“Pray Away The Gay” Event

February 25th, 2009 by

On February 19, 2009, CRANE hosted Wayne Besen, author of Anything But Straight and leader of Truth Wins Out, for a presentation entitled “Pray Away the Gay.” Besen’s lecture attempted to expose what they call the “Ex-Gay Myth,” in response to Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out conference in Charlotte which occurred two days later.  About fifty people gathered to hear Besen’s presentation, which was laden with humor at the expense of the Ex-Gay Ministries (including Focus on the Family, Exodus International, NARTH, and PFOX), which he attempted to expose as hypocritical, backward, political, and unloving.

The presentation opened with a newspaper editorial by Focus on the Family leader Melissa Fryrear regarding the Love Won Out conference. In the article, she made clear that they are bringing a message of “hope, not hatred” to those who are seeking help to address their unwanted same sex attractions.  Besen then presented other quotes from Focus on the Family to show the supposed contradiction between their “real” attitude and the “nice” statement they gave to the media. The clip highlighted the ideas put forth from Focus on the Family that homosexuality reflects “bondage and sexual brokenness,” and that homosexuality causes pain to both the homosexual and his or her family.  “That’s not the kind of love I grew up with,” said Besen in response (a phrase which he repeated several times throughout the night).

His next point amounted to nothing more than the ridicule of the former president of PFOX, Richard Cohen, as Besen showed a segment of the Daily Show featuring both himself and Cohen in which Cohen and his therapies were made to look ridiculous and ineffective, even counterproductive.  It should be noted that recently, a number of leading Ex-Gay Ministries have disassociated themselves from Cohen.

Besen then proceeded to address the so-called “Ex-Gay Myth,” and attempted to prove that the therapies that the Ex-Gay Ministries use have been “discredited,” including self-talk and prayer, and that none of these ministries have any effect whatsoever on a person’s homosexual orientation, implying that rather than helping people, these therapies supposedly cause the depression and condemnation that often accompany unwanted same-sex attractions.

Interestingly, Besen condemned the Ex-Gay Ministries for “targeting children” by making information available at schools for children struggling with gender and sexual identity issues, as well as NARTH’s alleged offer of providing therapy to 3 year olds at conferences, implying that these ministries were abusive and/or harmful to developing children as they attempted to help them identify mentally and emotionally with their physical characteristics.  One wonders, however, who is really “targeting children” in a harmful manner, homosexual activists and their allies or these Ex-Gay ministries? Here is some food for thought from Dr. Brown’s recent lecture at Love Won Out:

At the Park Day School in Oakland, teachers are taught a gender-neutral vocabulary and are urged to line up students by sneaker color rather than by gender. “We are careful not to create a situation where students are being boxed in,” said Tom Little, the school’s director. “We allow them to move back and forth until something feels right.” — NY Times 12-1-06

California State Senator Sheila Kuehl has introduced legislation [Bill SB 777] that will ban textbooks and teachers from any instruction that reflects adversely upon homosexuality, transgenders, bisexuals or those with perceived gender issues.

“. . . we must dishonour the prevailing belief that heterosexuality is the only acceptable orientation even though that would mean dishonouring the religious beliefs of Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc.” — from a teachers manual in British Columbia

Children’s Book: One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads.  From the book’s dedication:   “To Jacob, who has only one mom and one dad. But don’t feel sorry for him. They’re both great parents.”

Children’s book: Girls Will Be Boys Will Be Girls: The antithesis of the “Dick and Jane” coloring book, this is a funny, playful and provocative deconstruction of traditional gender roles. The activist authors use drawings as well as images taken from old children’s books to show how completely silly and unnecessary most common gender assumptions are

Another accusation that Besen brought against the Ex-Gay Ministries was that they were almost exclusively  concerned with politics, rather than sincerely helping and caring for those struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions, as they claim, and that the ministries’ “concern” for these people is essentially a front for their political goals, referring to these ministries as “desperate” because the GLBT community is now “winning” on most political and ideological fronts.  During the Q&A time at the end of the night, I was able to ask Besen the question “What criteria do you use to judge the privately held motivations of … these [ex-gay ministry] leaders?”  Besen responded by saying:

I believe that Ex-Gay Ministries are very sincere people… And I think they’d have a lot more credibility if they were not in Washington… Many of these organizations have little puny organizations that are starving to death, and all this money’s going on these political roadshows and big ads… If James Dobson really thought there was a cure for this, you’d see millions poured out, but we see a roadshow… But I will say that many of the people are sincere… I don’t know if they’re sincere about trying to change gay people, but nobody should ever question that they’re sincere in their beliefs. That’s what makes them very tough opponents.

While one wonders how Besen was able to draw such a matter-of-fact personal judgment from such scant evidence, it is encouraging to see his acknowledgment of the fact that these ministry leaders are “sincere,” a judgment he also stated later in the Q&A period in response to a comment from the audience that the ex-gay ministries were simply “moneymakers,” a statement which Besen disagreed with when it comes to the main ministry leaders, saying “if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Dobson is that he’s very sincere” and “Allan Chambers from Exodus International, I think he’s sincere.”

Following his analysis of the political motivations of the ministries, he went on to give a light-hearted presentation of the fall of a number of former Ex-Gay Ministry leaders who fell back into homosexuality, including whom Besen claimed were the co-founders of Exodus International who left their wives for one another, one of Focus on the Family’s first Ex-Gay leaders, John Paulk, who Besen photographed at a gay bar, and Jerry Falwell’s former Ex-Gay ministry leader.  The implication of this was that there are no true Ex-Gays, and despite everything they proclaim, the ex-gay leaders of these groups remain homosexuals.  Besen called for the Ex-Gay ministries to acknowledge the failures of their leaders, not to get involved in  politics, and not to use phrases that seem to promise to turn gays straight with no more struggles, because even many of the Ex-Gay leaders will acknowledge that change isn’t always complete, and some of the desires may still exist.  (Besen’s point that we should not gloss over these failures and the self evident hypocrisy that arises in some of the ex-gay leaders is a fair one, though it is not a subject to be laughed at or taken lightly).

Besen next argued that the statistics and studies the Ex-Gay ministries use to build a foundation for their case are either old and outdated, conducted by phony scientists, or grossly distort the conclusions of real scientists, who are very unhappy with their work being taken out of context.  He used the example of Allan Chamber’s changing the numbers of ex-gays in existence drastically each year (which can quite easily be explained by the fact that he is not specifying an exact number when he says “thousands”), and James Dobson’s quoting of two researchers offended that their studies were used in a way that they didn’t intend them to be used (a charge which again can easily be explained by the fact that facts are facts, and can be used in various ways the original researcher didn’t originally intend).

A video was played of one researcher’s response to Dobson’s statements, stating that his conclusions from her study were “caricatures” and an oversimplification of her work, that shouldn’t have been used “against” homosexuality, and then Besen made this statement:  “In fact, we’re going to really ramp up this campaign next year, we’re going to make it really hard to lie, in fact, we’re going to make it very painful to lie over the next couple of years … they’re actually going to have to rely on quacks again, and not distort real researchers.” (Emphasis added).

Besen’s apparent threat of ex-gay ministries and conservative organizations rings hollow.  Clearly studies shouldn’t be used in a false or misleading way, but Besen seemed to be going one step further when in his attempt to prove that research had been distorted, he asked researchers questions like “Is this what you meant? Did you really back James Dobson?”  Should not the question be asked in a way that removes politics, religious beliefs, and personal likes and dislikes from the equation? Should it not have been phrased in a more neutral fashion such as “Your research was said to have proved X, did your research really prove X?”

In addition, while Besen emphasized how wrong it is to take quotes out of context so they indicate something other than what was meant, he clearly participated in the same behavior in his own presentation.  Take for instance a quote he had on the screen by Melissa Fryrear that referenced homosexuals  “I never met one woman who had not been sexually violated or sexually threatened in her life. I never met one woman. And I never met one man either, that had not been sexually violated or sexually seduced in his life.” Besen responded to the quote he displayed by saying, “Not one? How honest is that? I mean, okay, you know what? [raises hand] One! So I hope we never hear that again, because I’m, as they say, living proof that’s not true.” Was Fryrear really stating that every gay and lesbian has been abused? Clearly not! At the Love Won Out conference the following Saturday, she said essentially the same thing, but made it abundantly clear that it was in the context of her own personal experience as she was working with a ministry where these people had come for help and counseling, and that she certainly didn’t mean that all people struggling with homosexuality had been abused, threatened, or seduced.  Other examples of Besen’s misquoting or misusing people to prove his point happened throughout the night.

The next set of points Besen made painted a picture of Ex-Gay ministries as sinister, “playing on the fears of people,” again blaming all unpleasant feelings that accompany unwanted same-sex attractions many people have on the “backward” and “oppressive” idea held by some parents, conservatives, and ministries like these, that they can and/or should want to change from gay to straight.  He said that every accredited association, such as the American Psychiatric Association, states that trying to change one’s sexual orientation is inherently unhealthy (and possibly immoral), and that the rejection homosexuals experience from people not fully accepting and condoning their lifestyle can make them suicidal.

He then gave a call to be involved in legal action that he is in the process of building against these ministries:

I have to deal all the time with the victims of these ministries who have had their lives shattered, they’ve been destroyed, they’re hurt … we worked with Lambda Legal on an exciting new booklet called ‘Ex-Gay and the Law…’   We’re going to go around the country and ask people this, [and] if anybody here has been through these ministries, and you’ve been harmed, you’ve been hurt, you’ve had your life upended because of this, because you received fake information, because you received bad science, or you were abused sexually … in a lot of cases we see this b/c they have these repressed therapists who are still gay acting out, if this has happened to you, you need to read this … you may have legal options, you may have legal recourse, and we want you to take a look at this, this will refer you to some of the best attorneys in the United States of America … this will be a great addition to our efforts to counter the Ex-Gay industry.

Besen then moved on to talking about “bizarre techniques” used by Ex-Gay Ministries, introducing the subject by using a video clip of a woman talking about casting demons out of various parts of the body (the woman was not associated with the main Ex-Gay organizations), which then colored all the quotes that he showed from leaders of Exodus International, Focus on the Family, etc. regarding the spiritual roots of issues and the concept that Satan is involved in the bondage of people struggling with homosexuality (which were simply phrased with standard Orthodox Christian language).  He called the idea of self-denial therapy “cultlike,” and listed several methods used by some ministries or therapies that appeared very odd, without context, and talked about Ex-Gay conferences being full of pressure and coercion.  Besen also said all these ministries are increasing the divorce problem, as people divorce their husbands or wives after “trying to be ex-gay.”

He concluded the presentation by saying that the Ex-Gay ministries actually SEPARATE people from God, because they get a negative view of God through the emotional trauma they experience by having their homosexual lifestyle called sin, and being called/expected to change their behavior and hopefully, their attractions.  His summary remarks are as follows:

The ex gay ministries are like actors playing a role.  Some of the people are very sincere … they read the lines they’ve been given, and if you read it hard enough and you’re under enough pressure, you can even believe the line, and get so into the role, you can believe you have changed.  The human mind is capable of amazing things for periods of time, but like all plays, all theatrical productions, the final curtain has to come crashing down … even these people who are in it for many years, the final curtain of reality comes crashing down.

With this quote in mind, I asked the last question of the night during the Q&A session: “The final part there you said that basically the final curtain will fall upon these leaders and were implying also people that were affected by the leaders…  my question is, are you stating that everyone who at one point in their life is gay or lesbian will eventually return to that lifestyle, and if so, how do you know that?”

In reply, Besen stated that while it is theoretically possible for people to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual (citing Dr. Lisa Diamond’s research), that “There is no organization out there that can sexually engineer you to go from one sexuality to another, either gay to straight or straight to gay,” and again emphasized the unhealthy nature of repressing homosexual desires, stating “Alan Chambers said … and I’m paraphrasing …  ‘every day i get up and do what’s not natural for me,’ and if people want to do that, get up and do what they don’t feel is natural, they may have the willpower to do that for an entire lifetime,  but that’s very few people. I think … [it would] cause a lot of psychological problems [for most people].”

While Besen and other ex-gay protesters are busy demonizing these ministries, the reality is that there is a real outcry from people that are not happy with their same-sex attraction and want to change, and these ministries are simply answering that call as best as they know how. And with God’s anointing and guidance gracing these ministries, they are seeing success, whether people like Besen and CRANE (who held up signs protesting the Love Won Out conference on Saturday) want to admit it or not.

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