McKrae Game founded Hope for Wholeness, a faith-based conversion therapy program in South Carolina, in 1999
McKrae Game, the man who founded one of the biggest conversion therapy programs in the country, is opening up about his decision to come out as gay after leading the homophobic organization for 20 years.
Game, 51, appeared on Tuesday’s episode of Tamron Hall, the former NBC journalist’s new self-titled talk show, where Game spoke candidly about his decision to go public with his truth after vehemently preaching that being gay would send someone to hell.
“I snapped out of it,” Game told Hall, 48, during the show. “That’s the phrase I use.”
In 1999, Game started Truth Ministry, a faith-based conversion therapy program in South Carolina that aims to suppress or completely change a person’s LGBTQ+ sexuality through counseling, interventions, or ministry. The program was eventually rebranded and renamed as Hope for Wholeness in 2013. (Game said he was abruptly fired from the organization nearly two years ago over his usage of pornography, but in a statement to PEOPLE, the organization says the “board of HFW walked with McKrae for over a year concerning issues that led to his resignation.”)
“I’m trying to highlight the wrongs in so many of these organizations. I gave 28 years of my life of repressing my homosexuality, not understanding and not knowing really what it’s like to be able to just simply accept who I am,” Game told Hall on Tuesday.
Game described the harmful impact of living in denial.
“I’ve always said I have a chronic anxiety problem,” he said. “That’s gone. I realized I was causing my own mental illness, and that’s what I was doing to other people.”
“I believe repressing your natural orientation causes mental illness,” he added.
Game described himself as a “practicing homosexual” from age 19 to 22. He told Hall that he went to an anti-gay conference that led him to conversion therapy. There, he said, he was not taught that he “would go from gay to straight,” but rather, “It was more of promising me that my attractions would lessen, that they would diminish.”
Game’s admission made headlines earlier this month when he went public with the news in an interview with the Post and Courier. He told the publication that he once believed the LGBTQ+ community was “lying” about sexuality.
“Now, I think its the complete opposite. I believe ex-gay ministry is a lie; conversion therapy is not just a lie, it’s very harmful,” he told the publication. “[Especially] when it takes it to the point of, ‘You need to change and here’s a curriculum, here’s how you do it, and you haven’t changed yet, keep at it, it’ll happen.’ “
Nearly 700,000 LGBTQ+ adults in the country have received conversion therapy, and about 350,000 of those received the treatment as adolescents, according to a January 2018 report from UCLA’s Williams Institute. Such efforts to change a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation are associated with poor mental health, according to the Institute.
Studies have shown that conversion therapy only amplifies the stigma and shame the LGBTQ+ community experiences.
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LGBTQ+ youth exposed to conversion efforts — whether from their families, therapists, or religious leaders — attempt suicide at more than double the rate of their peers, according to a study from the Family Acceptance Project.
Game, a married father of two, told Hall that he acknowledges the harm he has caused as the former leader of the organization and said he is meeting “with people who are angry,” including former clients.
“I want to point to people that have come out of these programs that are traumatized,” he said during the show.
He noted that he is dedicated to hearing people’s stories of their experiences in conversion therapy.
“That’s what it’s really about,” he said. “It’s not really about me.”
In its statement to PEOPLE, the organization said “HFWN and our affiliated ministries do not endorse or practice ‘conversion’ or ‘reparative’ therapies. Most ministry leaders are not licensed therapists. We disciple individuals who are conflicted about their sexuality in regards to their faith. We utilize faith-based groups and pastoral discipleship to address issues from the individuals’ past and help them reconcile their faith and sexuality. We never use coercion, shaming, nudity, touch therapies with any individual who might come to our affiliate ministries.”