Sunday, June 17, 2007

I Wonder If This Will Catch On

For the last few years our Montgomery County schools have been under attack by anti-gay forces, including a strange organization called PFOX -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays -- that goes around saying that people can stop being gay. I think most people have never heard of this tragic hoax before, but PFOX turns out to be the tip of the iceberg, there are groups and ministries all over the place that try to convince gay people that they can and should become heterosexual.

There seem to me to be two levels of this business, though they are not distinct. One level is the Pure Denial approach epitomized by PFOX: they tell gay people flat out that they can overcome their homosexual feelings and live as genuine heterosexuals. Usually there's some praying and some counseling or psychotherapy involved. The other level is, I think, somewhat more honest about it. These groups seem to recognize the dilemma of being gay and participating in a religion whose God doesn't accept you. If it was me, I'd switch religions, but some people consider their religion so important that they decide to give up their sexuality; they might pretend to be heterosexual, or maybe just don't have a love life. They don't deny that they have feelings, they just try not to act on them.

Some of the therapy techniques that are used to try to change people are brutal, besides the fact that they don't work. The whole movement leaves a lot of heartbroken, disappointed people along the wayside, people whose hope was jacked up and then dashed.

From Warren Throckmorton's blog we learn that Beyond ExGay (motto: "An online community for those who have survived ex-gay experiences") is planning a conference later this month in California for ex-gay survivors.

From their web site:
The Ex-Gay Survivor's Conference
Undoing the Damage; Affirming our Lives Together

June 29th-July 1st, 2007. University of California at Irvine

(Please note: This will possibly be a one-time-only event)

The ex-gay experience is unique in many ways. No one understands it better than those of us who have been through it. Creating a communal space for ex-gay survivors to tell their stories allows us to share what led us into an ex-gay lifestyle and ways we have been able to recover from it.

This conference is for you
  • If you have ever been through an ex-gay experience.
  • If you been damaged by the message that God does not love and affirm you.
  • If you are confused about the Bible and homosexuality.
  • If you are currently in an ex-gay program and wondering if change is really possible.
  • If you are the spouse, parent or partner of someone who has been affected by ex-gay experiences.
  • If you are thinking about trying to change who you are.
  • If you want to stand in peaceful solidarity to lovingly confront the damaging consequences of the ex-gay movement.
  • If you want to learn how to be a powerful ally.
  • If you are a mental health professional and want to learn more to effectively help your clients.

Wow, it looks like they've got some good people coming to this thing -- Jim Burroway from Box Turtle Bulletin, Mel White from Soulforce, others who are probably more famous to those who have been around this stuff and I wouldn't know, there will be entertainment and even an "Ex-Gay Survivor's Film Forum" featuring five filmmakers showing clips from their work.

Interesting they say it might be a "one-time-only event." I'll bet we hear some stories afterwards; I'll be curious to see if there isn't more of a demand for this sort of thing than they realize.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jim... I'm a long-time fan of Vigilance, and I'm the web developer for the Beyond Ex-Gay site.

I didn't do the ex-gay thing myself, but when I came out, one of my family members became intimately acquainted with a local ex-gay ministry. Ultimately, because of the context provided by that group, conservative Christian family members were convinced that I walked away from a viable alternative to becoming an openly gay man. Some of the consequences (including alienation from my kids) were harsh.

A couple of the dynamics behind the one-time-only warnings were (1) This is being done on a shoestring (note the $40 conference fee, versus $400 for the Exodus conference) (2) The intention to go beyond parroting Exodus and the ex-gay movement.

Much of the ex-gay movement consists of small mom-n-pop local ministries offering peer support groups. No buckets of cash are flowing in their direction from conservative religious groups.

Many of the voices promoting the ex-gay movement, though, come from the ranks of the select few whose full-time positions are based on being ex-gay. Their careers depend on their ability to avoid questioning ex-gay life and their success in encouraging others on the same path.

With that backdrop, the Beyond Ex-Gay project seeks to bring forward the voices of ordinary folks. There is no desire to create a new class of professional ex-ex-gays to compete with ex-gay counterparts. Unlike the ex-gay movement, there is also no need to promote a single message apart from noting that ex-gay experiences have caused more harm than good.

Will the Survivors Conference bear fruit? Will participation in the site take off as interactive features are added? We hope so. But we're intent on letting it grow organically as a grass roots movement instead of making grandiose predictions or micro-managing a narrow message.

June 17, 2007 10:08 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Hi Steve, thanks for commenting. It sounds like you're taking the right approach -- I don't think mirroring the ex-gays is right either, but this might be an occasion where some people with shared experiences find something to talk about, and maybe some momentum from this group goes toward some project or other. Something might happen, maybe nothing. But even if it's just a one-time get-together, I have the feeling it will be good for everybody.


June 17, 2007 10:26 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

FYI, there is a write up in today's Los Angeles Times,

New ground in debate on 'curing' gays

Christian ministries who see homosexuality as a treatable disorder are starting to think that choice may not be a factor.

By Stephanie Simon, Times Staff Writer
June 18, 2007

June 18, 2007 8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something already has happened. Alan Chambers has gone from claiming in 2004 "I believe the world needs to know not only that change is possible, but that hundreds of thousands of men and women have sought and made that change," to saying in 2007 "By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete."

And though Chambers has disavowed the term "ex-gay," his group's ads give the distinct impression that it's possible to leave homosexuality completely behind.

The Irvine conference, for instance, is being promoted with radio spots that talk of "sudden, radical and complete" transformation. (Chambers apologized for those ads in a recent interview, saying they were meant to urge church leaders to radically change the way they treat gays and lesbians, not to imply that conference-goers would magically transform their orientation.)

It will be interesting to see if his group follows up on Chambers' sudden honesty or continues with its now-Chambers'-disavowed questionable claims.

June 19, 2007 8:04 AM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Aunt Bea, I wouldn't trust Alan Chambers as far as I could throw him. Although he's disavowed the term "ex-gay" as misleading he still refers to himself as a "former homosexual" which means the same thing.

As to his apologies, the spots with distorted claims ran on public radio while he made his apology on "exgay" watch rather than on the radio - essentially in private. It amounts to yelling out the lie and whispering the apology, a calculated move to allow Exodus to lie and at the same time falsely claim they set it right. If they had any integrity they'd renounce the radio ads in the same forum to the same people - on the radio.

June 19, 2007 1:34 PM  

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