Monday, July 30, 2007

Curse Harry Potter!

You may be wondering why I have not blogged since Friday or answered any of your e-mails or responded to your voicemails. It really isn't my fault; I am under a sinister spell.

Yeah the last Harry Potter book. It has the power to suck up your time like dementors suck up the joy and happiness in the world. But Potter GIVES joy. Actually no. I feel no joy reading this book, rather I feel an insane compulsion to read and miss meals and ignore the Internet. Crazy.

Right now I am in Tampa, Florida with Tom D (aka anonymous) who has put me up in lavish style way beyond my normal Quaker plain ways. I even have a hot tub at my disposal.

I also met up with some very nice people in Sarasota and here (hey Barbara,Ray, Robin & Robin, David & David, Stacy & Shawn, Tom Murray & Vince and Dustin!).

So that's it. Yes, Harry, I'm coming!

Save me!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Ex-Gay Survivors in the OC

The Orange County Weekly published a long piece about the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference held in Irvine, CA last month. The writer offers a stirring account of the Chalk Talk and gives survivors like Michael Bussee and Eric Leocadio a chance to tell their moving stories.

The writer also visited the Exodus Conference held nearby. I am on the road typing this on my phone, so no fancy formatting or links.

Here is the link to the article though

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Interview on Northern Spirit Radio

A few weeks ago when I was at the Friends General Conference, an annual gathering of Quakers in North America, I sat for an interview for the Spirit in Action program on Northern Spirit Radio. Mark Helpsmeet, the interviewer, has a great vision to create programming about Quakerism for both Quakers and non-Quakers.

In the interview I talk about my faith--my journey from Roman Catholic to Fundamentalist to Quaker, my ex-gay struggle and the role of Quakerism in my life today.

The piece starts with some music that you may or may not like. I reserve my comment on the music (it is just intro music)

You can listen to the interview here.

And to listen to post-Quaker Joe G. talk about nothing of real consequence, check out his podcast at his blog.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More Ex-Gay News Stuff

UPDATE: (Thur 26 July 5:30 pm)
Some more stuff has come through in the past 24 hours, so here is an update:
  • Fort Wayne Weekly has a lengthy piece entitled Gay Cure--Things are getting even stranger in the right’s campaign to counsel people out of their homosexuality. By ERIC GRIFFEY (hat tip to Curious Primate)
  • SX out of Australia has a funny, if not 100% accurate, piece about ex-ex-gays. Based on the photo on my Homo No Mo website, the author, Rachel Cook referred to me as a Screaming Queen. I love that!
  • Hu over at +Z'ev posted a thoughtful and interesting post that looks at queer Christians, the ex-gay movement and Tammy Faye Bakker.

End of Update
  • And I just posted part 2 of my 3 part series Change Was NOT Possible.
  • Ex-Gay Watch is hosting an open forum about recent remarks on CNN by Warren Throckmorton and Benjamin McCommon. So far some decent analysis (saucy comments) is going on.
  • For an ABC news report about ex-gay conversion therapy (with lots of girl on girl action, but much less boy on boy action), click here. Hat tip to Elliot.
  • Daniel Gonzales, that radical homosexual activist, explains why he has been so quiet recently. (All I can say--look out James Dobson!)
  • Check out video of the upcoming film Mississipi Queen, about a lesbian, Paige Williams, going back to Mississipi to see her parents, who run an ex-gay program. (And they have Lucinda William's song about Jackson playing in the background. I love me some Lucinda.)

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Change Was NOT Possible--part 2 of 3

This is the second in a three part series. Part One: What Was I After and Why?
Part Three: Living on the Outside

Part Two--What Happens When Change is not Possible?

After all my efforts, my faith in the Bible as I understood it and my faith in God and the working of the Holy Spirit, the change from gay to straight never came. In fact, the more I pursued what I thought was God’s ordained gayless path, the more I desired men, the more severe the struggle became, the more bizarre I acted out.

Finally after losing my marriage, my job as a missionary in Zambia, my close friendships and the support of my home church, I became desperate and enrolled in the Love in Action (LIA) residential program in Memphis, TN.

During orientation the staff informed us how we should envisage the program. How disappointing to hear John Smid, director of LIA, announce that none of us should expect to become heterosexual! He considered such a goal to be unrealistic and stated that most likely we would struggle with these same-sex desires for the rest of our lives.

I despaired. What a weak, powerless Gospel! Hearing this, one of the elders in my church back home questioned the spirituality of LIA. But after 15 years of believing I could and must seek to change my sexual orientation through the power of God, in deep grief I accepted the fact that such a change was not possible for me. It rocked my faith and challenged everything I had believed about the redemptive work of the cross and the blood of Jesus.

It turns out that Exodus now teaches this very message—change in orientation is not possible—although they share this mostly behind closed doors. Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, spoke at the Love Won Out (LWO) conference in Phoenix earlier this year and via a transcript of his talk, Hope for Those That Struggle, I read what Alan had to say about same-sex attractions and change.
(hat tip to Jim Burroway, who is working on his next installment of his LWO series).
And I'm going to shatter your world here: heterosexuality shouldn't be your number one goal. Whether that's for yourself or for your kid or for your loved one or your friend or your family member. Heterosexuality shouldn't have been my number one goal.

The opposite of homosexuality isn't heterosexuality. It's holiness. And I think we in the church often get that wrong. We think, "okay, the best thing for this person who's involved with homosexuality or involve with lesbianism is that they come out of that lifestyle and go into heterosexuality.

Well if that's all we think is necessary, we're setting people up for a terrible fall. The opposite of homosexuality isn't heterosexuality. It's holiness.
This is not the first time I heard the mantra about homosexuality versus holiness. (Is it an ex-gay creedal statement or a think-tank created mind-bending talking point inserted intermittently to stir up shame and fear?)

In many ways this statement proves more sinister and harmful than statements promoting the false assumption that change in orientation is possible (which most Exodus ads still suggest to this day.) What I hear in the mantra is that anything homosexual by default is unholy, unclean, dirty, ungodly, evil and demonic—the opposite of all things holy. I heard this same message over an over in my youth be it on the playground, in the media or at church.

In his statement, Alan Chambers declares that people with same-sex attractions, who refuse to renounce these attractions, are unclean, much like the leper or menstruating women in Jesus’ day. These ceremonially unclean members of society were denied access to the temple and intimate relationships. Anyone with a conservative church background today can decode Alan's message to mean that people who accept their same-sex attractions are denied access to God and to heaven. It may not be what Alan intends to say (or it may be), but the statement exudes this damning message all the same. Only the righteous enter the holy Kingdom of Heaven and homosexuals are NOT holy.

Back at Love in Action, I understood that although change in my orientation was not possible, I still needed to sort out my same-sex desires and get the victory over them. I stood with a choice-my faith in Jesus or my same-sex attractions? I chose Jesus.

At LIA I determined to gather the necessary tools that would enable me to manage and contain my sexual desire. I still dreamed for the miracle of complete deliverance from same-sex desire, but I knew not to expect it. So with the goal to be a faithful soldier of Christ, denying myself and taking up my cross and bearing it daily, I plunged into two years of treatment at LIA.

I devoted my time, energy and heart to the effort. I allowed the program teachings to soak into my mind, much of it stuff I already knew from ex-gay books I had read but with a more therapeutic spin on them, but also new techniques, ideas and theories. The program took on many approaches (some times changing approaches weekly) and in some ways incorporated the "best" of what was offered in the ex-gay world.

Though writing hundreds of Moral Inventories, I re-interpreted every non-straight sexual experience I ever had and re-labeled them dysfunctional, inappropriate and addictive. I continued to spend time in prayer and Bible study staying in close contact with God and looking to God for strength. I also submitted to LIA’s training to make me more masculine by changing the way I dressed, my affect, my tastes and hobbies. In the language we used at the time, “I worked my program.”

Next--Part Three: Living on the Outside

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Down Memory Lane & Bleeker Street

I spent the day in NYC with 2 different film crews--one German, one US. The US crew, a husband & wife duo filmed me in Central Park & asked questions about the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement & our recent conference in Irvine.

The Germans met me in Greenwich Village to film in front of the Stonewall Inn & along Bleeker St. Back in 1983 & 1984 when I was a freshman at Nyack College, a Christian & Missionary Alliance school, the administration encouraged students to go into NYC every Saturday to do missions. While most folks taught Bible to children in the Bronx or Queens, I headed to Greenwich Village, the center of all things gay.

We stood on the corners of the Village with Christian literature and tried to save the homosexuals. Yes, ironic as I struggled daily with my own same-sex attractions, I connected with gays on the street for my ministry.

The film crew next brought me to Times Square where we visited the church I attended for years and where I married. Strange as I walked through the lobby and descended the stairs to the Rotunda where we held the reception. I saw it all again. It was the happiest day of my life, so full of hope and faith. We believed in miracles and were ready to trust God fully.

The reporter asked something about how I felt standing there in front of the church. I felt grounded, filled with the past with the joy and pain and shame and remorse--the sadness of a failed marriage and my inability and unwillingness to make it work.

I believe now that it was impossible for me, for us and terribly unfair to her and to me.

I don't dwell on these feelings or talk about them much even with close friends. Still so raw and tender. But I don't want to forget either. That marriage shaped us for good or bad or both. There is no greater love than this, that one lay down one's life for a friend. And indeed my wife did that for me. So often women are called upon to save their men.

And some women marry gay men, even knowing in advance. I don't know why.

I head back home with my ghosts in tow.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Returning to the UK this Summer!

For the third time this year I will be in the UK. Turning into a wonderful habit. I just booked the flights for a trip gets me to London on 17 August and back home on 3 September. I was initially hoping that I would spend more time in Europe, but September will be a month for me to do some quiet reflection and will also be a time for me to get together with family as it will mark one year since my mom passed away (who still feels very near to me daily).

I am thrilled to be returning to Cardiff, Wales on 18 August where I will perform The Re-Education of George W. Bush which is sponsored by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. I had a great time last year and met some super people. I will spend a little more time there this year.

Then I get to see dear friends in Cheltenham at Greenbelt where in addition to the Bush piece, I will present Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House. I just found out that Matt Redman will be there this year. Nice. James Alison will return as well and has the cutest picture on Greenbelts' site.
I imagine other adventures will emerge as I have a little time to explore and hang out with friend and Friends. I can't wait!

But first I am off to Florida where I will do my Bush play and get to hang out with Tom Murray in Sarasota and Tom D in Tampa (and maybe Harry Potter too). It is a good things I like the folks at MCC Sarasota and the Toms and others because Florida in July sounds like a mistake (but it was lovely last year. I just don't like the sun. I may be part vampire).

I took the photos at Greenbelt last year.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Change Was Not Possible--part 1 of 3

In the tradition of Disputed Mutability, I have a three part series that I will present over the next week or two.

Part One—What I was After and Why?

Like many ex-gay survivors, for years I sought a miraculous transformation. I wanted to change from gay to straight—be it instantaneous or as a long-term process (but instantaneous would have been nice). At the time it seemed a reasonable and necessary step. Steeped in a world that insisted heterosexuality was normal, expected and ideal, I also learned that most folks believed that homosexuals were sick, dangerous, immoral, ungodly and abnormal. They even had Bible verses to support their claims (even if most of the people saying so didn't actually follow the rest of the Bible).

I received this message universally—on the playground, in the media and at church (first at the Roman Catholic Church of my early youth and then at string of other faith communities including Fundamentalist, Evangelical and ultimately Charismatic churches I attended over the next 17 years.)

No question about the message—gays are wrong—sinful, evil, ungodly, counter-Christian.

In my teens I also learned about Jesus and his “wonder working power,” and how “if any man (or woman) be in Christ Jesus he (or she) is a new creation. The old is gone behold all things are made new.”

If it were so unnatural and abnormal to have a homosexual orientation, and the power of Jesus through his death and resurrection was so supreme, surely the most logical prayer to cry out would be, “Jesus transform me by your power into a man of God, a non-gay man of God, a straight man of God.”

I heard slogans and testimonies that proclaimed, “Change is Possible!” and testimonies of how people found freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ. I did not read the fine print, Actual change in orientation not actually promised or guaranteed, since no such disclaimers existed at the time.

If I met people who suggested that God couldn’t change me thoroughly, I judged them to be a weak and questionable Christian. I made sure I never attended their church again, and moved on. I always found ministers—straight and ex-gay—who inferred or outright declared that I would experience a genuine inner transformation from my same-sex attractions.

I believed it so much that in faith, after a few years of celibacy, (although I didn’t call it that—I was just being faithful), I married a woman and lived heterosexually. My identity was as a Christian and a married man.

Next Part Two--What Happens When Change is Not Possible?
Part Three--Living on the Outside

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Nice Days and PR Campaigns

Very last minute a Friend asked me to come help staff a Peace Camp reunion weekend at The Meeting School in New Hampshire. So glad I said yes.

The weather is fresh and cool and summery and lovely here. AND they have wi-fi. I'm sitting outside (because in the words of my father, "It would be a SIN to be inside on a day like today") and have a nice strong signal. Some sheep sit lazily under an apple tree nearby.

Ah, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut's uncle (as quoted in Vonnegut's last book) If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.

Going off-line soon to take a nap. Yummy.

But I wanted to share an image that popped up in my e-mail today. Not too long ago I ordered some anti-gay literature from Focus on the Family. You know, just to see what they had to say (as if I didn't already know). Well, since that time I have gotten onto some sort of monster Conservative Evangelical Christian mailing list and get all sorts of things through e-mail and regular mail. Below is the one that greeted me this morning.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Is Being Gay a Choice?

The New Statesman, a UK current affairs magazine asked me to write a short article on the topic of being gay--is it a choice or not? I said it is not a choice which they were pleased about because they found someone who said that it IS a choice (turns out they tapped Richard Cohen for the job).

In my piece I draw on some of the science as well as my own experience as a gay man.
Being gay myself, many folks consider me an expert on all things gay. Did Alexander the great have a male lover? What does the Bible say about homosexuality? For my bay window, should I use lace or chintz curtains?

As a gay theatrical performance activist, the most common question I get is: “how old are you?”

Such a rude question, but completely understandable because of my wild past including the 17-year quest to transform myself into a heterosexual with side trips to Zambia, England, and Ecuador plus a five year marriage. They look at my fresh, young face and wonder 'how did you do all that?' I explain that I am a 42-year-old, non-smoking vegan who moisturizes (It is never too young to start!).

The second most common question I get is: “do people choose to be gay?”
You can read the rest for yourself. And just like I didn't choose to be gay, I didn't choose the title for the piece, I am what I am and it is not a choice. Oh, and you HAVE to listen to the audio link just to hear how the electronic voice pronounces the word homosexual.

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Is Ex-Gay Therapy Sexually Abusive?

The filmmaker, Tom Murray, just put up a clip from his film Fish Can't Fly. In it Dr. Joe Kort talks about ex-gay therapy and how he sees it as a form of sexual abuse.
The harmful effects of reparative therapy are they mirror what happens to someone who's been sexually abused. If you take someone who's been sexually abused that what happens to them is that they have been dominated as a child by another, an adult's sexuality. What the message they're given is "You don't matter. My sexuality is superior."
Hear more for yourself.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Video from Love in Action Survivor Initiative

Morgan J. Fox took video of the Survivor Initiative press conference outside of Love in Action in Memphis, TN. The event was organized by Soulforce. Ex-gay survivors David Christie and Brandon Tidwell share their stories of how pursuing to change and suppress their sexuality caused more harm than good. They stood up in front of Love in Action as a witness and a warning to others.

You can learn more about the Memphis event here.

Part One

Part Two

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So Much Ex-Gay/Survivor News So Little Time

I go off-line for one day, and the e-mails and rss feeds and google alerts just pile up!

Here is a little round-up of what is going on out there. First I want to mention Jim Burroway's post about the "Lesbian Gangs". This story provides perfect fodder for urban legends and gets spread like a virus by all sorts of folks who talk about truth and family values.

Now I admit we actually have a huge lesbian gang problem in my home state of Connecticut. Some of my closest lesbian friends are gang members, well, actually it is more of a parents' support meeting and playgroup for their kids, but still these gals are pretty severe. They make their kids go to bed by 8 pm!
  • Ethan Jacobs at Bay Windows just published a detailed piece about the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement with lots of coverage about the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference (ans especially the Chalk Talk), the public apology by former Exodus leaders, the dinner with current Exodus leaders and the on-going Survivor Initiative organized by Soulforce.
  • David Foucher, who also writes for a New England based publication, Edge, published the second in his four part series about the Ex-Gay Movement with stories from both current ex-gays and survivors. Here is Part One and Part Two.
  • The Miami New Times published a LONG article entitled Scared Straight The religious right's ex-gay movement is scouting local recruits. It is pretty extensive with coverage of both the history of the ex-gay movement and current events. They even mention Beyond Ex-Gay (bXg). I have not been able to read through the whole thing yet, but they try to reveal the human stories behind the people seeking change. (hat tip to the person to who told me about this article--was it you Tom D?)
  • Eugene Wagner at Ex-Gay Watch raises some Questions for Exodus. Also at his personal blog, Eugene posted Rigid, in which he talks about PFOX's recent negative comments towards ex-gay survivors and something called a Stage Three Mindset.
  • The New Statesman (UK) has put out a special GAY issue to mark the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the change in legislation affecting same-gender loving people in the UK. They contacted me to submit a piece to them for the on-line edition, so look out for it. Check out my piece I am what I am and it's not about choice (and like my sexual orientation, I didn't get to choose the title either)
  • Disputed Mutability has begun the first of a series of post in which she looks at the ex-gays and ex-ex-gays: Exgays vs. Exexgays (yes, the title sounds like Celebrity Death Match but I know that is not her style). I appreciate her insights and the care in which she writes.
Lots of news got generated as a result of the Survivor Initiative in Memphis outside of Love in Action.
(hat tips to David Christie and Barry James Moore for providing links)

Click here to get links to the collages and statements presented David and Brandon on Tuesday.
  • Also Bruce Garrett came to Memphis to witness the press conference and documented some of it through photos on his blog. I particularly love the photos of the young people and the posters they saved from the protests of the last two years. They presented one of these to Brandon.
The primary message I hope emerges from the press conference on Tuesday is that going through a process to change or suppress your sexuality has caused much more harm than good for many of the people who attempted it. Sure folks who assist are often well-meaning and sincere, but that doesn't negate the harm that they assisted us in bringing upon ourselves and our families. The Survivor Initiative serves as more than an opening to dialog (although dialog has begun on several fronts). The initiative serves as a witness and a warning.

I just got an e-mail about the trailer for an upcoming documentary, Gay No More? that focuses on the Ex-Gay Movement as well as Ex-Gay Survivors. (Some quotes by one of the filmmaker appeared on Page Six of the NY Post, hat tip to Joe My God--who is not the same as Joe G.). I sat with the camera crew some weeks ago, but they also met up with my dad and interviewed him too. You can catch a little bit of him talking about zebras as his cat tries to upstage him.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Survivor Initiative at Love in Action

This morning in Memphis, TN two ex-gay survivors, David Christie and Brandon Tidwell, shared some of their experiences as ex-gays and now as former ex-gays. They then presented collages of their journey to the Love in Action (LIA) staff. The event was organized by Soulforce as part of their Survivor Initiative. (You can view David's collage here. Brandon's is here. See ALL the collages here. Video of their statements and the presentation of the collages is here and here.)

Seems LIA staff were confused as to the nature of the event and the organizers . I was not there myself (I'm doin' time in Hartford--aka home), but I heard that right before the press conference began, an LIA staff member came out to group that was gathering and asked repeatedly, "Where is Peterson Toscano?"

Here's their official statement: Actually during the press conference in Memphis, I was home in Connecticut on the phone having actual dialog with an ex-gay leader (It was a private, confidential conversation, so I will reveal no further details).

I find LIA's statement, and particularly my inclusion in it, to be very curious, especially since I am still waiting to hear back from John Smid after a recent e-mail exchange we had. I am not one to print private e-mails, but if Love in Action is going to accuse me of being closed to dialog all the while stringing me along with promises of dialog, I may need to set the record straight.

While focusing on current (paying) clients, John Smid has not found time to connect with former clients like me after expressing a desire to do so. Perhaps LIA staff and board will launch a last minute initiative to make some calls to former clients to check in on how we are doing. If so, it is a good first step, but cannot be considered a serious, thoughtful approach to organized aftercare and follow-up.

I did not organize today's press conference or contact any of the media, Soulforce did that. My role as an ex-gay survivor was to assist the people who could go, (and I am glad to hear that fellow Quakers showed up to voice their support.) In the past week I did connect with Brandon and David about their individual stories, which you can view along with other narratives over at Beyond Ex-Gay (bXg).

As with the recent press conference in front of New Life Church, this one serves as a witness and a warning. It is not simply about dialog. I write some about the Ex-Gay Survivor movement here and what it is all about.

The vast majority of people who attend programs like Love in Action do not go on to live ex-gay lives. This is a fact shared even by Exodus president Alan Chambers. Also, many of us experienced harm because of the ways we tried to change and suppress our sexuality. Love in Action enabled us in that unhealthy pursuit. People who apply for Love in Action's programs do not hear this critical information during the intake procedure. (Although they are required to sign a full waiver that says they will not sue the program for any harm that may occur.) These stories need to be heard in hopes that places like Love in Action will consider the harm of ex-gay conversion therapy, but also as a warning to people considering such programs for themselves or a loved one.

Perhaps Love in Action's staff members believe they put people before politics and that they are genuinely interested in pastoral care. But will they hear David Christie's story?
While still in my teens, I began seeking help for what I had been led to believe was an abnormal and sinful condition. From ages 15 to 28 – that is, for thirteen years – I was almost constantly involved in some form of counseling or therapy designed to thwart my homosexual orientation. Never accepting that a homosexual identity was an option, and believing I would eventually be able to manage or even overcome my homosexual desires, I got married at the age of 21. When that fell apart two and a half years later because of my sexual indiscretions, I became profoundly committed to ridding myself of homosexuality. So much so, that I remained celibate for the next 4 years, while in my mid-20s.

While still married, I had discovered Exodus, whose like-minded associates and organized programming gave me hope. For 5 years, I attended weekly support-group meetings in one of their affiliated programs through a local church. I attended 4 annual Exodus conferences in various locations across the country, and even lived for one year within an ex-gay residential program known as Love in Action.

All of this required a drastically altered lifestyle. I had to move. I had to change churches. I had to change friends. I dropped out of a promising graduate school career and took on a dead-end office job in order to minimize conflicts with my ceaseless schedule of therapy, support groups, and related events. Hoping to truly purge myself of homosexuality, I threw out old letters and photographs, books, and music, – things I loved, but which I had come to believe were negative influences.

Throughout all of this, I constantly battled feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred, and guilt. The doctrine of God’s unconditional love was useless to repair the damage done by the doctrine of homosexual sin. This led to a chronic depression for which I had to take costly medications from my late teens until I finally came out, at the age of 28. On a few occasions, in panicked despair, I seriously contemplated suicide.
David goes on to tell about his time in Love in Action, including an incident when he was physically assaulted by a staff member. He has found a place of healing and wholeness, but with the gut-level honesty that I have always known David to display, he confessess,
But I am scarred, and every day I feel the burdens of regret and grief. I grieve for my own years of anguish, but also for the confusion and pain I caused my wife, my family, and my friends. And sure, I spent a lot of money in this process, but what I want back more than anything is the time and energy I put into it.

At school, my peers are a decade younger than me, and hardly a day goes by that I don’t wonder: where would I be now if not for my ex-gay detour? where would I be professionally? how much more financially stable would I be? how much more confident? how much closer to self-actualization?

I realize such questions could poison my progress, but nonetheless, they arise naturally, and I must wrestle with them all the time. I even credit my ex-gay experience with contributing to the self-reflection that lead to where I am today, but I maintain that no one should ever have to go through such hell to get to such a place.
Later this week I want to focus on Brandon's story and his Christian faith, which is still a major part of his life.

Brandon and David, thank you so much for stepping up and sharing your stories.

Photo credit to BJ Moore.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Weekend in the Mountains

Ah, I had a lovely weekend in the Catskill Mountains (New York State) visiting my dad. Steve Boese joined me for the excursion which included meandering meals, lots of lively conversation and little road trips on country roads.

Steve even looked in at the cottage that I own which sits right by my Dad's house. (photo is of me in front of it when I was age seven) The cottage now needs some work after the former tenants let it go, but I have such a clear vision for the place--simple, rustic, comfortable and designed for hospitality.

I envision a table filled with food and surrounded by interesting, creative, thoughtful people enjoying each other's company (folks like YOU). On the two acres of land I also have plans to plant an orchard and loads of wild flowers and let some of the field go back to a natural state to provide a habitat for the local animals that find themselves getting edged off the land by developers.

All in all a relaxing weekend which was still wonderfully productive. I am reading a book I cannot put down--Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman. (Thanks Tom D for the book! Hope you had a GREAT 40th birthday) Ehrman raises the all important questions that I had been terrified to ask for years, How did we get our Bible and just how accurate is it?

Over at bXg (Beyond Ex-Gay), Christine and I have updated some new pages. See new narratives--Barbara Leavitt, Lester Leavitt, Eric Leocadio. And read the updated question of the month (ok so it is more like a quarterly feature). Christine also posted the next question, so check it out and tell us what you think. Later this week Steve will have our Collages page up.

Tomorrow some ex-gay survivors will present their collages to the Love in Action staff after sharing their stories outside of the LIA building. David Christie is one of these brave folkks. This is the first time he has told his story in such a public way. Please pray, send warm thoughts and comfort to these guys as they tell their stories. It is not easy work. Also pray that John Smid, the head of LIA and his staff have ears to hear what these survivors have to say. The purpose of the event is not to bash LIA but to talk about the harm that can and does come because of ex-gay conversion therapy in its many forms.

It is too soon to announce anything yet, but be on the lookout--I will have a big announcement in August. (No I am not pregnant, but feel free to speculate--you always come up with the most unlikely and delightful ideas.)

Oh, and here is silly video of Jose Luis and me in Madrid in May. (I have no idea why I lower my voice so much when I speak Spanish--raro)

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Straight Spouse and Gay Husband Featured in Press

Barbara Leavitt is a straight woman who married her husband over two decades ago in a Mormon Temple (Latter Day Saints--LDS). They spoke the other day outside of Evergreen International, an ex-gay program in Salt Lake City. Lester turned to Evergreen for help for his same-sex attractions. The Salt Lake Tribune published a piece about Barbara and Lester.
When she married her husband Lester in a 1981 LDS temple wedding, Barbara Leavitt had big plans.

"I was going to be the best wife ever," she said this week with a small, rueful laugh.
But Barbara always knew there was a part of Lester she'd never reach, some secret, private place filled with thoughts and feelings he'd never share.

In 2006, after 25 years of marriage, it all came out - or rather, Lester did. For most of his life, Lester struggled with his attraction to other men, avidly seeking help and reading literature from organizations that claimed to help gay people become heterosexual or to help weaken attraction to others of the same sex.

The material he received did more harm than good, Lester said, which is why the couple demonstrated outside Evergreen International's Salt Lake City headquarters on Tuesday morning. Evergreen is a resource for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that, according to its Web site, helps people "diminish same-sex attractions and overcome homosexual behavior."
When Lester came out to her, she went to the church for support, but got the exact opposite.
In her pain and confusion she turned to her church friends for support and peace. Instead, she said, with rare exceptions, she found only overwhelming fear and discrimination.

"I was told, 'It's too bad you can't love Lester anymore, and that he won't be the father of your children for all eternity,' " she said in her speech.

She added that she received hateful e-mails from church members she barely knew, condemning her for standing by her husband. For Lester, the alienation was more intense.
Read all of the Salt Lake Tribune's piece A Call for more "Christlike" Approach
The Express Gay News also published an extensive piece about the Leavitt's, their children and Lester's partner, Mickey Rowe.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Ex-Gay Survivor Initiative Heads to Memphis

What: Gay men visit Love in Action to tell of the psychological and spiritual harm that they experienced there and in other "ex-gay" ministries. Three survivors of the controversial residential program will present Love in Action with personal artwork depicting the damage caused by the message that gays and lesbians can and should change their sexual orientation.

When: Tuesday, July 17, at 10:30 a.m.

Where: Love in Action, 4780 Yale Road, Memphis, Tennessee

Who: David Christie is a former Love in Action client who spent 13 years in ex-gay therapy before accepting himself as a gay man at the age of 28.
Brandon Tidwell completed Love in Action's adult residential program in 2002, but ultimately rejected the organization's theology and reconciled his sexual orientation with his Christian faith.

Other participants: Jeffrey Harwood, Lance Carroll

Why: Love in Action (LIA) is a Christian residential program that claims to help clients "break out" of "homosexual attraction and behavior" at a cost of $7000 for 3 months. In 2005, the facility was under investigation by the state of Tennessee for operating a mental health facility without a license. LIA has since changed its operating procedures to avoid state regulation. Most recently, LIA closed its controversial Refuge program for teenagers and replaced it with "Family Freedom Intensives," a 4-day, $600 per person. The program is for parents of gay or questioning teenagers.

Love in Action is part of a larger "ex-gay" movement, which continues to thrive in spite of Americans' growing conviction that sexual orientation is not subject to change and despite a growing willingness on the part of faith communities to accept gays and lesbians as whole and valuable members.

This event is part of the Survivor's Initiative, a national campaign to share the stories of "Ex-gay Survivors"-men and women who feel that ex-gay messages and programs did them more harm than good.

If you are in or near Memphis, come and show your solidarity. Also, spread the word. It's been two years since the summer protests sparked by Zach Stark's blog entries. No matter how LIA words it, Refuge is no more. Even so, the voices of their former LIA clients need to be heard as a witness and a warning.

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Rainbow Mass in Sweden

I love Sweden, especially because of some very dear friends I have there. Courageous people who explore their lives, sexuality and faith in so many creative ways from Karaoke to Monster drawings.

Lots of folks think that Sweden is a gay paradise where EVERYONE is absolutely accepting and affirming. They do have progressive laws for gays and lesbians (although my state of Connecticut provide better legal protection for transgender people than Sweden's current laws), but tensions, challenges and difficulties still exist.

Noa Resare (the other husband in the team of Alex and Noa) recently helped organize the Rainbow Mass up in Umeå. He shares a story of the event and the growth of one Lutheran priest in the process:
One of my responsibilities today was to arrange a Rainbow mass in the lutheran church at the center of our town. Finding a priest willing and able to step in and celebrate with us when the one we had asked had to cancel for medical reasons was more difficult than I had imagined. Finally, after having contacted 22 people that all said they couldn't help me for various reasons I finally found someone reluctantly willing to celebrate with us.

His name was Erik, and he was a swedish lutheran piest of the old kind. He was someone that you would suspect was still using the old translation of the Lord's prayer (the one obsoleted by the new official swedish Bible translation that we got in 1981), a suspicion that turned out to be correct.

I was happy that he agreed to do it, but when we had our mass today many little things was not as we had discussed. He didn't specifically welcome the LGBT community as we had agreed, he refused to call themass "Rainbow mass" (that is sort of a trade mark for LGBT friendly services in Sweden), and he held rather long sermon about forgiveness starting out with Mt 18:21-22 (when Jesus says that we should forgive each other seventy-seven times). It started out kind of good, but then his focus shifted a little bit too much onto the notions of sinfulness and cleanness.

However, when we started to celebrate communion together (I helped people with the wine, he distributed the bread) I felt that this mass was a big moment for him. He did something that he hadn't done before, and probably hadn't even dreamed of doing. My feeling was that as he was administering the communion, seeing people coming forward to share communion that he had never seen in church before, some with rainbow colored clothing, some women with men's clothes, a girl with a pink wig, he was changed. He was seeing new things, a new kind of diversity among the people sharing communion.

I was deeply touched by this, as I sat down listening to the organ music ending our service. Seeing someone's eyes open, old and perhaps judgemental ideas just falling to the floor when challenged by reality, that was simply amazing.
Thank you Noa for organizing the Rainbow Mass and for giving me permission to share this account. Big hug!

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More Collages of Ex-Gay Survivors

Yesterday I wrote about Barbara and Lester Leavitt and their press conference outside of the Latter Day Saint's program Evergreen ex-gay program. In addition to telling their stories, the Leavitt showed up to give the Evergreen leadership specially designed collages of the Leavitt's ex-gay survivor narratives.

Christine Bakke has spent hours creating beautiful and expressive collages about our lives as survivors. We each provide Christine with photos, journal entries, poems, scripture, etc and see soaks it all in then creates the piece. (You can see mine here) It takes her four to six hours to design, sometimes longer. As she builds the piece, she absorbs the hopes, the pain, the disappointments of the survivors. Much like our Chalk Talk at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference, the creation of the collages is a meditation on the ex-gay experience--the good and the harm.

For Barbara and Lester, Christine created two collages that dramatically demonstrate the breaking apart of two lives and the creation of new individuality. So often the plight of the straight spouses in mixed orientation marriages go unheard. Lester and Barbara have wonderfully supported each other, but Barbara has found that while she accepts her husband as gay as he begins his new life, her church rejects her. If she denounces her husband, she is accepted with open arms.

On this blog we have looked at some of the lives of straight spouses, particularly wives. (See Gay Husbands and Sweet Potato Fries) In the pursuit of the American dream and of reaching for the heterosexual standard in many of our churches, gay men and lesbian woman have pursued a cure to their same-sex attractions and then marriage. Too often these marriages end in disaster. Barbara and Lester's ended too, but their love for each other remains, and although it must be harder than I can imagine, they move on to support and affirm each other.
(click on images for larger views)
We will hear from more survivors next week in Memphis when Ex-Gay Survivors will visit Love in Action to tell their stories and give framed collages to John Smid, the head of that program.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

More Ex-Gay Survivors Step Up & the Press Notices

I wrote earlier about Claire Willett of Portland, OR and Daniel Stotenberg of Seattle, who attended the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference and shared some of their experiences on video. Lots of survivors are also blogging about their experiences.

On Tuesday two other survivors came forward to tell their story in a very public way. Their stories reveal the diversity of ex-gay experiences. Most people believe that the average ex-gay is a struggling gay or lesbian who attends an Exodus program. Although Exodus boasts it is the nation's largest ex-gay ministry, I believe most people seek to change and suppress their sexuality outside of Exodus on their own, through their faith communities and in non-Exodus programs.

Barbara and Lester Leavitt were devout Mormons who sought to build a strong family. One major hurdle they had to overcome was Lester's attractions for other men. Through teachings from the Church of Latter Day Saints and direct help from the Evergreen ex-gay program, the Leavitts tried to do the impossible.

On Tuesday Barbara and Lester traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah to share their stories in front of Evergreen. It is part of Soulforce's Ex-Gay Survivor Initiative (Christine, Daniel and I went to New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO on Sunday)

Fox News 13 covered the press conference in Salt Lake, where Barbara and Lester say that not only did the ex-gay conversion therapy not work, in their case, it did more harm than good.

See Fox News 13 report here. To hear more of Lester and Barbara's story, see the video they posted a few months ago,

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Share Your Experience and Reflections

We have been getting some great e-mails from people who attended the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference. Also, lots of folks have been blogging about their experiences.

Check out the Conference Reflections page here. Also, if you blogged about your experience and reflections on the conference, let us know. If you don't blog (wait, there are people who don't blog???), send an e-mail to bxg @


Video From New Life Church

I shared the other day how Christine Bakke, Daniel Gonzales and I went to New Life Church in Colorado Springs to share some of our stories as ex-gay survivors. You can read about the event here and see our collages designed by Christine. Below is some video where we tell some of our stories and why we went to New Life.

Part One

Part Two

Why Go to New Life Church?

Earlier today I called and left a message for the pastor who asked me to contact him. I look forward to chatting with him.

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The Power (& Threat?) of Ex-Gay Survivor Narratives

Ex-Gay Watch reports about a letter PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays) posted on their MySpace account. The letter lashes out at Ex-Gay Survivors with a threatened and aggrieved tone.
While you all claim in websites, protests, in organizations, or coalitions, to want to help people who are "trapped in the ex-gay movement," you seem to be more concerned with sticking your nose in my business, and telling me the way you think I should live, along with who I am. You don't know me, and you don't know my needs and wants
I'm sorry you supposedly tried to "change" and didn't, but I did, so please respect that. The only thing that your organizations tell me is that because of some bad experiences you all had in the past, you've decided to carry your bitterness over to people like me, and try to rub it in my face, along with everyone else who desires change.
You get the point. Reading this defensive response, I hear someone who genuinely feels threatened by our message. From the day we launched bXg in April of this year we stated on our home page,
Certain people who currently identify as ex-gay say they are content as such. We don’t seek to invalidate their experience. For us such a lifestyle was not possible or healthy.
Both Steve Boese and I posted comments to the letter the PFOX MySpace Page (comments that still await approval), but you can read Steve's response on his blog and my response that I also posted on Ex-Gay Watch.

These ex-gay survivor stories strike a cord. While at Love in Action, whenever one of us would get defensive about some feedback we got from staff or other participants, the staff encouraged us to look into that defensiveness to see if there was anything in it. Perhaps we felt defensive because we heard a truth that we were yet not able/willing to grasp.

Claire Willett of Portland, OR and Daniel Stotenberg of Seattle, WA both attended the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference and sat down with filmmaker, Brian Murphy, to tell some of their stories. We have all sorts of ex-gay experiences, some through programs and some on our own. What I find notable is how these stories are said without bitterness or anger.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Doin' Time at New Life Church

This morning I joined ex-gay survivors Christine Bakke and Daniel Gonzales at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO. This is Pastor Ted Haggard's former church. Late last year he admitted to drug usage and sexual relations with another man. After 3 weeks of counseling, he was proclaimed 100 percent heterosexual. This highlighted the existence of ex-gay conversion therapy and also spread lots of misinformation.

We know that New Life Church has been through a lot and that they warmly received Mike Jones,(the man Ted Haggard had been with) some months ago, so we didn't wish to protest them. We also were sensitive that this was during their time of worship, so we assembled in between their services.

We stood at a distance on the sidewalk and read our statements. A TV news crew arrived. The three of us then walked to the World Prayer Center to hand over the framed collages about our ex-gay journeys (Christine designed these).

We out ran the TV crew because we didn't want to make a scene as we sought out a reception area or office inside.

A minister approached us, and the encounter could have ended there with him taking the collages, but he insisted we speak with someone else. By the time we exited the building, security, uniformed police, the dozen supporters who were with us by the road and other church staff and members gathered.

It was then I realized that although we wanted to just read our statements at a distance then slip in and slip out, that a better plan emerged, one that engaged a larger part of New Life Church than we expected.

We talked to an associate pastor who said he would rather we come back another day during the week when it is quiet. He softened though when I explained that we are aware that his church cares more about people than politics. He took the collages with evident care and asked me to call later in the week. They then invited us to worship with them and some of our group did.

Video will be posted soon at bXg & Soulforce. Click on the collage pictures to view larger images.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Former Exodus Missonary to Spain Shares His Story

A few weeks ago I posted video of Jose Luis Maccarone who served as a missionary to Spain in an attempt to start up an ex-gay ministry. After trying for years to be an ex-gay, living in celibacy and even giving up his career as an attorney in Argentina, he came to the conclusion that change is not possible nor is it necessary.

He speaks about what it was like to be a leader for Exodus International (note: Alan Chambers wants to make it clear that although it didn't exist as such at the time, that Jose went to Spain with Exodus Global Alliance).

Today he has a new message

I just uploaded video of Jose sharing his story in Spanish which I have also posted at Dos Equis.

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Neighbors? Alan Reacts to Ex-Gay Survivors

Over at her blog Christine responds to snarky comments Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, left over at Shawn O'Donnell's blog. Shawn wrote about the moving experience he had at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference,
The most emotional part of the weekend was a chalk talk we did... where people shared their emotions about their ex-gay experiences on this huge sheet of paper. The entire ceremony was done in silence. It gave me the chills. I don't believe there was a dry eye. I felt like I was at the Veteran Memorial or the Holocaust museum.
To which Alan lashes out,
Harm? Come on, Shawn. No one is being harmed by Exodus offering people a choice. You KNOW better.
Christine digs into this choice that Alan offers,
Now, about the "choice" issue. What choice are they offering?

Is it the choice between being kicked out of your church, or being loved as "the struggler?"

Is it the choice between a relationships with parents who believe we can and should pursue change because others claim to have done it, or living a life being true to yourself but without a good relationship with family?

Is it the choice between which state to live in because Exodus has politically backed anti-marriage equality amendments that could negatively affect your children or yourself?

Is it the choice that many women have to make whether they will stay in a marriage with a man who is not able to love them well, or whether they will leave and break up a family?

Is it the choice of having to believe that you are broken and inferior, or the choice of finding your own wholeness in a world that is all too ready to believe what they are told about gay people?
I can understand Alan being defensive when people who have intimately known the work of Exodus stand up and tell a different story than the party line. No one wants to hear that the work they do actually causes more harm than good. Although medical associations have warned of the risks of reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry in the past, we are seeing something different with folks like Shawn O'Donnell and the many others who are coming forward.

When survivors step up and tell their own stories, stories that challenge the misconceptions long held by Exodus leaders and the conservative Evangelical church, can cause people to scramble to silence these voices. It can also cause some people to humble themselves to listen to see if there is a truth they need to hear.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

More Thoughts on Survivor Conference

I loved seeing fellow bloggers at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference including Eugene who posted about the surprise of seeing folks he knew from his days at a Christian college. This got Eugene thinking about how the church treats its non-straight members. As always with Eugene deep insights abound,
Side A, B, X or otherwise, the day is coming when the evangelical church will have to face the fact that there are more of us than it ever imagined; that we are their children, siblings, friends, colleagues and ministry partners; and that any constructive solution to that "problem" will necessarily involve acknowledging that we're always going to be here, that we're not evil and out to destroy the church, and that we can no more go away by morphing into heterosexuals than we can by vanishing into nonexistence.

The church can continue to issue ultimatums and show the door to many of its most talented and enthusiastic members, but by doing so it reveals a heart that's selective in its compassion and conditional in its love. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" might become more than empty, self-deceptive rhetoric if more than a small handful of Christians ever came to understand what it truly means. As long as the church continues to place a higher value on on doctrine and ideology than on people, however, that's not likely to happen.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

More Video from the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference

Christine Bakke posted a blog entry today about some of the events that took place on Sunday during the optional activities for the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference. The big question we had was, What do we do with the Chalk Talk??? We created such a powerful group statement that we couldn't just throw away. Having documented it through the pictures and videos we took, Christine and Pat Walsh and others came up with a beautiful idea of what to do with it. See for yourself.

Daniel Gonzales took loads of video during the conference and asked people to talk about change. Did they feel they did change while they were ex-gay? What was that like? He has these posted over at Box Turtle Bulletin. Here is video of my friend Scott who also attended Love in Action.
And here is video of Ron, who used to be a Love in Action house leader. You can see more here.
And earlier in the week Daniel asked a few of us the same question.

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The Ex-Gay Survivor Movement--What's It All About?

On the blogs and in the media folks are still wrapping their heads around the many ex-gay and ex-ex-gay events that took place last week. Many of these events were organized by Beyond Ex-Gay (bXg) and Soulforce, the most notable being the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference, the public apology by three former Exodus leaders and a private dinner attended by three people from Exodus and four ex-gay survivors.

Those of us involved in planning the events of last week are still catching our breath from it all. After nearly a year of planning, it felt stunning to see our dreams and thoughts come to life. Christine and I (with tons of help from our friend Steve Boese) launched bXg in April. Shortly after that we announced the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference that we co-hosted with Soulforce and the LGBT Resource Center at UC Irvine.

Anyone who has spent any time looking at the bXg site can get an idea of what Christine and I are about and what some of our goals are. There we post narratives of fellow ex-gay survivors, and resources such as poetry, art work and articles.

We don't seek to bash people who identify as ex-gay or invalidate their experiences. Instead we wish to create a space to tell our own. The primary reason being for our own well being and recovery. Too often we shoved our ex-gay experiences in the closet believing that people in the LGBT community may just mock us for spending so much time, money and energy seeking to alter our sexuality. Some can be insensitive to personal and spiritual struggles that filled so much of our lives.

In looking at the events of the past week and the exposure they generated, some people have asked what we hope to achieve. They suspiciously wonderr if we wish to see groups like Exodus diminished, dismantled, and destroyed. In a politically charged debate I can see how they can raise these questions.

This weekend we saw the birth of the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement. It is a movement without a manifesto or agreed upon goals. Instead we have created a venue for people, who desperately sought to change and suppress their sexuality, an opportunity to unpack their experiences and to ask the essential questions--
Why did I pursue change? What was I looking for? What did I do to myself and let others do to me? What good came of the experiences I had? What harm came of it? How can I recover from these experiences and move on?
These are hard questions to face both by survivors and by those who advocate reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry. For 4 1/2 years I have asked myself these questions and wrestled with them on this blog and through my performance work. Looking at these questions initiates a grieving process for many of us. But in looking at these questions we get past the rhetoric to the heart of the matter--not Is change and suppression of same-sex attraction possible?--but Why is it so highly desired and what are the costs in pursuing it?

It also raises the question about the responsibility of those who advocate gay reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry. What happens once people leave your care? Do you know? Do you care?

Some want to know what the purpose is of setting up meetings between ex-gay survivors and proponents of ex-gay ministry and reparative therapy. For me the primary goal is truth sharing. Where it goes from there depends on the people at the table. For it to be true dialog we need to be open to listen.

In the ex-gay discourse there has been an imbalance in the information sharing. Those of us who attended ex-gay ministries and received reparative therapy know intimately what these leaders have to say. In some cases we sat for years under their teaching carefully paying attention, writing notes, reading the books assigned, attending the lectures, listening to the tapes. We know that side of the story. We know firsthand that many of the people who advocate ex-gay ministries and reparative therapies do so out of a sincere desire to help people.

The imbalance comes in that many of these ex-gay ministers and reparative therapists do not know the other side of the story. Most (in fact I know of none) have any organized aftercare program or follow-up. They don't even send out a survey asking, "How was your ex-gay experience? What can we do differently to make it more beneficial to you?" There are stories and truths that they do not know, and part of the work is to create venues where we can share these narratives with ex-gay ministers and reparative therapists.

bXg provides such a venue for those willing to come and spend some time at the site. The dinner provided another such venue. The press conference outside of NARTH's offices where three survivors shared their stories and presented beautifully designed and framed collages offers yet another venue. Through documentary films, radio and TV interviews, letters, blogs and personal conversations, we seek to tell the other side of the story. (Daniel Gonzales just posted some more video over at Box Turtle Bulletin)

Do the ex-gay survivors want to see the end of all ex-gay ministries? You will have to ask each one of us individually. We have different opinions about this. We do not need to have a unified message because we understand these issues are complex. The process of institutional change is an organic process, a dynamic process and one that depends on who is willing to come to the table and what attitudes, assumptions, fears and hopes they bring with them.

The Ex-Gay Survivor Movement--What's It All About? It is about speaking the truth in love. It is about seeking to tell our stories as honestly and vulnerably as possible. It is about telling our stories for our own well being. It is about telling our stories as a witness to the harm we see from a church and a world that insists that to be anything but straight is not good enough and what happens to the people who passionately follow that line of reasoning.

This movement is a radical departure from what some people expect. Even some gay activists are caught off guard by it and do not understand why many of us don't feel bitter and angry. Some conservative Christian groups, who do not know firsthand about the ex-gay struggle yet they insist it is the only route for same-sex attracted people, seem to feel threatened by the gathering of a handful of people who are willing to care for each other, listen deeply to each other and publicly tell our stories.

There is a mysterious power in telling our stories, and one thing is for sure, the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement is about standing up and telling our stories. I hope that the Church, ex-gay ministers and reparative therapists have ears to hear, and that they don't haggle over words and ultimately miss the point.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Chalk Talk

Many people have written to me about how meaningful the Chalk Talk experience was for them this weekend at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference. The folks at Soulforce displayed some photos on their site that I have posted here as well.

The Chalk Talk provides participants an opportunity to engage in a group discourse through writing and drawing. The facilitator (Jallen Rix and me in this case) provides a large blank writing space (white board or sheets of paper), plenty of markers and enough room for people to move around so they can write and see. The activity is conducted in silence.

The idea comes directly from my work as a CFG Coach and my training with the National School Reform Faculty. CFG coaches provide ways for teachers to improve their teaching practice through peer professional development facilitated through the use of various protocols. The Chalk Talk is one such protocol. They have many others--may favorites being the text-based protocols and the Future Protocol.

As a high school teacher at the Watkinson School in Hartford, CT, together with my fellow teachers, we adjusted the protocols for use in the classroom. And since then I have tried them out in other venues. I love the protocols because they embody much of what I value in Quaker practice.

As we gathered in front of that large sheet of paper with the two trails of paper on the ground, we settled into what felt to be a hushed sacred silence. So much pain, so many memories stirred up and appeared on the page. Bit by bit we built this wall, which some said felt like a memorial. Our prompt--Ex-Gay Experiences--The Good/Harm drew out responses including drawings. Many people claimed the good they received from their ex-gay experiences as well as listing the deep deep harm they experienced.

We then debriefed the experienced and began the process of storytelling, of mourning and of healing.

This week I am in River Falls, WI (near Minneapolis, MN) for the Friends General Conference (Quaker) for our annual gathering. All this week I lead a three-hour a day workshop for 21 high school students. The workshop is entitled Looking In--Looking Out, a forum where we explore our own lives and the world around us. We do art, worship, play games, discuss, study the Bible, do drama and of course have snacks.

Today we focused on our faith journeys and did most of our sharing through a Chalk Talk (on a proper chalk board for a nice change). When with Friends I refer to the Chalk Talk as Meeting for Worship with Attention to Graffiti. Our prompts God/Belief/Me. The spirituality of high school students consistently floors and humbles me. Today they wrote so many profound and witty and insightful and heartfelt comments.

One of the young Friends put up a phrase that provoked much discussion:
God is an ugly creature
to test our faith
Some people objected and felt put off by it. Others said they could relate to the sentiment particularly if you have a God who is always testing you and putting you through hard times to prove a point.

The author of the statement finally shared her intent. She said that so many people call themselves Christians. Some are kind people, but some are mean and talk about a mean God. They say all sorts of horrible things about God as they share their faith. She said she sees God as this battered creature who shows up at our door for us to take in and nurse back to health.

This concept moves me deeply, that we can be called to shelter and nurture a battered God, to make room within and a nest of sorts for this God beaten by believers.

So often young people and people in churches and ex-gay programs rarely get to share their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs. It so often is a sit down, shut up and listen sort of affair. What I love about the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference (and I desire to do in my workshop this week) is that we sought to create a space for people to speak out and be heard.

This threatens some people who have more to gain from our silence. It is frightening for us who engage in the process because so many thoughts emerge, some which seem to be in conflict. But in this deep communal sharing, we come to a broader truth and understanding. We break away from the polarized debates to the heart of the matter. We get to the people and we get to the things that matter most to God--love, mercy, justice and relationship.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ex-Gay Survivor Initiative

Yesterday Soulforce organized a press conference outside the headquarters of the National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH). Three ex-gay survivors, one of them a patient of NARTH's Joseph Nicolosi, each read a statement and presented a collage that shares their ex-gay experiences and in particular the emotional, psychological and spiritual damage of reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry.

Daniel Gonzales, Darlene Bogle and Shawn O'Donnell stepped up to tell their stories. Daniel over posted about it at Box Turtle Bulletin and also has video of each of the statements delivered.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

The Cost of Misery

Love in Action quietly closed the Refuge program. This was a nearly two-month long intensive ex-gay program for young people under the age of 18. Many of these young people attended against their will, forced by their parents who wanted to straighten out their kids.

This program is closed. But Love in Action is still in business.

In early May I wrote about my parents and the painful experiences they had when they attended Love in Action's Family and Friends weekend. In the post, What About the Parents? I also mentioned how Love in Action recently announced the launch of a new program--The Family Freedom Intensive.
This four day seminar targets parents of lesbian, gay and questioning youth. The Family Freedom Intensive is a concentrated four-day course designed for parents with teens struggling with same-sex attraction, pornography, and/or promiscuity. Lecture, workshops, and break-out discussion groups give parents the information and tools to defend righteousness in their homes while interacting with their family in healthy respect.
Four days to deconstruct the family, to look at "root" causes, to unearth family dysfunction, to assert the father's authority over wife and children in the family and to infect the parents with blame and shame. At least that is what my parents got when they went to Love in Action. Of the experience my father recently told me,
They made me feel that I failed you. That's how I felt after they got through with me. That's how they made all the parents feel.
I recently spoke by phone with recent participant of Love in Action about his family's experience. He couldn't speak about the experience without breaking down. He expressed heartache and anger. The relationship he had with his family fell apart as a direct result of the intervention they endured by Love in Action's untrained staff. He sees no easy way to repair it.

I try hard to see the humanity and good intentions of ex-gay leaders like John Smid, whose programs have caused most of us more harm than good. I try to tell myself and others that they mean well, thathey really believe they have something good to offer and that they are doing it out of their sense of calling to God and others.

But with the Family Freedom Intensive, I find it much harder to extend this same consideration. Sure, unlike Refuge it is for parents who elect to be there and apparently youth can only attend the four days if they are willing to do so, but what are the costs?

Well, we spent time this past weekend looking at the emotionally, psychological and spiritual damage many of us experienced after we submitted ourselves to the care of ex-gay therapists and ministers. We know firsthand how our relationships have been impacted even today. And yes, we know of the financial costs.

I spent over $30,000 pursuing ways to change or suppress (or at least manage) my same-sex attractions. Much of that was spent at Love in Action, which at that time cost $950 each month. Altogether I attended for a little over two years. Before LIA, there was the specialized counseling in Colorado Springs that my then wife and I paid several thousand dollars to receive. Then there were the books, the conferences, the seminars, and the tapes I paid for. This stuff is expensive.

In keeping with that tradition, Love in Action charges for their Freedom Family Intensive. I was FLOORED when I saw the cost of the four(4) day seminar. Four days--take a guess at how much that would cost? $400? Gosh that would be $100 per day. Nope, it costs more than that. $1000? Nope. Guess again.

According to Love in Action's web site (check while you can, they have had a habit of rewriting their site once folks blog about it), the cost of these four days under the supervision, care and ministry of the untrained Love in Action staff costs $2000 for parents. Should you bring your queer child along it costs $3000!

Good news! If you can't afford the fee, (and who can???), you can encourage your family and friends to give tax-deductible donation. Love in Action is a ministry after all.

I feel thrilled that John Smid chose to finally close the Refuge program. I am not sure all of his reasons, and he will most likely release something about this some time. Perhaps he realized that having youth and adults in session caused them more harm than good, that forcing young people to attend and sit in sessions without any contact with the outside world actually caused some of them to be despondent and dishonest as they faked it until they were able to make it out of their houses or through college.

John, I ask you to consider the weighty burden you place on parents' backs when you infer that they mess up their children. I know you don't use those words, but for many of these parents, that is what they hear. Just like many of the youth and adults in your program walked away hearing the inferred messages that we are messed up and sinful simply because of the desires they feel and our inability or unwillingness to suppress them.

John, you want to see change in these families. As for my own, my parents were never the same after they passed through your ministry. They felt depressed and guilty. They felt blamed. You wounded them even though you intended to help them and me. No one can afford that sort of misery, particularly at the prices you charge.

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