PhD Research

Dissertation: Confess the Gay Away? Media, Religion, and the Political Economy of Ex-gay Therapy

Successfully defended on February 24, 2015

(Click on the image below to read the Introduction to my dissertation)


Interdisciplinary discourse analysis of the public relations debate operating in mass media and popular culture on religiously justified sexual orientation conversion efforts (i.e. “praying the gay away” in the Christian ex-gay movement).

Zach StarkAnything But Straight
Demonstrates the primary and problematic role of religious and psychological confession in the ex-gay movement: participants do not try to “pray the gay away,” participants are asked to confess the gay away through lifelong labour, as impoverished entrepreneurs of the “heterosexual” self; highlights long-standing and problematic historical relations between Christianity and psychiatry; also isolates role of failed public relations strategy in justifying movement in the public sphere, both in Canada and the United States; examines cross-platform advertising strategy, especially the generation of unpaid earned media in news and popular culture, as well as the role psychologized and sexualized discourses of risk played in establishing the parameters of the 15-year debate that followed the movement’s entry into the public sphere.

paulk ex-gay ad in New York TimesNewsweek-Gay For LifeSouth Park Pray the Gay Away

Primary source data for original analysis includes multiple forms of print, broadcast, film, and online news, advertising, and promotion; popular culture depictions and narratives; and mental health reports, government policy initiatives, and legal documents.

anderson-cooperExodus Shuts Downcropped-new-york-times-spitzer

Academic contextual analysis includes previously published qualitative studies of participant observation, quantitative studies of medical and psychological efficacy and harm, mass media studies of advertising discourse and rhetoric, and historical studies of the deeply interconnected relationship between religion, psychology and psychiatry.

Straight to JesusEx-gay ResearchEx-gays?Ex-gay RhetoricAPA Task Force_v1History of MadnessAbnormalThe Will to Know_v1

The Canadian Connection — Although originating and operating most prominently in the United States, the ex-gay movement is an international phenomenon and has a strong presence in Canada. In fact, its operation in Canada has been documented, portrayed and critiqued in mainstream newspaper articles published by the National Post and the Toronto Star, in the Canadian LGBT publication Xtra, on the CBC Television current affairs program The Hour, on the CBC Radio current affairs program The Current, in a documentary produced by the National Film Board of Canada called Cure For Love, and even in one of Canada’s most popular sketch comedy shows, This Hour Has 22 Minutes.

ThisHourEx-gayIt’s history in Canada extends at least back to the 1980s, operating through such ministries as New Direction Ministries of Canada and Living Waters Canada. However, New Direction Ministries, under the leadership of Wendy Gritter, broke from Exodus International and the larger ex-gay movement following the American Psychological Association’s report on reparative therapy (which, tabled in Toronto, largely rejects the efficacy of ex-gay change and warns of a strong possibility for harm). In fact, New Direction officially rejected conversion therapy and began building bridges to the LGBT Christian community in Toronto in an inclusive and affirming way:

index Wendy_Gritter_v1_converted Ex-gay_Survivor_v1_converted

*Please check out my 2013 York University Three Minute Thesis competition presentation, for which I was a finalist:

*NOTE: if you click on any picture on this page, you’ll be linked to additional information.

ExgayNowayCover75One Does Not Simply Pray the Gay AwayEx-gay No Way

Below are links to websites from which I borrowed images that I use under fair use/fair dealing copyright law; or in the absence of a website, info about where I got the image from:

The image of myself delivering my Three Minute Thesis presentation is a screenshot from the YouTube video posted just above and the copyright holder of the video is York University.

Free Zach Stark:

Anything But Straight:

“I’m Living Proof” ad: The ad itself was published in the New York Times on July 13, 1998 and was paid for by the following Christian Right lobby groups:
Alliance for Traditional Marriage, American Family Association, Americans for Truth About
Homosexuality, Center for Reclaiming America, Christian Family Network, Christian
Coalition, Citizens for Community Values, Colorado for Family Values, Concerned
Women for America, Coral Ridge Ministries, Family First, Family Research Council,
Liberty Counsel, National Legal Foundation, and Kerusso Ministries.

Newsweek “Gay For Life”: The image is of the August 17th, 1998 issue of Newsweek.

Cartman Sucks:

The Anderson Cooper image is a screen shot from this video:

Sorry We’re Closed:

Psychiatry Giant Sorry For Backing Gay Cure is a screen shot of the May 18th, 2012 New York Times article:

Straight to Jesus:

Ex-gay Research:


Ex-gay Rhetoric is a screen shot of the pdf of this article:

Appropriate Therapeutic Responses is a screen shot of the pdf of the Report of
the Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation
. Washington,
DC: American Psychological Association, 2009.

History of Madness:


The Will to Know:

The This Hour Has 22 Minutes image is a screen shot from this YouTube posting of the CBC produced This Hour Has 22 Minutes scetch:

The New Direction images were borrowed from their website,, except for the middle one, it being a screen shot from this video posted by New Direction:

Ex-Gay No Way Book:

One Does Not Simply Pray the Gay Away:

Ex-Gay No Way Protestors:


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