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US ‘ex-gay’ movement pioneer turned critic John Evans has died aged 80

US ‘ex-gay’ movement pioneer turned critic John Evans has died aged 80

One of the earliest members of the ex-gay movement in the United States to leave it and campaign against it has died this week, aged 80.

Lowell ‘John’ Evans co-founded what has been called the earliest ex-gay ministry, Love In Action, in 1973 with a heterosexual Christian preacher named Kent Philpott, and another gay man, Frank Worthen, in San Raphael, California.

Two years later Philpott released the book ‘The Third Sex?’ in which he claimed his ministry had successfully converted people from being gay to straight.

That book inspired the founding of the group Exodus International in 1976 which would go on to become the most prominent ‘ex-gay’ organization in the world.

However early in the movement Philpott told Evans that he had to break off his relationship with his then lover Ron which ended up having catastrophic results.

‘It broke my heart and Ron’s,’ Evans told Anything But Straight author and Truth Wins Out executive director Wayne Besen in an interview for that book.

‘We were really happy together. The break up eventually drove Ron to drugs and despair. He died a broken man. It still hurts me to this day.’

When Evan’s friend Jack McIntyre committed suicide because he had not been able to change his sexuality it was the final straw for him and he left the movement.

‘I lost my lover. He went insane,’ Evans said in Anything But Straight.

‘And [then] my best friend went insane and killed himself. I’ve seen the broken lives and … picked up the pieces. I see what a catastrophe it is when they see the “cure” is not possible, and that means that they’re going to hell. People have actually gone crazy [over this].’

Evans went on to come to terms with his own sexual orientation and became a vocal critic of the movement, denouncing its practices.

The group Love In Action would continue until September of 2011 when its then leader John Smid decided to close it down having himself realized the folly of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation.

Today Smid is happily married to another man.

Exodus International followed suite two years later, closing its doors in 2013, though other ex-gay ministries and Christian counselors who claim to assist in sexual orientation change continue to operate in the United States and around the world.

Evans passed away on 18 January and was remembered by friends and loved ones online.

‘Yesterday … we lost my best friend of 27 years,’ wrote filmmaker Lisa Darden on her Facebook page on 19 January,

‘Lowell “John” Evans. One of the sweetest, kindest, most gentle human beings I have ever known. A brilliant artist, songwriter and humanitarian who helped countless people over the years with his life story. ‘

‘His partner, Danny, of 25 years and I are devastated. Such a huge loss! We love and miss you so much John.’

His passing was also marked by Wayne Besen and Truth Wins Out for his pioneering role in leaving the ex-gay movement and then speaking out against it.

‘John Evans is an important historical figure who will be missed,’ Besen said.

‘Evans was the first ‘ex-ex-gay,’ meaning a person who touted the message of sexual conversion – before later renouncing it as a damaging fraud. He created a template for so many others who came after him and followed in his footsteps.’