Saturday, June 23, 2007

It's About People--Not Protest

Yesterday Exodus issued their reaction to the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference. Focus on the Family's Citizen Link Daily Update refers to our conference and states.
Just a mile down the road, gay activists, co-sponsored by the University of California - Irvine, have scheduled a counter-conference at which some people will claim they were hurt by ex-gay organizations.
Exodus Executive Vice President Randy Thomas weighs in,
"We live in a great country where people can have freedom of assembly," he said. Unfortunately, the organizers of the counter-conference will "try to project their experience onto all of us, when in fact thousands of people, myself included, have overcome homosexuality."
In casting us as protesters and minimizing the scope of the organizers to a local group in Irvine, CA, Exodus not only knowingly misinforms people, they also miss the point. Sponsored by Soulforce, as well as the LGBT Resource Center at the University of California in Irvine (not the university itself), the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference serves as much more than a counter-conference.

Christine addresses this very well her blog as she outlines the purpose of the conference,
Our message that there is healing and wholeness for those who have felt alienated from their faith, from God, and from family because of a lack of change in orientation is a message of hope. We're saying that those who have suffered because of their ex-gay experiences are not alone, and a wonderful life and healthy relationships can be theirs, in contradiction to what many of us have heard from Focus on the Family and Exodus.
Our gathering next week is about people, not protest. It's about pastoral care, not propaganda.

For the past 4 1/2 years I've traveled throughout North America and Europe telling my story at universities, churches, theaters, community centers and homes. As a result, I got to hear lots of other stories. In e-mails and one-on-one, people have told me about the loss and the trials they have faced as a result of pursuing what they were told was God's will for their lives--a course of suppressing their same-sex attractions and their personalities in order to no longer be gay or lesbian (or bisexual or transgender).

These stories pulled at me saying that more needs to be done to help survivors find clarity and direction after they experienced so much loss and damage--some of it self-inflicted and some of it at the hands of church workers and ex-gay ministers. No one meant to cause harm, and in fact in some cases some good occurred. But too often the pain and suffering outweighed the good to the point where many of us even questioned and rejected the possible benefits of our ex-gay experiences.

Jim Burroway wrote on his blog yesterday,
Exodus recently has claimed a 30% success rate, without any proof to back it up. But even if we accepted that figure, that means 70% fail. These ex-gay survivors know the pain that comes from that failure. They have a lot of important things to say, and the least Exodus could do is acknowledge them with civility instead of dismissing their stores as “protest.”
Exodus admits that most people under their care cannot achieve the goals set before them. If say 3,000 people were to identify as successful ex-gays (success being an unclear descriptor) then according to Exodus 7,000 individuals were unable to live up to the standards set before them, even though most desperately tried and invested huge chunks of their lives, energies and financial resources, even sacrificing careers and relationships in order to reach those standards.

What about these folks? What's more important, the politics of "change" or the people caught in the cross-fire?

One of the main goals of the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference is to give these folks--the majority of the people who passed through Exodus' doors--a venue to unpack their experiences, to mourn the losses when necessary and to constructively look at ways to undo the damage and move on in life. The weight of our ex-gay lives have kept some of us from life for far too long.

That's why at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference we will not have any keynote speakers or lectures. Instead we will create spaces for people to talk to each other, talk about the good and the bad of ex-gay experiences and the costs involved. Survivors will share the expertise they have gained through their own recovery. This conference will help to address the needs of the majority of people who once submitted their lives and trust to Exodus ministries.

I believe there are some some leaders at Exodus who care more about people than politics, more about pastoral care than propaganda. I call on these folks to visit, read the narratives, see the heart behind the action. Come to dinner with us on Friday June 29. It will just be a handful of survivors and conference organizers sitting at the table for a meal where we hope we can share some of our experiences with you. You can read the invitation here.

And if you are an ex-gay survivor, or know and love someone who is, come to the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference, not to protest, but pursue understanding, peace and reconciliation with the past in order to build a better future.

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At 3:31 PM , Blogger Allyson Dylan Robinson said...

This is hurting me too, Peterson. You've framed the entire thing perfectly, I think--politics vs. people. If only each of us could, for just a minute or two each day, be given the ability to empathize perfectly with those whom we'd caused pain that day...well, we'd all be much more people-focused, I think.

I so wish I could be there at the conference! I know you'll be incredibly busy, but I hope you'll be able to blog a little "in the moment."

At 8:10 PM , Blogger Bruce Garrett said...

In casting us as protesters and minimizing the scope of the organizers to a local group in Irvine, CA, Exodus not only knowingly misinforms people, they also miss the point.

And it's not like Exodus has a history of misinforming people and not seeing whatever they don't want to see or anything...

At 8:17 PM , Blogger Bruce Garrett said...

Also... Did anyone else's irony meter get busted when they read Thomas accusing the Survivor's Conference organizers of trying to " project their experience onto all of us"...? Oh goodness. It isn't like the leaders of Exodus would ever do such a thing to the gay community after all...

At 5:36 AM , Blogger Allyson Dylan Robinson said...

I felt the same way, Bruce.

My mind also got stuck at the way the Exodus statement uses the word "activists." It implies that we have a political (i.e. non-people) agenda in organizing the conference...which is why I felt Peterson's response here was so well voiced.

At 1:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does this mean that nobody from Exodus is taking up your offer for that meeting/discussion over dinner (which I thought was a fabulous idea?)

I'm going to be away from internet access for at least half of the upcoming week, but can't wait to hear all about it at FGC!

-- Tom D.


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