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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At 6:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

you haven't changed much since that 7 year old porch picture.

tons of great posts on here. don't you wonder how much the ex-gay program people pour over every word that is said on here? I bet they track you like the fbi.

just in case. hey ex-gay leaders. we all love Peterson and love when we see him kick your asses.

At 7:53 PM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

aw, tonya, thanks! I LOVE your new blog and that red check polyester number is slamming!

At 8:10 PM , Blogger Christine Bakke said...

"Love in Action received no formal notice of Mr. Toscano's arrival..."

And apparently, neither did you.

At 8:23 PM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

Christine, If I weren't so busy trying to get media attention, I would have been there.

But really, from this statement, I don't think the staff at LIA understand what we are doing and why. This isn't about media attention, particularly not personal media attention, it is about getting a story out that has rarely been heard. Survivors banding together telling our stories for the first time.

LIA has had protesters in front of their facility before, but I have never seen this sort of snarky response before. A real pattern has emerged from proponents of ex-gays and snarky is their tone.

But why the defensive tactics? why so offended? why take it so personally and make it so personal?

While I was at Love in Action, the staff and John Smid in particular instructed us that when we receive feedback from anyone and we react defensively or feel annoyed, that it is likely because we have something that we have to consider in the feedback. We were encouraged to ask why we felt so defensive and annoyed.

Seems like the LIA staff need to consider the source of their discomfort.

At 4:51 AM , Blogger Willie Hewes said...

Just to let you know, I'm following all this with great interest. Go Peterson! Making trouble without even being there.

At 4:59 PM , Blogger Alex Resare said...

Of course you only do the survivor-thing just for personal attention. If else you might have some substance and meaning in what you're saying and that would be a bit to hard to handle. If some fact is to life-changing it turns invincible and other theories must fill the gap.

Survival basics in our way too complex world. Happens to all of us all the time. Some more than others.

At 5:52 PM , Blogger Jonathan said...

Gosh, Peterson, you little devil you...don't you know it's terribly bad form to schedule a news conference and not invite yourself!!

I am increasingly intrigued by this strident, "snarky" tone that appears to be coming from these organizations that preach change. Maybe it's just me, but it almost has a scared quality to it. And in fact, I think that there is a little bit of them that is scared that what they've built is nothing more than a deck of cards.

As they are starting to receive a brighter spotlight, all they've worked for, that they've bought into, that they have REALLY believed is starting to be ever so slowly eroded and, as you know if you stand on the beach as the water retreats underneath you, it is a very uncomfortable position to be in.

I rather get the feeling that the lashing out will only get worse!

You remain in my thoughts and prayers!


At 8:51 AM , Blogger cara brock said...

Great story, Peterson

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