Category: ex-gay survivor

America’s Next Top Lesbian

She’s smart, attractive, passionate about making the world a better place AND she is featured in the May issue of Glamour–she is Christine Bakke–America’s Next Top Lesbian.

Christine stepped up to the plate and gave an interview with a writer for Glamour Magazine. It was a little over a year ago when the reporter swept into her life, and what a grueling experience. I mean, to tell your story is hard work and from the little bit I know about the interview process it was deep and intense.

I read the Glamour piece on Christine and I am impressed with the care and thoughtfulness that went into it. Clearly Stephen Fried takes his work seriously.

Christine has already gotten an e-mail response to the article which she writes about on her blog. She also shares her reasons behind doing the interview and putting her story out there with all the doubts and fears it stirs up.

It was a very deliberate decision I made to have my story out there. I knew it
had the potential to be inflammatory, unflattering and/or incorrect. I know
that’s happened to a lot of folks who have talked to media. I was worried about
my family. It was one thing for me to decide I would come out nationally, but my
family didn’t have a choice in the matter. I was surprised they actually agreed
to talk to Glamour. My sister, especially. I’m glad they decided to participate.

Part of my decision to be interviewed and be out very publically was that I was so pleased that a national magazine was taking an interest in a woman’s story. Historically there have not been other women talking about their ex-gay experiences. Jennifer had her story featured in Fish Can’t Fly, but I think that was one of the first lesbian former ex-gay stories I’ve seen. Now I see more women
starting to speak out and I’m thrilled about that. I think our journeys often
are a bit different from the mens’ in ways that have not yet been explored, and
I’m interested in that. I’m looking forward to there being discussion on this in
the future.

And Christine is right, up until now the vast majority of ex-gay survivors coming forward have been us white gay guys, which in many ways reflect the demographics of many of the Evangelical Christian ex-gay programs. Still lesbians who’ve been through the movement do exist. Their stories need to be heard (along with trans folks, people of color, spouses of ex-gays, the parents, children and former/current same-sex partners).

I am thrilled that in bXg we are starting to get a growing selectoin of lesbian survivors on the Narrative page. Well done Christine for coming forward and putting yourself out there.

Also, Shawn O’Donnell did a fine job on CNN’s Anderson Cooper Show tonight. He too was in Fish Can’t Fly and each time he tells his story he gets more and more solid and clear. It is like watching a ghost turn into a human right before your eyes. There is a mysterious power in telling our stories.

Thank you Shawn for pressing on in your journey and in telling your truth.

Beyond Ex-Gay–Web Site & Conference


Okay BIG news. For over a year Christine Bakke and I have been working on a new web site called BeyondExGay.com (or bXg for short.) We then got together with the technical expertise of Steve Boese and BAM! we have bXg! The site will serve as an on-line community and resource specifically geared towards ex-gay survivors.

We recognize that many of those who have had ex-gay experiences could use a place to connect with others with similar experiences, to process their own histories and learn how to get beyond ex-gay.

Then a few months after we began building the site, I started a partnership with SoulForce to talk strategy about a positive response to the ex-gay movement. Through those talks we began to plan a special conference specifically designed for ex-gay survivors. After much talk and planning we are ready to announce that we will have the The Survivor’s Conference–Beyond Ex-Gay in Irvine, CA June 29-July 1, 2007 (which happens to be the same weekend and city for the Exodus ex-gay conference 🙂

The bXg site is up! The registration for the conference is ready!
Below is the full text of the press release announcing the launch of bXg and the conference.

Online registration is now available for The Survivor’s Conference: Beyond Ex-gay, a face-to-face event scheduled for June 29th through July 1st, sponsored by beyondexgay.com and Soulforce.

(Austin, TX)—Survivors of ex-gay programs can take advantage of two new resources this week. Beyondexgay.com, an online community for those who are healing from ex-gay experiences, will go live today. Simultaneously, online registration will begin for The Survivor’s Conference: Beyond Ex-gay, a face-to-face event scheduled for June 29-July 1, and sponsored by beyondexgay.com and Soulforce.

Recent events have brought national attention to the existence of programs intended to modify same-sex desires. While much of that attention has focused on whether sexual orientation is subject to change, beyondexgay.com and The Survivor’s Conference are the first efforts to move beyond that debate in order to focus on the community of “survivors”—people who feel they have experienced more harm than benefits from ex-gay programs.

“We use the term ‘survivor’ because we want to emphasize the very real psychological trauma that these programs can cause, and also because we want to highlight the strength of the men and women who, in spite of enormous pressures, come to accept themselves as they are,” says Jeff Lutes, a practicing psychotherapist and Executive Director of Soulforce.

Peterson ToscanoThe creators of beyondexgay.com, Peterson Toscano and Christine Bakke, talked to hundreds of fellow ex-gay survivors. What they heard, again and again, was that ex-gay experiences brought inner turmoil, confusion and shame.

Many survivors acknowledge that some good came of their ex-gay journey. “We grew to understand our sexuality better and in some cases even overcame life-controlling problems,” says Toscano, but he is quick to point out that the harm most survivors experience far outweighs the help they receive. The consensus of the major medical and mental health organizations is that homosexuality is not a disorder and, therefore, does not need to be cured. The American Psychological Association identifies “depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior” among the possible risks associated with ex-gay therapies.

Toscano spent 17 years and over $30,000 on three continents attempting to change or at least contain his unwanted same-sex attractions. He ultimately endured two years at the Love in Action residential ex-gay program in Memphis, TN.

“In the end I was still very gay, but also depressed, isolated and nearly faithless,” he says.

Toscano, now a Christian Quaker, has since created a one-person comedy about his ex-gay experiences and has presented Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House and his other work throughout North America, Europe, West Africa and the Caribbean. In spring 2005, Bakke contacted Toscano after attending one of his performances.

Photo of Christine Bakke herself spent more than 4 years trying to change her orientation. She moved to Denver in 1998 to become ex-gay and participated in a program affiliated with Exodus International, the largest network of ex-gay ministries. In 2003 she realized that while she had changed in many areas, her sexual orientation remained the same. Bakke’s story will be featured in the May issue of Glamour, which hit newsstands April 10. Toscano will appear as a guest on the Trya Banks Show on April 12.

Bakke and Toscano continued to dialogue, and last spring they decided it was time to reach out to more ex-gay survivors through the Internet. Together with assistance from their friend, Steve Boese, they form the perfect team: Bakke—a graphic designer, Toscano—a writer, and Boese—a web guru and founder of MyOrgHost.

Image of two people having a conversation

Beyondexgay.com currently features diverse narratives from ex-gay survivors. It also provides an array of resources, including original articles and art by survivors, as well as links to other sites. Soon survivors will have the option to join the community and create a profile. Through an on-line form, they will document and share their own ex-gay experiences. Their responses will then be added to a database that will track the variety and scope of ex-gay experiences endured by survivors.

“The ex-gay experience is unique in many ways. No one understands it better than those of us who have been through it. Creating a communal space for ex-gay survivors to tell their stories allows us to share what led us into an ex-gay lifestyle and ways we have been able to recover from it,” says Bakke.

Creating a space for survivors to come together and share their stories was also the impetus behind The Survivor’s Conference: Beyond Ex-Gay. The conference, which will take place June 29th through July 1st at the University of California-Irvine, is co-sponsored by the LGBT Resource Center at UC Irvine.
Photo of Jeff Lutes
“We chose Irvine because the annual Exodus Freedom Conference is coming to Irvine that week,” says Lutes. “For Soulforce, beyondexgay.com, and the LGBT Resource Center at UC Irvine, it is very important to provide a positive response to the Exodus message that gay men and lesbians are sinful and disordered.”

If you want to stand in peaceful solidarity to lovingly confront the damaging consequences of the ex-gay movement – this conference is for you. If you have ever been through an ex-gay experience or been damaged by the message that God does not love and affirm you – this conference is for you. If you are confused about the Bible and homosexuality, currently in an ex-gay program, or thinking about trying to change who you are – this conference is for you.

Schedule of Events

Friday, June 29, 2007, 7pm – 9pm, Crystal Cove Auditorium (free and open to the public): Doing time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House: How I survived the Ex-gay Movement – a performance by Peterson Toscano, www.homonomo.com

Jason and deMarcoSaturday, June 30, 2007, 9am – 5pm. Registration online is highly recommended. Registrations at the door will be accepted as space allows.

7pm – Crystal Cove Auditorium (free and open to the public) Jason & deMarco in Concert! www.jasonanddemarco.com

Sunday, July 1, 2007 – Optional worship at a local welcoming & affirming church.

Tale of Two Zachs


Today’s New York Times features the story of a gay teen, Zach O’Connor who lives in Connecticut. I first heard his story two years ago at the True Colors Conference when he co-led a workshop with his therapist. I saw him at the conference last week, and he is doing really well.

The article brings out how wonderful his parents responded to him when, at age 13, they suspected he might be gay. Initially Zach freaked out about the possibility,

“They asked me, ‘Do you know what being gay is?’ ” he recalls. “They tried to explain there’s nothing wrong with it. I put my hands over my ears. I yelled: ‘I don’t want to hear it! I’m not, I’m not gay!’ ”

But his parents observed that their son was not happy.

Cindy and Dan O’Connor were very worried about Zach. Though bright, he was doing poorly at school. At home, he would pick fights, slam doors, explode for no reason. They wondered how their two children could be so different; Matt, a year and a half younger, was easygoing and happy. Zach was miserable.

The O’Connors had hunches. Mr. O’Connor is a director of business development for American Express, Ms. O’Connor a senior vice president of a bank, and they have had gay colleagues, gay bosses, classmates who came out after college. From the time Zach was little, they knew he was not a run-of-the-mill boy. His friends were girls or timid boys.

He began to open up and, Zach’s parents found him an affirming therapist, took him to the True Colors Conference, then allowed him to blossom and accept himself.

You can hear an audio version of Zach O’Connor telling his own story.

Many of you know of another Zach–Zach Stark. Nearly two years ago, when he was 16, Zach Stark’s parents also felt concerned for their son when they discovered he might be gay. They responded by placing their son into the Love in Action/Refuge (LIA/R) ex-gay day camp. Many of us remember the shocking story and Zach’s cry for help:

On May 29, the teen blogged that his parents sat him down and told him he was going to a “fundamentalist Christian program for gays.”

“They tell me that there is something psychologically wrong with me, and they ‘raised me wrong.’ I’m a big screw up to them, who isn’t on the path God wants me to be on. So I’m sitting here in tears, [joining] the rest of those kids who complain about their parents on blogs — and I can’t help it,” Zach wrote.

“I’ve been through hell. I’ve been emotionally torn apart for three days… I can’t remember which days they were … time’s not what it used to be,” the teen wrote in his last blog entry, posted June 3.

Zach Stark did his time and has been pretty silent since. He turns 18 tomorrow. I don’t know for sure how things are with his parents today, and I can’t pretend to know how difficult it is to raise a teenager. Parents make mistakes and often do the best they know how to do. All the same, I wish the Starks had met the O’Connors before they put their son through hell.

hat tip to Jack Drescher
photo credit: C. M. Glover for The New York Times

(Okay, Zach turning 18 is big news, but it is not the BIG news. That will come tomorrow. And I know I said midnight tonight, but it will have to wait until tomorrow morning, hopefully by noon 🙂

Montel–What Did Not Air

Not sure if you got to watch yesterday’s episode of the Montel Williams Show, Homsexuality–Is There a Cure? , but like most of these shows, they tape more than they use, then things get cut. You can see YouTube video of it here and here. For instance, they did a little video of me that was maybe one minute long for the actual show, but the taping of it two weeks before took over three hours. I would hate to be an editor and have to figure out what to keep and what to cut.

During the show, Montel displayed a strong and clear opposition to gay reparative therapy. This came as no surprise to me since he demonstrated the same during the February 20, 2007 program. That particular show briefly touched on reparative therapy and the ex-gay movement which, according to Montel, moved him to do the show that aired yesterday.

I don’t presume to know what he was thinking or feeling, but at times Montel acted downright angry at what he articulated to be wrong–people feeling compelled (or worse yet forced) to submit to reparative therapy or an ex-gay ministry.

One thing that got cut during Montel’s interview of ex-gay survivor Lance Carroll was Montel’s reaction to Lance’s story of being forced by his parents to attend Love in Action/Refuge. Montel stopped Lance, pointed to the American flag folded up behind them, and said something like, “I fought for this country for the right of all Americans, not just straight Americans.” No doubt Montel is opinionated, but as a quirky queer guy seeing that from backstage, I felt affirmed and, well, American.

Montel lost his patience when talk of the Bible or Christianity came up. I found this to be true during the taping of the previous show I did. During that February 20th show, I stressed to him that I am still a Christian today.

(Note: if you ever are a guest on Montel’s show, you will have to assert yourself and press in to tell your story. Like most talk show hosts, he gets carried away and likes to talk. This was true during the February 20th show that also touched on Hip Hop. Some could say that he was intolerant and overbearing towards rappers who rapped about sex and violence. During yesterday’s show I thought Lance did an excellent job of holding his own, correcting Montel when he did not have the details straight.)

At one point during the taping of the show, Montel had an outburst about the Bible. I am not surprised it got cut. He expressed frustration with something someone said about the Bible and homosexuality. Exasperated Montel blurted out, “The Bible?! if People are so concerned about doing what the Bible says, why is there so much God-d*mn racism!”
An insightful question indeed. Why don’t we hear much about white Evangelicals addressing racism and skin privilege in the US and the world?

Donna and Tom Cole, a married couple and ex-gay ministers, never appeared in the final cut of yesterday’s program. During the taping, after Lance’s interview, the Coles sat on the stage with Montel. First Montel showed a video of the Coles telling the story of their relationships, their gay/lesbian pasts and where they are today. To me the film showed them in a favorable light, as a sweet and sincere couple. They looked great together on screen and seemed genuinely happy.

In fact, as I watched backstage, knowing that I was slated to go on right after them, I wondered how I would respond to their story. My own marriage ended terribly, something that I feel much pain and regret over to this day. I wish I could have achieved what it seems the Coles have accomplished instead of causing my wife, myself and our families so much hurt.

As the video ended, the camera turned to Montel and the Coles to begin the interview portion. Donna leaned in and spoke quietly to Montel. He listened a bit, then said to them aloud, “Let’s go backstage and talk about this.” They exited the set and spoke together backstage.

I happened to be backstage at the time, waiting in a partitioned area next to where they met. As a result, I heard most of the exchange (it is a not a big set; everything looks bigger on TV. I looked big, right?).

Donna expressed that Montel was not giving them a chance to tell their story and that he was heavy-handed against ex-gays. I wondered to myself at the oddness of the conversation as the Coles were just about to tell their story and had every chance to counter Montel’s words. The whole thing confused me, but then it is a scary thing to stand up and share your personal life in front of a bunch of strangers, particularly if you feel like the tide may be against you.

The Coles then left. I did not hear the final part of the exchange, and suspect only Montel and the Coles did, but they did not return to the set, which caused the producers to bring Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International on as the next guest.

As the show progressed, Montel seemed to get more and more frustrated. He kept going back to the wording on the Exodus site. It was only some moments before that Lance had shared his story and we heard about the hypocrisy of the Ted Haggard story. Montel seemed focused, maybe even fixated with the message of the web site, unsatisfied with the answers he received.

With military men in my family, I have seen something similar like this around the dinner table. Be it about politics, family drama or the firmness of the pasta, they can project a rigid sense of right and wrong then get impatient with anything they perceive as waffling or invalidating their conclusions. (My Marine dad expressed these very feelings during and after yesterday’s show).

I understand that there is a huge difference between Exodus and NARTH and JONAH and the International Healing Foundation and People Can Change and LIFE Ministries and the Glory Tabernacle of the Holy Ghost Explosion’s Sword of Truth Ex-Gay Immersion Program (okay I made that one up), but to many of us who desperately sought help from our unwanted same-sex attractions, we would go anywhere and to anyone. Some of us have endured exorcisms, electro-shock therapy, touch therapy, hug therapy, residential care, 12-step programs, family counseling, aversion therapy, Christian counseling and discipleship programs.

As a result, some of us have experienced a great deal of loss and pain at the hands of people who we thought could help us. For many of us, our ex-gay experiences caused more harm than good. When some people hear me share some of my experiences, I have been surprised at the outrage and indignation they express at what they perceive as just plain wrong. I often have to remind angered loved ones, how I believe (hope?) that many of the program leaders and counselors who ministered to me, did so mainly out of love and an earnest intent to help others.

From backstage I witnessed the taping of the the show get nuttier by the minute as people in the audience also got involved, both at Montel’s prompting and on their own. At one point Montel sought for an unbiased audience member to read the text from the Exodus web site with which Montel took issue. He struggled to find someone. The audience consisted of a mixture of people, some from off the streets, ex-gay supporters (from PFOX and JONAH I think), folks from the LGBT community and others who were “gay-friendly”. To me it felt that tensions were high and growing, but of course I was a nervous wreck backstage as I prepared to go on.

That and I felt exhausted. I had been on the red-eye from LA to NY the night before, arrived at 8:00 AM and only had about four hours sleep (my eyes looked puffy, right?) I just turned 42 last month and that sort of travel wears me out! By the time I sat onstage, I struggled to get my story out. I felt rushed and got cut off at the end by some disruptions from the audience.

Yesterday sitting with my Dad, my little sister and her two sons during the airing of the show, I squirmed a bit at how vulnerable I allowed myself to be and how much personal information I shared. I don’t think I shared too much, but for all the performance and speaking I do, I feel private about some matters. I don’t care what side of the issues you fall on, it feels raw to share some of that stuff.

I felt relieved when the show finally ended. It had been a LONG day, a roller coaster. I think afterwards all of us guests trudging backstage looked like we had just run a marathon. So much effort expended on a short TV program that does not and cannot capture the complexity of an issue that has been at the center of some of our lives for decades.