Exodus does not believe that heterosexuality is the opposite of homosexuality, said Jeff Buchanan, senior director of church equipping and student ministries for Exodus. Instead, it teaches that the opposite of homosexuality is "holiness."
"We are here to help people live a life that is congruent with their beliefs," he said.
Besen, of Truth Wins Out, said, "These groups are kind of a PR gimmick for the religious right.
"It's consumer fraud because it doesn't help anyone," he said, "and it's also a political ruse."
If voters believe that sexual orientation can be changed, he said, they are more likely to support anti-gay politicians.
Fairness West Virginia President Stephen Skinner called Exodus' work irresponsible "quackery."
"What they are doing is promoting untruths and lies, and they're actually creating junk science to justify homophobia," Skinner said. "They want gays and lesbians not to have the same rights as everybody else, and they create this whole other reality to justify what they're doing."
Besen said he has gone undercover to Exodus events and alleges that people are encouraged to link all of their troubles to the fact that they are gay.
"Exodus blames every problem on a person's sexual orientation," he said. "If somebody's depressed, if somebody's hearing voices or having visions, if somebody's not having success in life."
Many of them need therapy, Besen said, but "don't get the professional counseling that they need because Exodus provides sub-par, faux counselors."
He worries that gay people who turn to Exodus will only get more hurt, he said.
"When people internalize this message that something's wrong with them, that they're not whole," he said, "it's very devastating, psychologically."
Reach Alison Knezevich at alis...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.