Homo No Mo?!? Taking on Conversion Therapy
10 years ago I was full throttled engaged in getting the world to understand the dangers of conversion therapy and how it harmed LGBTQ people. Back then fellow ex-gay survivor, Christine Bakke, and I quickly understood we needed to talk about this politically charged topic in new ways. Using personal narratives, storytelling, art, and comedy, a group of us were able to interact with audience and the media on a deeper level.
By 2007 I was on national television not only denouncing the Ex-Gay Movement, as it was called, but also attempting to humanize the experience of survivors. Some people struggled to understand why I also sought to humanize the promoters and providers of these failed and dangerous treatments. No doubt having become a Quaker in 2001 also shaped the way I saw these issues and even my opponents. Supporters at the Friends Meeting continuously reminded me to “see that of God” in everyone.
Some gay bloggers wanted me to portray them as evil, hateful homophobes. But it wasn’t that simple. Many of the folks who ran these programs were gay themselves and gender variant, trapped in a system that insisted that they were only valuable if they destroyed the queer part of themselves.
Tyra Banks Made Me Do It
In this clip from the Tyra Banks Show, ex-gay survivor Steven Fales and I share our stories and the trials we faced at the hands of religious and secular leaders who tried to cure us. Sitting in the audience is the head of Love in Action, the notorious residency program I endured for two years. At the end the segment Tyra asks me about what I learned from my experience. This gave me a moment to find common ground with my former oppressor.
Successfully Redirecting the Conversation
A little over a decade ago, a handful of us who survived conversion therapy got our stories out to the public. We used blogs, YouTube, podcast, interviews in print, radio, and TV, and public speaking to communicate a simple message: Conversion Therapy Causes Harm. We added other messages like, the people running these programs usually intended to help us but their efforts caused suffering and pain that has lasted for years.
As a result, we were able to change the public discourse so that people understood that these gay-to-straight conversion treatments and ministry were ineffectual and dangerous. And on this very basis we have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of these programs in North American and there have been laws passed in various US states protecting young people from the same type of treatment we suffered.
The Queer Issue of Climate Change
Today I take on a different issue, equally as contentious as the LGBTQ-affirming versus the conversion therapy world. I am a climate advocate. I seek solutions to our polluted skies and seas. I desire to open up conversations and to break the collective silence around climate-related issues. I plunge into the murky and swirling political waters of climate change policy (and the lack of policy.) And I am constantly discovering and celebrating common ground.
Like with LGBTQ issues, I have developed new ways of talking about climate change drawing on comedy, storytelling, and personal narrative. I recently completed the 50th episode of my Climate Stew Show, a podcast that takes a serious look at global warming, but doesn’t try to scare the snot out of you. I also offer presentations at universities, conferences, theaters, and places of worship including my shows, A Quirky Queer Quaker Response to Climate Change and Everything is Connected–An evening of stories, many weird, most true.
Using A Recorded Voice to Reach More People
This week I launched a new effort–Citizens’ Climate Radio. Using interviews, comic monologues, and interactions with listeners through a monthly Puzzler question, I am aiming for friendly and inviting tone. I want to reveal the people behind the climate movement and their personal transformations. I am in no mood to go through the silly and unhelpful debate about climate denial.
I have interviewed over 30 people, including Republicans, Conservatives, and Evangelical Christians, all concerned with making the world a stable place with clean air and a healthy climate.
Like with the pro-LGBTQ work I did as an ex-gay survivor, I seek to humanize the people on all sides to the climate discussion. Yes, I want people to think, but I also want them to feel–no not fear and shame–these seem to be the go-t0 emotions for people doing environmental work. No, I want them to feel empathy, longing, courage, hope, and determination.