Former ‘ex-gay’ leader who lobbied Mike Pence against equal marriage reveals he’s marrying another man
A former ‘ex-gay’ lobbyist who once rubbed shoulders with Mike Pence and George W Bush has apologised to the LGBT+ community for his past work and is planning on getting married to a man.
Randy Thomas had served as vice president and national spokesperson for the now-defunct Exodus International, a once-powerful proponent of conversion therapy in the US rooted in a fundamentalist Christian worldview.
He said: “To the people who are harmed by the toxic theology and stigmatising views that I was proposed and promoted… I’m very sorry. And if you’re angry and you can’t forgive me, I get it, I’m angry and I can’t forgive myself for some things.
“I’m not trying to convince you to like me. But I do hope that you will accept my sincere apology. And now that I know better, I’m going to do better.
“I know that will only go so far with some folks, because I did a lot of really bad stuff. And I know that, and I’m trying to make amends for that.”
Randy Thomas fell into ex-gay movement after years of horrific homophobia.
Thomas explained that he grew up a gay kid in Nashville, Tennessee and was rejected by his family for being gay.
He said: “Being thrown out of the house for being gay was one of the most traumatic experiences I’ve ever had in my life.
“To be told I had a special place to burn in hell, that God hated me, that God sent AIDS to kill fags…. to have a parent say that to you is bad enough, but then for them to turn around and say, ‘you’re disowned, dismissed, get out of house, you have an hour… I lived in my car for three weeks. And it was horrible. I was suicidal.”
Thomas found refuge in the gay party scene, finding a place to stay with a local drag queen — but after suffering a hate crime attack, he moved to stay with an aunt in Texas, where he eventually joined an evangelical church.
He said: “They were actually cool, and it was full of artists and their worship time was gorgeous, beautiful harmonies, and they were home to an Exodus group. They’re like, ‘oh yeah, we love gay people we have a special group for them at seven o’clock on Thursday night’… I was just like, I’ll give it a shot.”
Thomas was hooked into Exodus by its teachings about emotional dependency, explaining: “It gave you something you desperately needed, but there were some cruel strings that were hidden.
“The false sense of community and acceptance that I experienced there was the first time I’d ever really felt accepted, and it did not take long after I joined to put on the identity of being of former homosexual.”
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Eventually taking on more responsibility within Exodus, Thomas gained a leadership role. He said: “Being a national spokesperson, looking back on it was traumatic. At first, I thought it was fun. I thought it was exciting… [but] I knew in my heart of hearts that what I was saying wasn’t true.”
As part of the group’s anti-LGBT+ lobbying efforts, the group would routinely visit lawmakers in Washington DC to lobby for a ban on same-sex marriage and in opposition to proposed LGBT+ hate crime protections.
Thomas said: “They didn’t see us as the think tank culture vulture warriors, they thought of as the personal stories that would give them legitimacy.
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“It was just a rush to have these high profile people wanting us to join them in their public policy pushes. I went and met with Rick Santorum in his office and I gave this big emotional testimony, and thanked him for his righteous stand… and for a senator to walk over, put his hand on my shoulder and say, ‘I’m so glad you’re here’, was powerful.”
He continued: “My experience leads me to believe that Mike Pence is very supportive of ex-gay ministry, and he supports the efforts to try to convert people from gay to straight.
“When I met Kellyanne Conway, of course it was long before she was ever the liar on TV that she is now. She came across as very personable, very smart… she was very supportive of us at Exodus.”
The lobbying efforts even led Thomas to the seat of power itself for an anti-gay faith event under Bush. He explained: “When president Bush invited us to the White House, I’ll never forget it. I was 20 feet away from the president… and now I look back on it, and how dysfunctional, how awful, this is systemic bigotry and stigma in action at the highest level, and at the time I was involved in it.
“Now I look back on it. I’m like, why didn’t you yell out? Why did you betray your community like that? It’s a hard thing to think about.”
Despite once fighting tooth and nail against equal marriage, Thomas now plans to marry his partner, Dan Scobey.
The pair, who live in Orlando, founded their own non-profit, Thrive LGBTQ+, which works to “confront religion-based stigma”and oppose “attempts to change or repress LGBTQ+ people’s innate sexuality and identity”.