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Fear and Loathing at the Ex-Gay Conference

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  • Anthony Venn-Brown
    Fear and Loathing at the Ex-Gay Conference Bear s Notebook: an ongoing series of reports on current events by by: Darrell Grizzle [PARA]Paranoia. [PARA]That s
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 7, 2001
      Fear and Loathing at the Ex-Gay Conference
      Bear's Notebook: an ongoing series of reports on current events by
      by: Darrell Grizzle
      [PARA]Paranoia. [PARA]That's the first thing that struck me when I got my
      registration letter from Focus on the Family for Love Won Out - their
      "dynamic one-day conference . . . promoting the truth that homosexuality is
      preventable and treatable." [PARA]The letter informed me that "for security
      purposes" I would be asked to show a photo ID at the conference site (the
      Assembly of God Tabernacle in Decatur, Georgia), and I would have to wear a
      wristband throughout the day. The letter had stiff warnings about
      unacceptable behaviors that would be grounds for immediate removal,
      including "distributing non-Focus on the Family literature; campaigning for
      alternative religions, philosophical or political views; seeking sexual
      contacts" (although that last warning did not prevent an ex-lesbian from
      hitting on me at the conference). [PARA]On the day of the conference,
      October 13, 2001, the paranoia was in full evidence. Notices on the door
      proclaimed Focus on the Family's right to search all bags, purses, and
      personal belongings: "By attending this conference, you are deemed to have
      consented to such a search." The paranoia was reinforced by the presence of
      three armed police officers just inside the door. [PARA]I arrived an hour
      early, which gave me time to look at the Focus on the Family bookstore they
      had set up. Never had I seen so many anti-gay books, videos, brochures, even
      CD-ROMs. John Paulk, the world's most famous ex-gay, who served as hostess
      for the day, referred to the bookstore offerings as "redemptive resources."
      I saw more than one paperback book title priced at $35.00 each, so evidently
      redemption is only for the well-to-do. (The conference cost between $60.00
      and $70.00 for each of the 600 or so folks who attended.) [PARA]There was
      even a children's book for sale: Mommy, Why Are They Holding Hands? by
      Deborah Prihoda. The book is described in Focus on the Family literature as
      the story of "a young girl named Sarah [who] is faced with the reality of
      homosexual sin after seeing two men holding hands at the mall and hearing
      about gay people on television. Confronted with her own sinfulness, Sarah
      discovers that no one is immune from sin . . ." For only $5.00 a copy, you
      can teach your children how evil and sinful they are, while at the same time
      introducing them to homophobia. Such a deal! [PARA]Children were discussed
      frequently throughout the day, since one of the purposes of the conference
      was to promote the idea that homosexuality is preventable. Effeminate little
      boys and tomboy girls were referred to as "pre-homosexual." We were told
      that a "scientific study" had proven that 75% of effeminate boys grow up to
      be homosexual. Effeminate behavior in little boys is to be punished, of
      course, but gently, so as not to induce too much stress (the "child will act
      more effeminate in times of stress"). [PARA]The word "homosexual" was used,
      as opposed to "gay," we were told, because the word "gay" signifies a social
      political identity that is opposed to Christianity. The word "homosexual,"
      on the other hand, refers to a condition of "gender confusion."
      Homosexuality is not really about sex, the conference speakers proclaimed,
      but about gender identity. If the homosexual woman could just accept her
      femininity, or the homosexual man his masculinity, "healing" (i.e.,
      heterosexuality) could take place. [PARA]Terminology was further garbled
      when one speaker declared that there is no such thing as homosexuality,
      since we are all created heterosexual by God. "A homosexual is a person with
      a homosexual problem," he stated in his presentation, which was a confusing
      mixture of bad Freudian psychobabble and contempt for effeminate men and
      boys. The origins of female homosexuality were left to another speaker,
      later in the day, because "lesbianism is a little more complicated. As with
      all things feminine, it's more complicated." This was the first of several
      "jokes" told throughout the day, which drew nervous laughter from most of
      the folks in the audience. (Another "joke" was about the mother of a boy who
      came home from college and announced he was bisexual; the mother thought
      "bisexual" meant a person who has sex two times per year.) All of the
      "jokes" were, in some way, deprecating to women - apparently to reinforce
      the stereotyped "gender roles" we must accept if we are to be "healed" of
      homosexuality. [PARA]Other stereotypes were rehashed throughout the day,
      including the one about male homosexuality being caused by a domineering
      mother and a weak or absent father (which is true for some of us, but not
      for all of us). Fathers were warned, "if you don't hug your son, some other
      man will." Lesbians, on the other hand, are created by "a deep deprivation
      of mother love" and "a deprivation of father love OR a default attachment
      and identification with dad." See? Lesbians are more complicated. [PARA]The
      atmosphere of paranoia, which was maintained throughout the day by the
      presence of two armed police officers inside the church auditorium, became
      even more pronounced when the topic changed to "Why Is What They're Teaching
      So Dangerous?" A number of sessions were devoted to the dangerous "gay
      agenda" - which they view as being promoted not only in popular culture
      (through such TV shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson's Creek, Friends,
      ER, and of course Will and Grace) but also in public schools. Listed among
      the indicators of "homosexual promotion" in a child's school: a safe-schools
      non-harassment policy; a non-discrimination policy; AIDS and sex-ed
      programs; programs to stop homophobia, hate, or bias. Parents wishing to
      protect their children from these horrors can use the "Sample Letter from a
      Parent to a School Administrator" to put the principal on notice that their
      child is to be excused from all such evils. [PARA]An entire session was
      devoted to "Understanding Pro-Gay Theology," which was described as "the
      religious counterpart to pro-gay ideology." Gay Christians were basically
      dismissed as revisionists who twist Scripture to justify their sinful
      "proclivities." [PARA]I began to feel overwhelmed by the spiritually toxic
      atmosphere in the church, so I left before the conference was over. I missed
      the session called "Someone I Love is Gay," but I know what was said because
      all of the speakers followed, to the letter, the pre-printed outlines we
      received in our conference guide booklets. According to the outline, the
      disclosure of a loved one's homosexuality can cause physical symptoms such
      as nausea, migraines, sleeplessness, and "disinterest in marital intimacy."
      "The main thing to remember is that all these symptoms are typical. You are
      not going crazy, and these symptoms will diminish over time." Anger, of
      course, is also to be expected: "It's normal to feel anger over your loved
      one's disclosure." Eventually, though, the devastated person can "find hope
      again" and "learn to let go." [PARA]I left the conference feeling like I had
      been present in the armed compound of a dangerously paranoid cult. Gay and
      lesbian people were consistently presented as either the enemy or as
      diseased people in desperate need of healing. I began to wonder if this is
      what it would feel like to be a Jewish person at a "Jews for Jesus" rally -
      to feel nothing but anger and condescension coming from people who claim to
      be speaking in love. [PARA]The warlike mentality was also in evidence
      outside, as I drove through the gauntlet of protesters who were waving their
      picket signs (like "The Religious Right is Neither") a respectful distance
      from the dozen or so police officers on the church lawn. I made eye contact
      with two of the protesters, who both glared at me with what can only be
      described as hatred. One of them almost jumped out in front of my truck with
      her sign, which I couldn't read because I was trying to avoid hitting her
      with my truck. The protesters did an excellent job confirming the worst
      fears and stereotypes of the homophobes attending the conference. [PARA]I
      drove to a gay-friendly church where I lit a candle and prayed for the
      little boys and girls who were going to be punished for their
      "gender-inappropriate" behaviors. I prayed for the gay and lesbian teenagers
      growing up in fundamentalist homes who would consider suicide rather than be
      disowned by their allegedly Christian parents. I knelt at the altar and
      prayed for peace in this war that the religious right has declared on us.
      [PARA]And I lit another candle, this one for the two protesters who had
      glared at me with such hatred. I prayed that they, and others like them,
      would not let their zeal in opposing homophobia cause them to miss out on
      authentic spirituality. I'm sure they have been wounded, as have many of us,
      in the name of religion. Yet for many of us, it was only when we began the
      difficult task of sorting out the toxic elements from true faith that we
      could begin to be healed. Not the false "healing" offered by the ex-gay
      ministries, but the true healing which comes from learning to love and
      accept ourselves as the fabulous people -- whether gay, lesbian, bisexual,
      transgendered, or straight -- God created us to be. [PARA][PARA]Darrell
      Grizzle is one of the co-conveners of Episcopal Peace Fellowship Atlanta. He
      is a mystical bear who lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his gorgeous
      boyfriend Michael and way too many books. His website is WildFaith.
      [PARA]Copyright (c)2001 by the author[NL]All Rights Reserved

      "There is the illusion that homosexuals only have sex and heterosexuals fall
      in love.. Boy George"
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