Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Salon's Third Installment on "Ex-Gays"

At least the third installment of Salon's four-part series on "ex-gays" and reparative therapy doesn't take place in Montgomery County. This one features a preacher in Washington DC.
The Rev. J. Grace Harley is a kindly, big-boned, middle-aged black woman with gentle eyes and an obvious wig. She thanks God that she arrived safely at work. Harley is the founder of Jesus Is the Answer Ministry, one of more than 100 Christian ministries across the country that seek to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. On her Web site, Harley describes herself as "the manifestation of Christ Jesus' truth on homosexuality (2 Corinthians 4:2) which describes same sex attraction disorder (S.S.A.D.D)." She hosts a local cable TV show, "God's Will and Grace," in Washington, and meetings for Homosexuals Anonymous and Overcomers Ministries, two programs that help gays and lesbians get straight with God.

On a recent Wednesday night, Harley is sitting behind a desk in a barren community center, located across the street from the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northeast Washington. She is not supposed to host the Overcomers Ministries meeting that night, but given that the regular leader is late for some reason, she will take charge. The only people in the audience are me and a young, soft-spoken African-American man, a student at a local university. He is toting a tattered Bible and a book bag. The regular leader never does show. We pray for him later.Getting Straight With God

This is the story of the Rev. J. Grace Harley as she tells it, a human interest story presented without much comment by author Mark Benjamin. Rev. Grace had lived as a man for many years, even got married as a man, and now she has traded in her sexual appetites for spiritual ones.
Earlier this summer, I interviewed six gay men who had spent months or years in what is called "reparative" or "conversion" therapy, programs run mostly by Christian conservatives that allegedly help homosexuals become heterosexuals. Each of the men, trapped between their religious beliefs and sexual orientation, told me reparative therapy had only made them depressed. All of them recovered by coming out of the closet. Still, the religious right claims that efforts to change gays stem from "compassion, not bigotry," according to the Family Research Council. I decided to see for myself. I told Harley I was gay, although I am straight and married. I used a fake name.

We have already seen that reparative therapy is not receognized by any mental health, psychology, or psychiatric organizations. The premise would be that homosexuality is an illness, and all these professional groups have decided it's not. It's kind of a rare thing, statistically speaking, but it doesn't seem to affect the ability of a person to function, they just prefer partners of their own sex. You don't really need a cure for that, do you?

It sounds like this reporter has found that gay people do better accepting their feelings than trying to change them.
The good reverend tells us the best way to overcome our own homosexuality is to imagine Jesus as a gay man. "The love and the passion that you feel for another of the same sex, try to see Jesus and try to give him that same passion and love and desire," she says. "He can handle it. He takes it, and he will rework it and give you the deepest, greatest love affair." She whispers: "Jesus is a man. What if he were a gay man and he desired you, and he wanted your body totally for himself? Whoa! What if?"

Jesus appeared to Harley at a church service, she says, sparking her healing process. She credits her relationship with God as the bedrock of her recovery. But the end of the world is coming, she says, when we must face God. "These are end times and it is up to us to get it together," Grace tells us, heating up like a Baptist preacher. "We are going to stand one-on-one naked before God. How is he going to judge us for the actions of our bodies, which is his dwelling place? Every time we go down into the filth, we take Jesus with us!"

Harley cools down. Politically correct people do not understand that gay people "taint" others around them, she says, and so gays should be barred from the Boy Scouts of America. "Birds of a feather flock together," Harley tells us. "It's not in the Bible, but it's true. You can't have a homosexual buddy and think you are going to be buddy-buddy and nothing [will get] off on you. You will become tainted and corrupted. Why do you think they have commercials on television? If you watch any commercial on television long enough, you are going to buy the product even if you don't like it. It is just in you, and that is what the spirit of homosexuality is about -- it's just in you."

If somebody is unhappy with the way they're living, I say: let them find a better way. If a guy is gay and he's not happy with that -- maybe he's not as gay as he thinks he is, or maybe he can't handle the social pressure, whatever, I say: try something else.

It sounds like Reverend Grace offers help to those who choose to change. They come to her. They bring their own Bibles. Nobody has any problem with that, as far as I know.

Her own story is one that intertwines out-of-control sexual promiscuity and craving with lots of drugs. especially cocaine. It sounds like a way of life that it was wise to get out of, and she did it through the church. She found what she needed, and that's good. It is difficult to hold it against her when she quotes nonexistent character disorders and weird theories about how people got the way they are -- she's just somebody trying to keep their head above water, and you hope she succeeds.

There is an insidious movement brewing among organizations like Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, big-bucks religious organizations, to try to pretend that "ex-gays" are being discriminated against, and that "ex-gays" are some kind of real thing that needs to be treated as a special class of people. They are using this fake concept to blast educational institutions, as we've seen here in Montgomery County, and as we will continue to see. Somebody like Reverend Grace would be better described as an "ex-mess" than anything else -- her life was one big stinkin' mess and she pulled it back from going over the edge. Being gay had nothing to do with it.

These radical-right groups use the concept of "ex-gays" to undermine tolerance for homosexuality, and to keep alive the idea that there's something wrong with gay people. Despite what she says, Rev. Grace's problem was not that she was gay. She was married, and was cheating on her wife, and was freebasing cocaine and smoking crack, and nearly overdosed once in a room with her extramarital girlfriend. The intelligent person realizes that this is not the way to live, and changes. But being gay had nothing to do with it.


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