If I were to describe my childhood in one word, it would have to be dysfunctional. I was literally the product of adultery. At the time my parents met they were both married and had families of their own. Shortly after, they “fell in love” and ran away together. Then, I was conceived. Before I was even a year old my father and mother divorced. My mother then became mentally unhealthy and emotionally unstable. I was left feeling insecure and vulnerable.
As I started elementary school I became aware of my homosexual feelings. I tried to do the “typical” boy stuff like playing sports and chasing the girls, but I felt impotent in being able to relate with the other boys. I soon would become the subject of endless taunts and harassment, because of my effeminate behavior. I was starving for male affirmation and attention.
During the same time a neighborhood man was sexually molesting me. In this relationship he gave me attention, though it was negative, my emotional need was still being met. The sexual encounters continued over a five-year period. I knew the relationship was inappropriate. Yet, I wouldn’t turn him in, because I feared that I would be “outing” myself. I felt dirty, used, and broken.
I longed to feel secure and be unconditionally loved. One day after my twelfth birthday, my friend invited me to go to her church youth group. I went, and that night I asked to receive Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I then became very involved with the church youth group. After I became a Christian I thought my homosexual feelings would end, and I would feel like a “normal” guy.
After three years of being involved with the church, I left. I knew that I was still gay, and I wanted to experience that part of my life for the first time. The next three years would bring me back to the steps of the church. I was in and out of multiple short and long term relationships, as well as numerous anonymous sexual encounters; searching for a place to fit in. I was continually feeling very empty and hopeless.
In September of 1997 at eighteen years old, I moved to New York City to prostitute myself for a gay couple, still searching to fill that deep void I felt inside. The job fell through just after two weeks. I moved into a youth shelter and decided it was time to get my life in order. I was lead to a nearby church and met a group of men who befriended me. These men were not like the other men I had known in my past. They weren’t scared of my effeminate behavior or wanting to use me for sex. I began to trust and respect them. For the first time I felt secure and safe. I began to do Bible studies with them, and learned that homosexuality was “sin”. In retrospect to my past it made complete sense. I decided that I would leave my homosexual lifestyle behind.
In April of 1998 I moved to Memphis, Tennessee to become involved with an Exodus residential ministry for men and women desiring freedom from homosexuality. I was taught about the “non-sexual” root issues causing a person to become vulnerable to homosexuality. I fit into their analysis perfectly. Shortly after entering the program, my character and behavioral traits began to change. Everyone applauded my progress. The program was intense and strict. Your behavior would make or break your program. I saw numerous program participants have same-sex sexual encounters and leave the program, feeling more confused and guilty. I was determined to show everyone that I would succeed. I became the only one to graduate between the three others who came in with me. I graduated successfully, and became the youngest individual to ever finish the program. I believed I had my same-sex attractions under control.
After graduation, I accepted a position with a non-profit Christian organization in Los Angeles. Overnight I became the youth “ex-gay” poster child. Speaking nationally at conferences, workshops, youth assemblies, and media outlets. Living blocks away from the gay sub-culture of West Hollywood, the reality of my true change would be tested. After months of struggling with my sexual orientation, I decided I needed to resign from my position with the ministry. I knew I was healed of all the emotional turmoil from my past that the “ex-gay” movement claimed to be the cause of my same-sex attractions. However, I was still gay.
Today, I’m finally at peace with myself and with God. I’m gay. I realize now that my life wasn’t dysfunctional because I was gay, it was dysfunctional because the unhealthy choices I made in my life. The irony is that the “ex-gay” movement helped me become a lot more confident and self-assured. I met a lot of incredible people there, people who would have laid down their lives for me, and that experience eventually gave me the confidence to come out.
Wisconsin native Wade Lee Richards came out in a September 2000 interview with The Advocate magazine after having toured the country speaking at churches and press conferences and in national media as a poster boy for the ex-gay movement. He was featured in the 2005 documentary Fish Can’t Fly, which detailed the harm done by ex-gay organizations.