Category: Love in Action

John Smid Resigns from Love in Action Ex-Gay Program

I am running to do a show and just got a voice mail from a former Love in Action staff member who said, “I’m sure you heard the news, but if not, you may be interested to know that John Smid resigned from Love in Action.”

John Smid served as the Executive director and CEO of Love in Action in Memphis, TN.

When I know more, I’ll let you know or post what you know in comments.

UPDATE: I found out that in one of Love in Action’s last mailings to supporters, they made the announcement that John Smid planned to retire and move onto other things but did not specify what these things might be. I truly hope John gets out of the ex-gay work. He’s done it for over 14 years, and I have always had the sense that he has wanted to be a proper minister in a church with a congregation and all. We’ll see what he does next.

The challenge when someone is an ex-gay leader (or even an ex-gay critic) for awhile is trying to determine what to do next. It is such an alternate universe in many ways and lots of perks hold people in it for longer than they want. Even though an ex-gay ministry does not provide a lot of money, it gives some leaders national exposure, chances to speak in churches in front of large congregations, and opportunities to make important decisions that affect all sorts of lives. I can imagine that many things after that can feel like a step down.

John Smid is slated to speak at the next Love Won Out in San Jose on April 12.

Phallic Fruit Fetish Anyone?

From Urban Dictionary
Phallic Fruit Fetish

A “disorder” popularized by gay Quaker performing artist Peterson Toscano in his play “Doin’ Time the Homonomo Halfway House” about his time spent as a patient in a Christian residential program to “cure” gay people. Another resident in the program suffered from Phallic Fruit Fetish (or PFF) and had a persistent desire to commit sexual acts with phallically shaped fruits. The problem was alleviated when all phallic shaped fruits were removed from the facility.
Rev. Smid ordered all bananas removed from the house upon learning of a patient’s phallic fruit fetish.

And as I have Chad explain in the play,

He had a PFF, a Phallic Fruit Fetish, but he had a really serious case of it that actually extended into the vegetable word. As a result, no cucumbers, no zucchini, no carrots–oh, except for the little mini carrots; they don’t bother him so much.

Urban Dictionary submission by Daniel Gonzales
Artwork by Christine Bakke
Crazy Character Chad by me.

An e-mail to a man who is ex-gay

I often receive e-mails from former ex-gays and current ex-gays asking me about my experience. Yesterday I got one such e-mail that got me thinking deeply about my time at Love in Action, an ex-gay residential program in Memphis, TN. Although the message I received starts out accusatory, it quickly becomes more thoughtful. I sense the person genuinely desires to hear about my experience and dialogue. What I appreciate his message is that in it he shares some of his journey and the reasons behind it. I thought his questions helpful, so I want to share them with you along with my answer. I have removed his name and the year he attended LIA. (photos are from the renovation of my cottage)

I attended Love in Action in August 20xx. What I don’t understand is why you have so many negative things to say about LIA. I hope you remember that you choose to attend the program and were not forced into attending. You should respect other peoples decisions to live for God and change their lives. I know how hard it is to struggle with homosexuality. But I know that in the end I want a deeper relationship with my creator and that is what motivates me to change my sexuality. You must have had some very strong convictions to spend thirty thousand dollars and countless hours in therapy. Peterson, Why made you change your mind about wanting freedom from homosexuality? I am sorry if at first I came off a little rude. But I really would like to talk with you more on the subject. I have some family members who identify as being gay, and they tell me that this is how I was created…. But I know that God wants more for me. Do you think I asked to be like this? Of course not. I wanted straight and have a wife and kids and the whole nine yards. I am trusting God, that one day it will happen for me.

Thank you so much for writing. I always appreciate meeting fellow LIA graduates. We share a unique experience that most people in the world do not understand. I have spent time thinking about your questions and have a LONG answer below. Thanks for asking. It got me thinking and writing.

I run into so many people who ask,

Why did you go to Love in Action for two years? Why did you spend so much time and effort trying to change your sexuality?

Many people do not understand the conflict and turmoil some of us have felt and the lengths we have gone to in order to do what we felt we needed to in order to correct what we saw as wrong with us.

Some of my dearest friends today are guys who went through LIA with me. Most are now gay, but one is married to a woman, and I was actually the best man in his wedding. Having each other has helped a lot as we live post-LIA.

Like you I have always wanted a deep relationship with my creator. At age 17 I found Jesus (or Jesus found me?) and the Bible made sense in a way it never did before. I entered a lifelong journey of worship of God, of listening to the Lord and of doingministry. Because of messages I heard around me, mostly from the playground growing up and from the media, I got the idea that being straight was the only normal path and anything other than straight was abnormal, taboo, sick, and bad.

I just wanted to be a good person, a faithful Christian and to be normal. I heard about the dream of a family with a wife and children from virtually every movie, pop song and even advertisements I experienced from the time I was small. Society continually represented and rewarded straight people it while it punished and made fun of people who weren’t straight. I heard over and over that non-straight people were sad and unholy.

With all my heart I endeavored to crucify my flesh daily and find a way out of my gay desires and into a straight life. I believed the promise,

If any man be in Christ Jesus he is a new creation, the old is gone, behold all things have been made new.

To me that meant that Jesus could completely save me from my same-sex attractions and restore me to the place that I had been told was normal. Surely God was strong enough to do that especially after the mighty work that Jesus did on the cross and through the resurrection.

I found many ministers, counselors and ex-gay leaders who insisted that change was not only possible but probable. I went to church every chance I could, spent hours daily in prayer, praise, Bible study and simply enjoying the presence of God. I failed often but always returned to God bringing my struggle, feeling unworthy to serve as a missionary until I got this thing beat.

At age 25 I married a woman after our church leaders at a very well-known church encouraged us that God would bless our marriage. It seemed I had found that place of freedom I longed for all those years, and for two solid years I remained physically faithful to my wife. We seemed like an ideal Christian couple. But my desires for other men did not diminish. My desires for my wife never materialized. She could tell that I did not desire her and this wounded her deeply. She kept thinking there was something wrong with her. She knew of my former struggles but believed like me that God would bless us. I avoided sex as much as possible, not so much because I did not desire her sexually but more so because of the extreme guilt and shame I felt because I could only be successful in the bedroom if I thought of other men when I was intimate with my wife. I felt like I betrayed her every time we had sex.

I grew depressed, suicidal, hopeless. I continued to call out to God, but after five years of marriage, everything fell apart. It was then I chose to enter Love in Action. I hated that my struggle destroyed everything I held dear–my marriage, my work in Christian service, my church friendships–all lost.

It was at LIA that I first heard that it was impractical to expect that I would change from gay to straight. John Smid, the director, said that this is an unrealistic goal and that most likely we will continue to struggle with our desires for the rest of our lives. I hated that. I felt so deflated and discouraged and wondered if I made a big mistake in coming to LIA. But it was one of the best gifts I received from LIA–reality.

I learned other valuable lessons, especially from a counselor I worked with through LIA. Speaking about some childhood abuse issues he told me that sexual abuse and being gay are two distinctly different things. This freed me up to look at these issues separately and more objectively. John Smid and the other staff also continually reminded us that a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. I thought,

Wait a minute, that’s what I have been doing for 17 years, begging God, bullying God to change me as I suppress my desires and call them bad and evil and sinful and sick. What happens if I do something different? What happens if I accept my desires as a natural reality of who I am, how I am wired, and take it from there?

And that is what I did. At first I assumed that meant I could not be a Christian any longer. How I mourned the thought of losing Jesus in my life, not simply because I believed I might go to hell, but more so because I cherished the presence of God in my life and my daily time of seeking God and listening to God. I soon realized I could not live without God, and although I distrusted gay theologians, I knew I needed to come to God with my desires and really ask God for his guidance. All those years previously I assumed the right prayer to pray was

God change me, fix me, help me out of this.

Instead my prayers became more open handed.

God I have these desires. What do you want me to do with them? with my life? I don’t want to simply exchange one identity for another.

I held it out before God and listened. I began to realize that my thirst for change was not as spiritual as I had always assumed. I used God as a cover for the strong hunger to “be normal,” to fit in, to have the dream of straight life and a wife and kids and the whole nine yards. In essence I coveted my straight neighbor’s life. I thought I was listening to God, but really I was hearing the values of the world imposed upon the church, values that praised straight people and punished gay people.

At first I hated the idea that I was gay, but hated more living without integrity. And I began a journey to discover myself and to discover God’s, not man’s, will for my life. And the wild thing is that now I have a deeper more honest relationship with my creator than I ever dreamed possible. I have clarity and understanding and my previous out of control behaviors no longer disrupt my life. I treat my body with dignity and respect and am no longer compulsive.

If you are happy and truly feel that the ex-gay path or a celibate one is the way that God has for you, than I feel happy for you. I do not in anyway wish to invalidate your experience. I just know that for me such a life was not possible nor was it healthy. Love in Action helped me face reality, gave me great friends and some valuable lessons, but overall my time there caused me much more harm than good. The family and friends weekend devastated my parents. (I talk about this here). The overall experience deepened the shame I felt about myself and demonized all of my sexual desires not honestly separating compulsive unhealthy addictive desire from healthy normal desires.

This may not have been your experience. I can understand that, but the vast majority of people I have met (well over 1000) who have tried an ex-gay life say that long-term it was not beneficial, realistic, or necessary. But we are all wired differently and perhaps you represent someone in the tiny minority who find that the ex-gay way is helpful and sustainable.

Over at Beyond Ex-Gay we share some of our stories through our narratives, art work, poetry and articles. We make it very clear that

We believe that ex-gay experiences cause more harm than good. Certain people who currently identify as ex-gay say they are content as such. We don’t seek to invalidate their experience. For us such a lifestyle was not possible or healthy.

Not that it was all bad: Some of us received positive help through our ex-gay experiences. We grew to understand our sexuality better and in some cases even overcame life-controlling problems.

But for most of us, these experiences brought us inner turmoil, confusion, and shame. We are still in a process of recovery from the damage. Through sharing our stories with each other, we find wholeness and healing.

Parents & the Ex-Gay Movement

This weekend staff from Focus on the Family and Exodus International, two large and well-funded organizations, will speak to hundreds of parents about the “gay lifestyle” and will present testimonies claiming that “change is possible”. Parents will listen to folks who directly and indirectly pin the blame on parents for having a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender child. We know what they teach because some of us recently attended the Love Won Out Conference and and also listened to the recordings of all the presentations. See Jim Burroway’s detailed account.

My parents suffered under this message while I attended the Love in Action program in Memphis some years ago. Today I recorded this video relating the horrific Family and Friends Weekend and the effect Love in Action’s erroneous and cruel teachings had on my parents.

In the past year I have shared my family’s experience with several ex-gay leaders. Many expressed shock at what happened at Love in Action. But when I spoke with someone who is slated to speak at Love Won Out this weekend about all that happened with my mom and the years of doubt and torment she suffered, he shot back, “Healthy people ask for what they need.” I said, “Wait, what!?” He continued, “If your mom was having problems, she should have gotten some help.” But my mom had already been burnt by “experts,” and I know she didn’t want to expose herself to more hurt. But even if she could of or should of talked to someone to help her understand the issues better, what a pitiful response from this Christian leader.

This sort of thoughtless, insensitive, reactionary behavior needs to stop. Many ex-gay programs like Love in Action make mistakes. They do things on a trial and error basis sampling whatever teachings drop into their laps. (I know because in two years there, we ran through several teachings and practices). These program leaders, who claim they care about people and families, need to listen to the stories of the many people who can point to the harm they experienced at the hands of ex-gay minsters. These are not a few isolated stories. Just in the past 10 months dozens of people have come forward to share their stories publicly. These are not paid professional activists or lobbyist, but people who stand up to bear witness to what they have seen and heard and experienced.

For further information, see What About the Parents? as well as the ex-gay survivor narratives over at Beyond Ex-Gay.

Also, join us for Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth—A Weekend of Action & Art.

Ex-Gay Survivor Jacob Wilson Speaks Out

In the summer of 2005 the ex-gay program Love in Action made national headlines after accepting Zach, a 16 year old gay boy into their Refuge program. Before he went into the program, Zach called out for help on his blog. Concerned citizens and friends of the young man took a stand and each day shared their message of love and acceptance through signs, blog posts, interviews and social networking on MySpace.

Jacob Wilson was a 19 year old client in Love in Action’s adult program that summer. Back then Exodus programs did not have a prohibition to mix minors and adults together in their program, so Jacob sat in session with all the participants in both Love in Action’s programs. He didn’t have any real idea what was happening outside the building until he saw the trailer of Morgan Fox’s film that we screened at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference this past summer.

Wendi Thomas of the Memphis Commercial Appeal interviewed Jacob for an article that appeared in yesterday’s edition.

Zach’s supporters protested outside of LIA, but Wilson says the men and women inside were told not to make eye contact with the protesters and not to read their signs.

After Wilson left LIA, he found out what the protesters had wanted him to know.

“These people weren’t doing it to be activists, they were doing it to show that we weren’t alone, that we were loved … It crushes me that that message was cut from us.”

That message of love — an affirming, inclusive love — will get another airing next weekend, at the same time that conservative Christian heavyweight Focus on the Family will hold its de-gaying “Love Won Out” conference at Central Church.

Jacob will come to Memphis this weekend to tell more of his story. He will also lead a round table discussion for folks 25 and under during the Beyond Ex-Gay Mid-South Regional Gathering. Find out what happened to Jacob that summer and learn how you can help your friends when they feel coerced or compelled to attend an ex-gay program.

Read more of Wendi Thomas’ article here. For more information about the weekend’s activities, visit Beyond Ex-Gay. See Daniel Gonzales’ video promo for the weekend here.

A New Year

Greetings from Northern Sweden, Umeå to be exact, where the snow has fallen steadily and no one minds at all. Really they delight in it as they laugh at folks from the US with our winter storm warnings and canceled events.

The new year started well with a house party outside of the city replete with fireworks at midnight. Each day I have taken a walk in the woods and in the nearby park. Today Alex and Alice (the dog) and I walked around the lake, which takes about 90 minutes. Amazing how many people are out and about in the winter weather–skiing, skating, jogging and even riding bike.

In celebration of a new year, I Simpsonized myself. I went for a genderqueer look. You should try it yourself!

I spent the first day of the new year updating my schedule for winter/spring of 2008. I didn’t put everything up yet, but it is a pretty full list up through May with trips to Europe, West Virginia, Philadelphia, Memphis and more. No Texas yet and it looks like I am neglecting the West Coast, but some gigs are in the works on both fronts. I have some VERY exciting things coming up that I cannot wait to share, but I must refrain for several reasons. Soon.

A few things will happen in 2008. One is that I will retire Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House starting in February (which means I will do a little retirement run up through May. Something I learned from Cher).

At the same time I hope to perform The Re-Education of Bush and Transfigurations as much as possible. I feel that both pieces need to be seen and heard by as many people as possible. The Bush play is NOT about bashing Bush. It is so much more. (Bush bashing is so easy to do). And the Transfigurations piece is well, ah, you will have to see it.

I believe both of these pieces require new types of audiences. Sure folks who like my other stuff will totally appreciate these both (especially with so much Marvin in the Bush piece and my newest character Hegai in Transfigurations), but both of these pieces move beyond the gay issue into broader human, social, political, historical matters to consider. Soooo if you have any ideas of where I should present–conferences, colleges, churches, etc, let me know.

While you are on-line…

  • check out the schedule and work of my fellow performance artist, Kimberly Dark.
  • read this well-written piece that got published back in September but I missed at the time. We all want love to win out. But whose?
  • visit the VERY thorough new web page by Alvin A McEwen: Anti-Gay Lies and Liars
  • enjoy the wonderfully hilarious Nina Conti and her talking monkey. (UPDATE: I totally forgot to give credit where credit is due–Hat Tip to Noa for introducing me to Nina!)
  • and wish my buddy and fellow Love in Action survivor, Bobby Painter, a happy 40th birthday.

My friends grow older and I remain the same 😛

Happy New Years!

A Homo No Mo Christmas

Time for my annual Christmas video. Last year I bought cyber gifts for everyone while I stayed in Crieff, Scotland, and made a video about it. This year my video is the gift. Yeah, I know, I am so generous.

Last week I performed the Ho Ho Homo No Mo Holiday Special at the MCC in Portland, OR, and for that event I dug into my past to find Christmas related material from the Homo No Mo Halfway House. The following video is a TRUE story of a Homo No Mo Christmas.

Now don’t be surprised if in a few days I post another video from an old friend of this blog.


This is What Love in Action Looks Like

Morgan Jon Fox recently created a blog for the film This is What Love in Action Looks Like and the other day I blogged about ways co-producer, Bruce Garrett and I have been trying to raise funds (including forcing Marvin into secretarial services.) (Daniel Gonzales left me a cryptic text message about the role of a Hollywood executive director, but it sounded more like fodder from an overwrought mind longing for the West Coast after moving to the mountains of Colorado. Maybe Joe G knows what Daniel is alluding to. Us North-East Quakers are out of the loop I guess.)

Over at the film’s blog, you can now donate via PayPal. The money goes to the editing of the film and costs associated with licensing.

Hmmmm, maybe Willie Hewes will auction off a panel of her amazing work! (hint hint) You must read Willie’s tender comic The Suckiest Angel and of course the now famous comic Free Z, which was inspired by the events that led to the 2005 protests.

You can see the trailer for the film about the ex-gay camp and the inspirational protests that ensued in the summer of 2005. The is a lovely film by itself that you can check out here.

So even if it is just $5, please consider helping Morgan out with this film. I believe it is the sort of encouraging and moving story that the world needs to hear right about now.

Give and you shall Receive

I met up with Bruce Garrett this week in Baltimore. He and I are both executive producers of the film, This is What Love in Action Looks Like. (link to trailer below). The film follows the story of the 2005 protests in front of the ex-gay program Love in Action, protests sparked by the blog entries of a young 16 year-old whose parents forced him to attend the program for eight weeks.

Morgan Jon Fox directs and edits the film and has been making good progress on it. He should have a version of it ready for preview by February and then it will have an official premiere at a film festival later in the years.

As producers, Bruce and I have to produce money! Morgan works through the non-profit organization, the Memphis Digital Arts Co-op (MeDiA Co-op) and is housed in First Congregational Church in Memphis. Although the film operates on a very low budget, we still need to raise funds to cover licensing for music and TV footage, fees for entry into film festivals and money to cover some of the editing costs.

Bruce and I collaborated about creative ways we could raise money (other than just asking for it!) and he agreed to auction off a political cartoon on whatever topic the receiver desires. Bruce does amazing cartoons including his Coming Out series. He is also considering selling a panel from that series and give the proceeds to MeDiA Co-op for the film.

For my part, tonight I present the Ho Ho Homo No Mo Holiday Special (see crazy poster here) and will show the extended trailer to the audience then give a portion of the proceeds of the offering to the film. But then I started thinking of other things I could auction off and have a few ideas.

  1. A DVD of Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House. Earlier this year I made up 100 copies of a DVD mostly to send out to perspective venues so they can preview it, but I also sold a bunch in the UK. Almost no one in the States has this and I will not sell it anymore until I have a new version out. So I thought I could auction off this limited edition DVD.
  2. A personalized voice-mail message done by the character of your choice. I can send you the file in mpg format and you can use it on your phone for your voice mail. Come on can’t you just see Marvin or Chad taking calls for your. Priceless.
  3. A CD of the BEST of Marvin. These Marvin files are no longer available on the web (because blogger sucks–don’t get me started about bloggers lost audio function) but I have the files of each of Marvin’s many audio posts. Wouldn’t you like to have that in your hot little hand?

Now I don’t know the first thing about Ebay, except that it can be insanely addictive, but if someone out there knows how we can setup these three items on Ebay, I say, let the bidding begin!

If you want to make a donation directly to the MeDiA Co-op, checks should be made out to First Congregational Church, with “Media Co-op” listed in the “for” line. Mail to:

MeDiA Co-op
1000 S. Cooper St.
Memphis, TN 38104

You can also join the Facebook Cause for This is What Love in Action Looks Like

And here is where your money will go:

Ex-Gay Prison

This weekend I saw my friend Bob Painter, a fellow ex-gay survivor, play the role of Joseph in the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. (He has a GREAT voice) In the musical a scene hit me hard and reminded me of our time in the Love in Action program, a residential ex-gay program in Memphis, TN. It was a dreadful time in so many ways and seeing this one scene brought up strong feelings.

Another ex-gay survivor, Vince Cervantes, has inspired me with recent video series about his ex-gay experiences. (See his latest one here). Below is a video where I talk about this and share some clips of Bob’s performance. Like musical Joseph, there is also a happy ending to my story.


Here you can see more of Bob’s wonderful performance.