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JUNE 24, 2005
Lock up the 'ex-gays'
Reparative rhetoric is dangerous and flawed
and repudiated by mental health organizations,
but that's not stopping the 'ex-gay' crusade.
By KEVIN NAFF
AY ADULTS LEARN
from an early age to develop a thick skin. From playground taunts to inappropriate jokes in the boardroom, many of us have
endured the hurtful anti-
gay prejudice of our peers for a long
time and, as a result, acquired the
armor and perspective necessary to protect ourselves.
I can endure hours of evangelical
Christian diatribes about the evils of the
"gay agenda." Or quietly suffer the barbs
of pandering politicians looking to win
elections on our backs. Or turn the other
cheek when a gaggle of ministers calls a
news conference to announce their support for a ban on gay marriage.
Even the Washington Times' practice
of putting the words gay marriage in
quotation marks has ceased to send my
blood pressure soaring.
There remains just one assault on the
dignity of gay men and lesbians that still
drives me into fits of rage: the "ex-gay"
movement. The quotation marks are
deliberate — and appropriate, because
there is no such thing as "ex-gay." There
teristics-and-deny-their-existence," but no
such condition as "ex-gay."
The "ex-gays" usually make headlines
only when their leaders are caught
emerging from a gay bar at 2 a.m. But
they are everywhere these days.
LAST WEEK, THE TALE OF ZACH,
a 16-year-old gay Tennessee high school
student who was sent to a reparative
therapy camp by his impossibly naive
parents, made its way into the blogos-
phere. Zach's story serves as a
reminder that the zany, funny film "But
I'm a Cheerleader" was not entirely a
work of fiction.
Last month, the "ex-gay" crowd
made headlines in Maryland, where
they joined a lawsuit to block implementation of an updated sex education
curriculum that included discussion of
homosexuality and a condom demonstration. The "ex-gays" are actually
demanding that their views be included in health classes, which are ordinarily based on that quaint concept
known as science.
The "ex-gays" also caused a stir in
Florida this month, after commissioning
billboards in Orlando that read, "Gay?
Unhappy?" and included a Web site
address, www.exodus.to. The site for
Exodus International offers various services to those seeking escape from the
"homosexual lifestyle" and testimonials
from self-described "ex-gays."
In his testimonial, someone identified
as Alan Chambers writes, "Disillusioned
and desperate, I remember going into my
parent's room nightly to see if they had
been raptured, taken to heaven, without
me." He recounts his addiction to anonymous gay sex and how he turned to the
Bible to be saved.
The Exodus site even offers a prayer
nequest page, complete with a drop-down
box of prayer options: "for me to overcome homosexuality," "for my child," "for
my spouse," "for a family member."
The "ex-gays" got some ink in last
Sunday's New York Times Magazine. The
cover story, about a group of Christian
activists in Maryland desperate to protect
the sacred institution of marriage from
gays, references the "ex-gay" movement
as the antidote to gay marriage.
And the "ex-gay" debate comes to the
Seattle area this weekend, with two competing conferences- The first conference,
sponsored by Focus on the Family, is
titled "Love Won Out," and bills itself as
"promoting the truth that homosexuality
is preventable and treatable."
The second conference, "Love
Welcomes All," is intended to counter the
"ex-gay" confab and is sponsored by
PFLAG and other pro-gay groups.
AT A TIME WHEN CONSERVATIVE
Christians are resurrecting the debate
over evolution, pesky details like science
matter little to the "ex-gays."
Every reputable medical institution,
including the American Psychiatric
Association, the American Psychological
Association and the American Medical
Association, has repudiated reparative
therapies as dangerous. As the Times
story points out. the American
Psychiatric Association actually
endorsed gay marriage in the interest of
promoting mental health.
In light of all the evidence that these
reparative techniques are ineffective and,
in fact, dangerous to the mental health of
young gays, it's time for these camps to
be shut down.
An enterprising gay lawyer ought to
step forward and. as at least one blogger
following Zach's story put it, find grounds
to sue these bastards out of existence.
In an ironic twist, the ex-gay ministry
at the center of Zach's story is now asking for "tolerance." The request from
Love in Action, which sponsors the camp
called Refuge, came during a June 16
"This program is operated on the will
of the guardian or parent. We will work
with the minor children as long as they
are not overtly distracting to their own
program or the program of others," said
John Smid, the "ex-gay" executive director of Love in Action. "If it is shown that
the client is overtly treatment resistant,
we will work with the parent towards
alternative options for their care and
overall relational health."
What "alternative options" does Smid
have in mind? Electro-shock therapy?
THE DAMAGE CAUSED TO YOUNG GAYS
by the views of "ex-gays" should not be
underestimated. The two greatest
weapons that opponents of gay rights
wield against us are charges that gay
men are pedophiles and that homosexuality is a choice. Overcoming those two
obstacles would mean instant victory for
And the "ex-gays" are doing their best
to reinforce the refuted canard that being
gay is a choice; that I could just as easily
choose a different pair of shoes as I could
choose a different sexual orientation.
Right-handed people can't choose to be
lefties, those with brown skin can't
choose white and gays can't choose to be
straight. Yes, it really is that simple.
Someday, science will discover the biological or genetic root of homosexuality
and finally put to rest the absurd notion
that sexual orientation is a choice. Until
then, we must counter the damaging rhetoric of the "ex-gays" and ensure that
young gays like Zach understand that
they are perfectly normal as they are.
It's the "ex-gays" that belong in a
Kevin Naff is managing
editor of the Washington
Blade, a publication affiliated
wrth this one and can be re;
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