Focus on the Family or the Homosexual?

After a bizarre night of dreams about being back in the Love in Action ex-gay boot camp and then about being gay in a Christian school and terrorized for it, I woke up early to avoid a hate crime in my sleep. Last night at the Our Family Matters Conference in Nashville, I got to hear lots of stories of how some family  and clergy members rejected their loved one because  that one was gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. I heard other stories too from LGBT people and their loved ones–stories of learning, of acceptance, of deepening love and relationship based on honesty and openess.

This weekend at their hometown of Colorado Springs, CO, Focus on the Family will celebrate 10 years of misinforming parents and pastors about LGBT people. Christine Bakke, co-founder of  Beyond Ex-Gay and a Colorado resident cannot be there because she is here in Nashville (lucky for me!), but Dan Gonzales contributor to Box Turtle Bulletin and a Denver resident, will be on-hand to stand as a public witness to the harm that can come from reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries.

Today Electa Draper of the Denver Post published an article about Love Won Out’s weekend event with a focus on the potential harm that comes from trying to change or suppress one’s sexuality. In the article they quote Melissa Fryrear of Love Won Out,

“This is a struggle that can be overcome. A number of us have overcome,” said Melissa Fryrear, a self-identified ex-gay and director of Focus’ Gender Issues Department.

“God can radically change your life, whatever the issue is,” said Fryrear, 42. “We’re ministering to Christian families. They are devastated when a loved one is living homosexually. They can’t condone what falls outside biblical truth.”

Living homosexually? Yeah, I don’t have a clue of what she is talking about. What I do know is that this “ministry”{ to Christian family members deepens the devastation they may be feeling. Parents walk away from a Love Won Out event with the false information that their son or daughter most likely had been sexually abused and that the parents are somehow to blame for raising a homosexual. (See Jim Burroway’s series of articles and videos about the Love Won Out he attended in 2007.)

The article goes on to denounce the teachings of Focus on the Family and the treatments they advocate, a message that at its core says there is something wrong with people who happen to be gay or lesbian (and I imagine they lump bisexuals and trans folks in there too but like much of the LG community, with Focus the B&T are silent.) The article refers to the following research.

University of Minnesota researchers recently published a study in the Journal of Homosexuality showing that among homosexual men, the best predictor of poor mental and sexual health, including depression, drug use and sexually transmitted diseases, is a negative attitude toward homosexuality, not being a homosexual.

The articles goes onto quote Christine about her ex-gay experience and the bitter harvest it bore.

Christine Bakke, a 37-year-old Denver artist, moved to Colorado 10 years ago for the state’s ex-gay programs and spent more than four years in two of them. She also underwent psychological counseling.

“I threw my whole heart and soul and life into changing,” she said. “There was a period of time when I actually believed I was changing. Then there would be reminders — oh, no, still gay.”

The whole time she suppressed her sexuality, her creativity disappeared.

She gave up transforming herself into a heterosexual, she said, after observing many gay people leading happy, healthy, vibrant lives.

“I still had to deal with a lot of feelings of shame, brokenness and failure that I had internalized from the ex-gay programs,” Bakke said.

The ex-gay movement simply gives folks the weapons we needed to go to war against ourselves. From the playground to the pulpit bullies drummed into us that there is something wrong with people who did not conform to norms they prescribed, that we needed to change something about ourselves, that we are NOT welcome as we are.

Some people choose to live “outside of Biblical truth” by slavishly adhering to the anti-gay bias already in the world never acknowledging that this bias is not spiritually based in fact is counter-spiritual, counter-Christian. I can hear the same anti-gay core message at a drunken straight womanizing frat party on a Saturday night as I hear proclaimed as Bible truth at a supposed spirit-filled place of worship on a Sunday morning (or a Love Won Out event this Saturday in Colorado Springs.)

People hold up the Bible as a shield to support their personal confusion, discomfort and abhorrence of people who do not happen to be straight or gender normative. After 10 years of pushing their toxic teaching on parents and pastors, Focus on the Family needs to take account into the harms that many of us have experienced because of our time in the ex-gay movement and in churches that love us “just as we are” with a giant exception attached. This is a matter of pastoral care. This is a matter about strengthening families instead of tearing them apart because of Dr. James Dobson’s morbid obsession and constant attacks on people who are lesbian and gay.

While some confused and frightened parents head off  to a Love Won Out misinformation conference in Colorado Springs (sadly with teens in tow), I am glad that in Nashville this weekend many will attend the Our Family Matters Conference which will sanely and honestly talk about the sorts of gifts LGBT bring to the church, the family and the world.

You can read the Denver Post article here.

(The author does misquote me: “Because of one of these conferences, my mother died feeling she had failed me.” In the context of the interview I was speaking of the Love in Action Family and Friends Weekend not Love Won Out even though the messages communicated were similar.)


This post has 3 Comments

  1. perryericj on October 24, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Great blog — and great post. Keep up the good work!

  2. paul on October 24, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Great post Peterson.

    “the best predictor of poor mental and sexual health, including depression, drug use and sexually transmitted diseases, is a negative attitude toward homosexuality, not being a homosexual.”

    that about sums it up.

  3. GreenEyedLilo on October 26, 2008 at 4:05 am

    I am so glad that you and Christine are around to balance out Focus on the Family’s professional ex-gays!

    I remember covering Love Won Out a few years ago, for an Orlando LGBT paper, and just crying and shaking. There was so much pain in that big church, and there was going to be so much more to come from this conference, and it was all so unnecessary! I hope everyone there has since found real acceptance and healing. I hope the mother I hugged in the ladies’ room there knows she (and her son) are not failures.