus International's Alan Chambers said.
Recently, after evangelical preacher Ted Haggard's alleged homosexual incident, church leaders declared him healed after three weeks of ex-gay ministry.
For Bakke, there was a different outcome.
"I started seeing … this isn't working. This doesn't work for people," she said.
After four years of immersion, she left the therapy.
"I think for me I realized, I'm really not experiencing the change I thought it was," she said. "I regret thinking that I was damaged and broken and needed to be whole and needed to be changed before I could be close to God."
Bakke said the therapy was based on the idea that gay people are "broken" and need to be fixed. She now says that gay men and women can be whole just the way they are.
"I would say there's nothing to cure," she told Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America." "You are fine just the way you are."
Bakke did informal research about people after the program and found that many of them had changed their behavior, not their orientation. When she began therapy, she believed that she would be completely different once the process was over.
"[I thought] I would no longer be attracted to women, that I would be completely changed," she said. She said it was "a big letdown" when she wasn't.
Bakke said she was was devoted to the therapy.
"I would do anything," she said. "I was so into this, I was so searching."
She said one of her strangest experiences was when a fellow church member prayed that God would give her the ability to accessorize.
"She actually prayed that God would teach me," Bakke said.
Bakke has been saddened by the reaction of her parents.
"They equate homosexuality with something along the lines of being a rapist," she said.
Despite that reaction, Bakke maintains that she is happy now.
"I've always been the woman God wanted me to be. … It's not about the makeup, it's not about the accessories," she said. "I feel so happy to be who I am."