LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with John Smid

JohnSmid.jpg

Title

LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with John Smid

Subject

Queer Omaha Archives
Sexual minorities -- Nebraska -- Omaha
Interviews
Oral Histories (document genre)

Description

Click here to access the interview, LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with John Smid

Mr. John Smid, former Executive Director of ex-gay ministry Love In Action, was interviewed by phone on January 28, 2019, by Luke Wegener. Smid was located in Brookston, Texas, and Wegener in Omaha, Nebraska. Smid shared information about growing up in Omaha in the 1950's in an abusive household, discovering Evangelical Christianity, working at ex-gay ministry Love In Action, his two heterosexual marriages, leaving the ex-gay movement, making amends with those he harmed, and marrying his husband, Larry.

Biographical Sketch 

Mr. John Smid, born in Denver, Colorado, is a white, gay man, and former Executive Director of Love In Action (1990-2008), one of the largest and oldest ex-gay ministries in the world and part of ex-gay umbrella organization Exodus International. Smid grew up in Omaha in the 1950’s and 1960’s, attending Paddock Road Elementary, Arbor Heights Junior High, and Westside High School (1968-1972). After high school, Smid married and had two children with his high school girlfriendand worked as a clerk at Union Pacific Railroad (1973-1986). Smid and his wife divorced in 1979, and he lived as an out gay man in Omaha throughout the early 1980’s.  

By the late 1980’s, Smid had suffered a string of failed relationships with men and felt drawn to the teachings of Evangelical Christianity, which was introduced to him by a coworker. In 1987, Smid heard a radio advertisement by Focus on the Family promoting Exodus International’s ex-gay ministry programs, and reached out to the organization. He received a job offer from Love In Action and that year, packed up his things, quit his job, and moved his life to San Rafael, California, where he worked as a House Manager for the residential program. In 1990, Smid was promoted to Executive Director of Love In Action, a position he held until 2008. During this time, Smid developed a wealth of new material for the ministry, applying the same language and structure used by chemical dependency programs to their gay conversion therapy. In 2004, Smid created and implemented the Refuge program, which focused on gay conversion therapy for teenagers. The program was discontinued in 2007. 

With growing legal issues, public backlash, and internal battles within Love In Action, Smid resigned in 2008. This began his journey of finding freedom from the ex-gay movement, starting LGBT-affirming Grace Rivers Ministry, and speaking publicly about the harm of conversion therapy. In 2017, Smid donated the materials from his time at Love In Action to the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., who passed them on to the National Museum of American History. Smid acted as a consultant on the 2018 movie Boy Erased, based on the memoir by conversion therapy survivor Garrard Conley. In the movie, fictional character Viktor Sykes, played by actor and director Joel Edgerton, is based on Smid. 

As of March 2019, Smid lives in Paris, Texas, with his husband Larry.  

Interview Summary 

Mr. John Smid, former Executive Director of ex-gay ministry Love In Action, was interviewed by phone on January 28, 2019, by Luke Wegener. Smid was located in Brookston, Texas, and Wegener in Omaha, Nebraska. Smid was born in Denver, Colorado, in the early 1950’s and by age three had moved to Omaha with his family. Smid’s childhood was difficult and traumatic, as his mother was abusive. In 1965, his parents divorced and Smid was left with his “sociopathic” mother, who eventually remarried a violent, alcoholic man. Despite a tumultuous home life, Smid enjoyed playing with his friends in the Westridge neighborhood, attending Paddock Road Elementary, and spending time with his birth father.  

At age 16 in 1970, Smid moved in with his father in the Benson area, while attending Westside High School (1968-1972) and working for a transport refrigeration company. During his adolescence, Smid had various crushes on male peers and coworkers, but continued to date girls, whose friendship he enjoyed. After a particularly painful experience of unrequited love from a male coworker, Smid decided to marry his high school girlfriend in 1973. That same year, Smid began his job as a clerk at Union Pacific Railroad, where he worked until 1986.  

In 1979, after six years of marriage and the birth of two children, Smid realized he could no longer deny his sexuality and divorced his wife. Over the next several years, Smid lived in a predominantly gay neighborhood off 38th and Harney and dated men. By the late 1980’s, Smid had suffered a painful string of failed relationships with men and felt drawn to the teachings of Evangelical Christianity, which was introduced to him by a coworker. In 1987, Smid heard a radio advertisement by Focus on the Family promoting Exodus International’s ex-gay ministry programs, and reached out to the organization. He received a job offer from Love In Action and that year, packed up his things, quit his job, and moved his life to San Rafael, California, where he worked as a House Manager for the residential program.  

In 1988, Smid married his second wife, which “raised up” his status in the ex-gay organization, as heterosexual marriage was seen as a sign of success. However, Smid felt devastated during the honeymoon when he struggled to have sex with his new wife. He felt the marriage was “emotional torture,” but was determined to somehow make it work. 

In 1990, Smid was promoted to Executive Director of Love In Action, a position he held until 2008. During these 18 years, Smid committed himself to the restrictive rules of the Love In Action program, which included renouncing and avoiding any “False Images,” a term used to describe anything considered a temptation of the “homosexual lifestyle.” Smid could not listen to any non-Christian music, attend theatre productions, watch most movies, wear any clothing considered gay, feminine or revealing, and did not allow himself to have close friendships with men. During this time, Smid also developed a wealth of new material for the ministry, applying the same language and structure used by chemical dependency programs to their gay conversion therapy. In 2004, Smid created and implemented the Refuge program, which focused on gay conversion therapy for teenagers. The program was discontinued in 2007. 

With growing legal issues, public backlash, and internal battles within Love In Action, Smid resigned in 2008. This began his journey of finding freedom from the ex-gay movement, starting LGBT-affirming Grace Rivers Ministry, and speaking publicly about the harm of conversion therapy. In 2017, Smid donated the materials from his time at Love In Action to the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., who passed them on to the National Museum of American History. Smid acted as a consultant on the 2018 movie Boy Erased, based on the memoir by conversion therapy survivor Garrard Conley. In the movie, fictional character Viktor Sykes, played by actor and director Joel Edgerton, is based on Smid. 

As of March 2019, Smid lives in Paris, Texas, with his husband Larry. 

In this interview, Smid also discusses the process of making amends after leaving Love in Action, and his relationship with husband Larry. 

Interview Notes 

Trigger warning for domestic violence, abuse, homophobia, suicide, and gay conversion therapy. 

This interview may be particularly difficult for some listeners, as it includes frank discussions of the ex-gay organization Love in Action’s gay conversion therapy programs, tactics, and beliefs.

Creator

Luke Wegener

Publisher

University of Nebraska at Omaha Libraries

Date

2019 January 28

Relation

LGBTQ+ Oral History Collection finding aid available at https://archives.nebraska.edu/repositories/4/resources/604

Format

mp3

Language

English

Type

audio

Identifier

UNO-0240_John-Smid

Interviewer

Luke Wegener

Interviewee

John Smid

Duration

3:23:52

Citation

Luke Wegener, “LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with John Smid,” Omaha Stories: Oral Histories of Omaha, Nebraska, accessed November 29, 2021, https://omahastories.omeka.net/items/show/272.

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