McKrae Game, the man who founded one of the largest conversion therapy programs in the country and led the homophobic organization for 20 years, has come out as gay.
Back in 1999, Game, 51, started Truth Ministry, a faith-based conversion therapy program in South Carolina, which aims to suppress or completely change a person’s LGBTQ+ sexuality through counseling, interventions, or ministry. The organization was eventually rebranded and renamed as Hope for Wholeness in 2013.
Two decades after its founding, however, Game — who once vehemently preached that being gay would send someone to hell — has now come out as gay to the world.
His decision to go public with his truth comes a little over two years after he was abruptly fired from the organization that he spent a great deal of his life dedicated to. In those 20 years working for them, Game also wrestled with his true identity.
“I struggled more so trying to deny [my attraction to men] than being able to accept my attractions and say, ‘I am a gay man,'” he said in a recent interview with the Post and Courier. “I was a hot mess for 26 years and I have more peace now than I ever did.”
A spokesperson for Hope for Wholeness did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
His public announcement was a long time coming for Game, who received counseling when he was young in an attempt to overcome his attraction to men and who eventually married a woman to suppress his feelings.
“When I started truth ministry, I believed the gay community and the world was lying about homosexuality and this whole subject,” he told the outlet. “I felt like it was this big ruse and there was a lot of deceit. I was trying to tell the truth.”
“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 continued. “[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.'”
Born and raised in a Southern Baptist home in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Game always felt isolated from other boys his age and found a fascination with his sister’s clothes, according to the Post and Courier.
His classmates often picked on him, calling him “McGay” for his feminine qualities, leading Game to deny to himself and others he was attracted to men until he was 18.
At 18, Game had his first intimate relationship with a man and started to embrace his sexuality by going out to gay bars and clubs, but his decision to do so led him to develop debilitating anxiety, insecurities, and mental breakdowns.
“I was having ongoing panic attacks, and I had never experienced that before,” Game told the outlet. “Emotionally, I was freaking out. I was crying. I was internally pained.”
“My brain was telling me, ‘You’re going in the wrong direction,'” he recalled. “But my body was telling me otherwise.”
He eventually sought out help through his faith and his mother introduced him to a counselor who claimed that he could rid him of his attraction to men and determine why he felt this way, going so far as to suggest his dad had not been invested enough in him as a child.
In 1996, Game married his wife Julie — whom he met at church — but he remained attracted to men, which he says he was honest about in his marriage. On several occasions, he was caught watching gay pornography and even admitted to having an affair with a man.
Game then went on a retreat for people who were gay and didn’t want to be, led by a group named Exodus, who eventually backed an offshoot he named Hope for Wholeness in Spartanburg.
The organization has since been attended by thousands of people around the area.
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Beyond those numbers, nearly 700,000 LGBTQ+ members in the U.S. have undergone conversion therapy treatments or counseling, according to a 2018 study by UCLA’s Williams Institute.
“Early in my years, I used to get a lot of death threats … a lot of hate mail on a constant, continuous basis,” he told the Post and Courier. “At the time, I took a level of satisfaction that I was getting all this hate mail, it was kinda proving like I was doing the right thing.”
But Game said those hurtful words “eventually had an effect” on him that caused him to believe he should “back off.”
And so he finally did. In 2017, Game officially cut ties with Hope for Wholeness and this past June, came out publicly as gay. In the time since that day, Game said he has struggled to come to terms with the pain he has caused so many.
“I was a religious zealot that hurt people,” Game explained to the outlet. “People said they attempted suicide over me and the things I said to them. People, I know, are in therapy because of me. Why would I want that to continue?”
Game is also struggling with his desire to advocate for a community that he once swore so heavily against but is hoping that by now speaking out, he can prevent this from happening again.
“So much of it is trying to change people and fix people. It’s a lie and we have harmed generations of people,” he said. “We’ve done wrong, we need to admit our wrongs, and do what we can do to stop the wrong from continuing to happen.”