EN [USA] The Campiest Summer Camp
Anything But Straight: The Campiest Summer Camp
By Wayne Besen
Falls Church News Press - Falls Church,VA,USA
Thursday, 30 November 2006
I am frequently asked if the big screen comedy depicting a wacky
ex-gay camp, "But I'm a Cheerleader," accurately reflects these
conversion groups. People are surprised to learn that the hilarity
and hijinx portrayed in the movie, starring drag diva RuPaul, is not
farfetched from reality. Sometimes it is hard to tell if the zany
movie is art imitating life or the other way around.
For example, this week we have learned that Exodus International,
the largest ex-gay organization, has partnered with a Christian
group, Ignite Student Outreach, to produce the campiest ex-gay camp
America has ever seen. The featured speaker at the summer retreat is
Justin Lookadoo, a peroxide blond who looks like punk rocker Billy
Idol on crack.
If you click on Lookadoo's webpage, he poses bent over while
grabbing his tush. He lists among his favorite singers "Ricky
Martin, when he was still Latino and Michael Jackson, when he was
Lookadoo and other "wholesome" figures will lead four summer camps
this summer in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Ostensibly, they cater to all Christian youth, but if you delve
below the surface, it appears to be a thinly-veiled front for ex-gay
recruitment and the indoctrination of young Christian leaders.
What is particularly disturbing about Ignite Student Outreach is
that it does not explicitly claim to be ex-gay and focuses on "close
encounters" with God. However, even a cursory look at their webpage
reveals that it is laced with a dangerous ex-gay message, lists
Exodus Youth as its only affiliate (at least until my blog publicly
revealed the camp this week) and features ex-gay speakers.
Indeed, Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, is
scheduled to speak at the camp, as is his hunky Exodus Youth deputy,
This camp appears to be a stealth strategy for Exodus to get a
foothold into summer camps and mold impressionable minds. The way
they are trying to accomplish this is by appearing "cool," utilizing
trendy graphics, innovative CDs and featuring hokey hipsters such as
Lookadoo. The camp is also actively recruiting gay youths at
colleges in the south through targeted e-mail campaigns.
While Ignite Student Outreach has lavished resources on seeming hip,
has it focused the same attention on keeping out hypocrites? What
measures has the camp put in place to ensure that youths are safe
Even Exodus claims no more than a 1/3-success rate and compares the
transition to homosexuality as a constant "struggle." In a candid
moment, Chambers told me in an interview for my book, Anything But
Straight, "I don't think [change is] going from gay to straight.
Just saying that doesn't sound like an accurate representation of
what Exodus facilitates or proclaims."
Given the admitted failure rate, the inability to achieve complete
transformation and the constant battle against "sins" of the flesh,
it seems that it is exceedingly unhealthy for Exodus to be in the
We know from dealing with Catholic priests that men who try to
suppress their sexuality often fail and look for easy targets to
satisfy their urges - like youths in a summer camp. Given this
parallel, why would a "struggling" ex-gay be admitted to lead a
Indeed, Exodus has already encountered problems with leaders preying
on vulnerable children. According to the Los Angeles Times , in
1998, one family sued Desert Stream, arguably Exodus's premier
ministry, alleging that a minister had sexually abused a teenager
while the youth was undergoing therapy to turn him straight.
According to the article, the family settled its lawsuit for an
I'm sorry, but this is totally unacceptable behavior for an
organization that is working to get into pup tents with youth in the
woods. If Exodus wants to expand into camps, they must come clean on
what really happened in California and explain what actions were
taken against the alleged molester. They must also reveal all other
such episodes that may have occurred since this incident.
There is the additional concern that Exodus will admit teens into
these camps against their will. Just last week, I spoke to a
distraught father whose daughter was taken from him by his ex-wife
and placed in a desert bootcamp in the Southwest where she was
forbidden from bathing. The father rescued her, but said he wanted
to "burn her clothes" because they were so fetid.
While ex-gay groups promote theories that belong in comedies like
"But I'm a Cheerleader" the damage and mental abuse perpetrated by
their leaders is nothing to cheer.
(C) 2006 Falls Church News-Press
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