A Gospel of Death and Destruction–American ant-gay and ex-gay efforts

Last week my partner, Glen Retief, and I flew to Oslo, Norway to present at an international conference that contributed to an on-going discussion about human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in a variety of countries. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry decided three years ago to use its influence with NGOs and through diplomacy to address the plight of LGBTI people abroad. In order to do this effectively and sensitively, they have queried LGBTI groups at home and abroad. The conference (organized by Skeiv Ungdom, Skeiv Seminarrekke, Skeivt Forum and Landsforeningen for lesbiske, homofile, bifile og transpersoner–LLH) brought together Ugandan, South African, Palestinian, Indian and other activists who each presented about their countries and cultures. Lots of leaders representing NGOs were present as was the South African ambassador to Norway and one of her staff members.  From the LLH site:

During this conference you will hear a number of people with extensive experience in the fight against the stigma and the violations of human rights for sexual and gender minorities. They have stories to tell from different nations, from different cultures and from different religions. Nevertheless, all their stories are about the fight against narrow conceptions of gender.

The reason we want to present a range of stories of LGBT activist from different cultures, different parts of the world and different religions is because the so called “gay issue” too often is used and abused to promote nationalist, racist or other anti civil rights agendas. We do not want to be used in that way!

Ruth Vanita

One thing that came through loud and clear during the conference was the fact that homosexuality is NOT an European export that came with colonialism. Presenter after presenter offered evidence of same-sex love and gender variance affirmed in their lands throughout the ages as evidenced in archeology, literature and religious texts. Ruth Vanita spoke about Same-Sex Love in India (check out her anthology that includes excerpts from over 60 texts spanning more than two thousand years.) Dr. Vanita quoted the following Urdu-language poem:

There’s no love lost between women and men these days–
New ways of being intimate are seen all around.
Everyone knows about women who love women–
At night these words are always to be heard:
The way you rub me ah! it drives my heart wild–
Stroke me a little more, my sweet Dogana.

I’d sacrifice all men for your sake, my life
I’d sacrifice a hundred lives for your embraces
How delightful it is when two vulvas meet-
This is the tale they tell each other all the time:
The way you rub me ah! it drives my heart wild–
Stroke me a little more, my sweet Dogana.

(from Jur’at’s Chaptinamas)

Signe Arnfred, author of the book Re-thinking Sexualities in Africa, outlined the history of missionary activity and colonization of the African continent and with it the exportation of homophobia and patriarchy. She also talked about several traditions lost after the “penetration of the virgin land” (as romanticized in the Victorian novel King Solomon’s Mines) and the insertion of European values and oppressions regarding same-sex love and gender variance. In regards to contemporary LGBTI issues, Haneen Maikey, a Palestinian citizen of Isreal and the director of Al-Qaws (the rainbow in Arabic) for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society spoke about negative effects of modern gay imperialism in the Palestinian human rights struggle. Along similar lines Jin Haritaworn outlined how we can begin to forge an anti-violence movement that does not combat some forms of violence by bolstering others, for example using a hate crime by non-whites or non-Christians in a neighborhood to deepen hostility and violence towards non-whites and non-Christians.

Victor Mukasa

Later in the afternoon Victor Mukasa, an LGBTI human rights activist from Uganda now living in exile in South Africa outlined the devastating effects of three American Evangelicals speaking against LGBTI rights in Uganda last spring and in spreading lies about people who are not heterosexual or gender-normative, they worsened the plight of an already oppressed group of people. As a direct result of an anti-gay conference where the three Evangelical presented, some lawmakers introduced a bill calling for the death penalty for gays in that country. Some of the best coverage of the Uganda crisis has come from Jim Burroway over Box Turtle Bulletin. More than once activists stressed the importance of alternative media like blogs and podcasts for getting an unfiltered message out to the mainstream.

Victor outlined how things were bad for LGBTI people before the interference of the three American Evangelicals, and how afterward the situation worsened and became horrendous. The Evangelicals stirred up lies, fears and hatred as they used pseudo-science and the Bible to reinforce their authority as experts. They came to colonize–to impose US-sourced ex-gay theories and treatments in Uganda.

Joe "not-so" Cool

Earlier in the day during my presentation I compared the US-based Ex-Gay Movement to the American tobacco industry. For years few questioned the tobacco industry, thinking cigarette smoking benign, but evidence emerged that proved the dangerous effects of tobacco on smokers and those near smokers in the form of second-hand smoke. Yet the tobacco industry ramped up its efforts even marketing its fatal product to young people. (Remember hyper masculine Camel’s Joe Cool cartoon from the late 1990’s easily recognizable to children as young as five and six.)

Because of effective anti-smoking ads and the growing awareness of the health risks associated with smoking, sales dropped dramatically in the US. More and more states in the US have banned smoking in public places in order to protect public health and safety. In response the US-based tobacco industry set its sites abroad to “developing” countries, pushing their deadly product in countries with less regulations, hooking a new generation in new lands.

Similarly the US-based Ex-Gay Movement had its heyday in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Like the tobacco industry the anti-gay/ex-gay leaders aggressively targeted queer and questioning youth through Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out conferences and Exodus International’s Refuge Program operated by John Smid at Love in Action (who recently issues an apology of sorts over mistreatment of young people.) Because of sustained critique by activists, the media, medical associations and concerned citizens, most people today understand that treatments to “cure” gays are not only silly and ineffectual, but often can prove destructive. The last nail in the US-based ex-gay coffin came in the form of the APA’s task force findings released this past summer making it clear that changing one’s orientation is not a realistic goal and may very well cause harm.

Like the tobacco industry in the US, the promoters and providers of ex-gay theories and treatments have set their sits abroad initiating and increasing efforts in Latin America, Eastern Europe, parts of Africa (especially Uganda, Kenya and South Africa,) and South East Asia. Even the British have been surprised to see inroads of American ex-gay practice in England and Northern Ireland.

In his speech Victor expounded on the dreadful reality of these US-based efforts to undermine the health and well-being, as well at the legal security of LGBTI in Uganda and elsewhere. Those of us ex-gay survivors who had endured these treatment, know about the dangers that can come from these efforts to annihilate same-sex desire and gender variance. Victor justly named these aggressive anti-LGBTI campaign as a gospel of death and destruction.

This post has 2 Comments

  1. cary on March 15, 2010 at 11:31 am

    hey my dear,

    looks like a fascinating conference.

    something that’s been troubling me is that while various organisations have conceded that being gay is not something that can be cured, on the homefront (ie north america/europe) they have shifted their mission to be one of leading gay people into faithful discipleship (read: celibacy) through their loving friendship and gospel witness.
    based on adopting the language of those who oppose ex-gay ‘treatment’ (and also psychology) there seems to be a growing strategy to prevent gay disciples having relationships and control their same sex attraction. i’ve come across organisations, churches and pastors online increasingly likening gay people to those struggling with alcoholism. the increasing trope being used is that it’s possible to be gay and Christian but one must be discipled to never be in relationship with someone of the same sex. it will be a lifelong struggle. it’s all, “love the sinner, hate the sin”. same sex attraction and lifestyle and sin and struggle all get confused and equated as meaning the same thing.

    i think the thing that upsets me almost as much as happily coupled straight people denying the legitimacy of their gay ‘friends’ being in loving relationship like they can, is the argument that LGBT people need love because it’s so hard to be gay in a homophobic society. as if their theology and literal biblical reading wasn’t one of the very things that continue to help homophobia persist.

    i raise this because i don’t think the end of ex-gay treatment
    programmes/ministries is the end of the story in North America. it may appear more benign but there’s still a strong agenda that’s attempting to prevent people being in relationship. my fear is not only for individuals being ministered in this way but on a wider level that it’s far harder to see through the language being used. these groups have gotten very good at concealing beliefs that others will find problematic. i agree with you on the nail in the coffin analysis and on the overseas agenda, but i think it’d be unwise to ignore that there’s now a different set of tactics being used on home territory.

    alright, getting off the soap box.

    thanks for sharing this post. it’s very encouraging to see this kind of international event.


  2. p2son on March 16, 2010 at 7:46 am

    Hey there Cary, great to hear from you. Thank you for weighing in. I too have noted this shift. The Catholics for a long time have officially stated that it is okay to be gay, just don’t “act” gay, meaning don’t be romantically and sexually connected to another person who happens to be the same gender. I once took on a British monseigneur during a live program on Premier Christian radio. I told him that his solution was to turn gays into emotional eunuchs. I said it is not just about sex. It is about companionship and intimacy. Cutting off people’s intimacy has not worked very well for the priesthood. It is cruel and unworkable.

    Seems the Protestants are moving away from actual change from being gay to a more honest message that states, Okay, change isn’t possible, but just behave. About this sort of hypocrisy Jesus said something like,

    You put burdens on men’s backs that you are not willing to bear yourselves and make them twice the sons of hell than you are.


Leave a Comment