GOP nominee for House special election runs “ministry” falsely claiming to cure people from “homosexual and lesbian living”

Leon Benjamin

Right-wing pundit Leon Benjamin, the Republican-backed nominee for a U.S. House special election in Virginia next month, says that he runs a “ministry” devoted to getting people to “escape” from “homosexual and lesbian living.” Benjamin has falsely and dangerously claimed LGBTQ people can be “healed” by changing their identity and compared his ministering to helping adulterers, thieves, and murderers. 

Benjamin is the host of the streaming program B-Alert News and a frequent guest on far-right shows. Media Matters previously reported that he has repeatedly used his media platform to push bizarre anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and false claims about elections being stolen.  

Benjamin is running in the February 21 special election for Virginia’s 4th Congressional District. The seat was vacated because of the death of Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin. Benjamin unsuccessfully ran for the seat in 2020 and 2022. 

The Republican Party of Virginia is backing Benjamin. Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin endorsed Benjamin during his 2022 run and appeared at at least one event with him. 

On January 15, MSNBC host Jonathan Capehart challenged Benjamin over a Facebook post he wrote comparing LGBTQ people to being “sick” and addicted to drugs. Benjamin responded by claiming he has compassion for LGBTQ people. 

But in numerous media appearances, Benjamin pushes conversion therapy, the torturous and discredited practice which attempts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ people. GLAAD has written

Anti-LGBTQ activists have falsely claimed for years that a person's sexual orientation or gender identity is a choice and changeable — but only for LGBTQ people. They often falsely claim that LGBTQ identities are not real, but rather an expression of mental illness or an emotional disorder that can be "cured" through psychological or religious intervention. 

Programs that claim to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, known as "conversion therapy," have been widely condemned. In 2013, notorious “ex-gay” ministry Exodus International closed its doors, issuing an apology for the harm done by its programs. Since then, 20 U.S. states have banned the practice (for minors only, in some instances). But it is important to note that despite condemnation and refutation from all major medical, psychiatric, and psychological organizations, these harmful and abusive practices continue."

Benjamin has said that for over a decade he’s run a “ministry” called Escape Hall, with “Hall” standing for “homosexual and lesbian living.” 

He has compared supposedly healing LGBTQ people to saving adulterers, thieves, and murderers, stating: “When I'm dealing with someone in that lifestyle, it’s just like adultery. When I see a person who's adulterous, I got to see them as somebody that God wants to save. When I see a thief or murderer like Apostle Paul was a murderer, God saw him as an apostle.”

Benjamin’s sermonizing about supposedly transforming LGBTQ people was on display during an August 13, 2022, speech in New York for Clay Clark’s far-right ReAwaken America Tour. He devoted much of his time to telling LGBTQ people that they can be “healed” and “come out of homosexuality.” 

“You're going to get delivered. You're going to get healed,” Benjamin said. “I don't care if it's homosexuality, fornication, adultery, lesbianism. God says he's going to touch you today. You going get this out of your spirit. You're going get it out of your life. And God's going to renew your mind. And you're going to be transformed.” 

He later added: “The devil lied to you and I. He told you that you can change your sex, but he is a liar! … You got to come out of homosexuality! You got to come out of adultery! You got to come out of fornication! … I don't care how long you've been a homosexual. I don't care how long you've been a lesbian. The weight of the Holy Ghost is more powerful than any demon.”