Love the Straight Supremacist–Hate Straight Supremacy

Are programs that tell people they need not be gay simply silly, misguided throwbacks? Surely the media has gotten a lot of mileage out of covering the “ex-gay” phenomenon.  It can be a sexy and entertaining story. But the portrayals of the people who run these programs run counter to the aims and ideology behind the treatments they offer. It’s time to see these “ex-gay” programs for what they are–Straight Supremacist groups.

Two leaders of the Ex-Gay Movement, Alan Chambers and Janet Boynes, recently received a sympathetic treatment on Lisa Ling’s Our America episode Pray Away the Gay? And some have asked, “Why not? It was not a ‘hard’ news story, rather a portrait of overlooked Americans on the fringe.” Hmmm, if it were that simple.

Another story getting buzz has to do with an Apple iphone app. A petition (with over 30,000 signatures) demands that Apple must remove an Apple approved app linking people to Exodus International, the world’s largest ex-gay group which for a long time has claimed people can find freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ. Alan Chambers, the man prominently featured in a positive light on the Lisa Ling program, has headed Exodus since 2001.

Why all the fuss? Why not let these folks have their freedom of speech even if what they have to say is wacky, antiquated, and panned by proper medical folks?

In the case of Exodus, here’s why we fuss. For one, we are NOT talking about a freedom of speech issue. Exodus is free to say whatever they want on their blogs and pulpits. No private company like Apple has to use their resources to promote Exodus’ message. Apple has the right to say, no.

Exodus spokespeople  paint themselves in the media as kindly folks who simply want to help those who are unhappy with being gay. They don’t force anyone to do anything against their will. They do not want to interrupt the lives of happy homosexuals who are content with their sexuality or identity. That’s what they say, but that’s not what they mean. They are being wise as serpents and gentle as doves. They are duplicitous.

Exodus is a Straight Supremacist group that believes that heterosexuality, straight marriage, and gender normative behavior are superior to anything lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) people have going on in their lives. At Exodus conferences, in their books, through their many local programs they state that LGBTQ people are inferior to heterosexuals. They say over and over that LGBTQ folks are morally, spiritually, developmentally damaged. Just last week Alan wrote that even celibate gays who still identify as gay “fall short of God’s best.” In fact, he makes it clear that God’s best is for people to be heterosexually partnered, even if they are not heterosexual. They do not seem to consider the needs of a straight person who may well suffersas a result of this union (which is often the case.)

Under Alan Chamber’s leadership of Exodus, the group has made aggressive moves to target young people–in the words anti-gay Christians have often used concerning gays–Exodus has attempted to recruit and convert queer youth to a straight lifestyle. Exodus came under fire in 2005 when their flagship program, Love in Action, began to take teenagers against their will into their youth program, Refuge. A young man by the name of Zack cried out to his friends for help before he was cut off from the world and forced to attend a straight camp.

Under Alan Chamber’s leadership Exodus has taken over the Love One Out conferences, a day long event that assures parents and church youth workers that their queer youth need not stay that way. They offer testimonies of people who claim they have changed, and project photographs of former homosexuals now heterosexually partnered surrounded by spouse and children. They provide false hope and leave out important information–namely that the vast majority of people who attend their programs (70% by Alan Chamber’s own reckoning) find that a straight (or straightish) life is not realistic or healthy to pursue. At Love Won Out they do not mention the psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage many of us experienced as a result of going to war against our sexuality and identity. They do not mention that ever major medical association has denounced reparative therapy and ex-gay treatments saying they do not work and may likely damage those who try them.

And what is Exodus’ big goal for 2011? To reach out to youth in middle school and high school with a message of hope! You don’t have to be bullied for being gay because you can chose the superior identity of being straight. They have a new iphone app in large part to reach out to the younger generation with their straight supremacist message. In essence they say, “The bullies are right. You are a worthless piece of shit, but we can bring value to your life. We can help you leave all that gayness behind and become holy and valuable to the world around you.”

Apple does not find the message of Exodus objectionable. Lisa Ling’s Our America also did not find fault with the message. Perhaps they do not know enough about it. Perhaps they have mostly heard from Exodus which has developed a slick public persona over the years while politically opposing pro-LGBTQ legislation, while trying to eradicate gayness in themselves and the world around them.

Over at Beyond Ex-Gay, the site created by ex-gay survivors, we state,

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.

If someone like Alan Chambers wants to live a straight life and he is happy with that life, that’s fine. But that he insists that his lifestyle choice is superior to the lives and identities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer people is objectionable. Perhaps he has not yet allowed himself to meet happy, well-adjusted queer folks. Once we leave his programs and sort ourselves out, he wants nothing to do with us and his discounts our stories. But ultimately this is not about Alan Chambers or even Exodus, it is about a message that gets sent out by churches that make it clear that queer folks are not allowed at a seat at the table unless they conform to the heterosexual, gender-normative pattern of the world around us. In that light, perhaps some can see Alan Chambers as a victim of a system that in turn transforms him into a victimizer of others. And why would Lisa Ling or Apple want any part of that? Why not call it what it is and stop pretending or ignoring reality.

———————————–

And why do I care…

Peterson Toscano protesting Love Won Out

For me the Ex-Gay story is a personal one. I spent 17 years, and over $30,000 on three continents attempting to change and suppress my gay orientation and gender differences. I spent much of that time in Exodus programs including two years at the infamous Love in Action residential facility (gay rehab?) in Memphis, TN. Through the years I have met over 1,500 people who have been through these programs and heard first hand the damage their time in these programs has caused. In 2003 I began to tell my story through comedy in the one-person play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House, and in 2007 co-founded Beyond Ex-Gay with fellow ex-gay survivor, Christine Bakke. I’m currently writing a memoir about my experiences trying (and failing) to go straight and the many reasons I did it. 

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This post has 19 Comments

  1. Thom Huner on March 20, 2011 at 9:19 pm Reply

    This is an interesting piece, but it mischaracterizes Exodus and the many who turn to Exodus for information and support in their struggles. Exodus does not “target”people and try to change them. Many people of faith — Christians — have come to the conclusion, based on their acceptance of God’s Word as truth, that homosexuality is not an acceptable alternative for them. This is a difficult conclusion not reached lightly, particularly in today’s culture. I am among those who believe that God’s best plan for me personally does not include homosexuality. For me, then, it was and is worth the effort it takes. Exodus and the Exodus-affiliated ministry I turned to for encouragement and support have never belittled me, forced me to change or failed to show support for me in this struggle. It was and is my choice. It is a matter of faith and what I believe is God’s will. It is not, by any stretch, the result of Exodus’ targeting. While I can understant why you might find Exodus’ offensive since you have made another choice, I think you should allow others the freedom to choose as well.

  2. Jonathan on March 20, 2011 at 9:50 pm Reply

    Thom, being gay is not a choice. Even Chambers in his brief moments of honesty admit he is still, at his core, attracted to men, ergo he’s gay. He doesn’t like that because by living true to the person God created him to be would mean the end of his livelihood. He does have every right to self-flagellate his body and mind into whatever tortuous position he wants. He absolutely should not have the right to benefit financially from that torture or to try to recruit others into a life of misery.

    Many of us have struggled with our faith and our sexuality over the years. But the freedom you look for can never be found until you are honest with your self. You are uniquely and wonderfully made in the image of God. Whether Gay or Straight. When we love ourselves as God loves us then we are able to make amazingly beautiful life choices. When we continually belittle ourselves and settle for telling God he screwed up with us, our lives never are lived in the fullness he created us for. That is the real tragedy of Exodus and the “trying not to be who God made us” movement.

  3. Connie on March 20, 2011 at 10:10 pm Reply

    I agree all should have the freedom of choice and therefore I will chose not to buy or promote any Apple product because of their choice. It is all about choice and asa said best by Holly Near:

    I ain’t afraid of your Yahweh
    I ain’t afraid of your Allah
    I ain’t afraid of your Jesus
    I’m afraid of what you do in the name of your God

    I ain’t afraid of your churches
    I ain’t afraid of your temples
    I ain’t afraid of your praying
    I’m afraid of what you do in the name of your God

    Rise up to your higher power
    Free up from the fear it will devour you
    Watch out for the ego of the hour
    The ones who say they know it
    Are the ones who will impose it on you

    I ain’t afraid of your Bible
    I ain’t afraid of your of your Torah
    I ain’t afraid of your Koran
    I’m afraid of what you do in the name of your God

  4. Alex on March 21, 2011 at 1:46 am Reply

    What if Exodus reformed itself?

    What if it changed from being about supporting people in trying to change their sexuality (with a 70% failure rate), to being about helping people understand their sexuality, and accept it as one of God’s gifts?

    They could provide support for people like Thom, as well as those who are coming to realize they are homosexual, and need to understand that God loves them, too.

    My father’s best friend came out of the closet in his 40’s, when he had two teenage boys. It was not easy for any of them, or for his ex-wife, though they were all happier once he accepted himself the way God created him.

    Understanding sexuality is not easy, especially for young people. Having the support of a wise, caring spiritual leader can be invaluable while facing questions about sex. May everyone who needs it find that kind of support.

    God made us, and God is love.
    We can not stop loving
    any more than God
    can stop loving us.

  5. dave on March 21, 2011 at 8:40 am Reply

    Interesting article. This can be debated till the cows come home. I am currently seeing a counsellor who is trying to help me change. If you identify the roots of homosexuality it all makes sense. So don’t be too quick to judge people for choosing not to live this lifestyle. There is no way these people would claim superiority above gay people, in my experience they have come across as loving and understanding

    • p2son on March 21, 2011 at 9:39 am Reply

      dave, As I wrote to Thom in an e-mail in response to his comment above,

      From your comment, it sounds like you did not read my blog post very well.

      In it I quote from the Beyond Ex-Gay website:
      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.

      People can be ex-gay if they like, but Exodus and folks like you who promote and provide ex-gay ministry need to take seriously what the majority of ex-gay consumers have concluded–it has caused us terrific harm. Here is one place I outline the types of harm we have encountered. http://www.beyondexgay.com/article/harm1 That you are happy as an ex-gay is rarity. My story should not invalidate yours. Neither should your experience invalidate the experiences of the majority of people who claim ex-gay treatment caused more harm than good.

      After I spent 17 years earnestly seeking God to help me understand the roots to my attractions to men and following every path for recovery I could find (which took me around the globe) I believe I am the last person any one can accuse of being hasty in passing judgment about the ex-gay world. One thing that helped me a great deal was to understand the many reasons I pursued “change.” I assumed it was simply because of my faith. I grew to understand that the world would treat me more kindly and I would be far more valuable to the church I loved if I were heterosexual or at least not gay. In this video I outline several of the reasons that compelled me to renounce being gay.

      Finally, dave, I agree that many people who run some of the small ex-gay programs are sincere and loving folks, perhaps the most open people towards gays we encounter in Conservative Christian churches. Sadly they are also woefully ill-informed and uneducated when it comes to basic human sexuality, psychology, and the Bible. Most are unlicensed and do not even hold a college degree in a related field to counseling or psychology or even theology. I believe some really mean well–their hearts may be in the right places, but their heads are not. Folks like Alan Chambers know better. They have heard firsthand about the harm the majority of people under his watch experienced and still recover from. He also has aggressively sought to target youth. He has been involved in opposing legislation that would grant LGBT protections and rights.

      Perhaps you and Thom will be different. Perhaps you can get beyond your own need to be affirmed as ex-gays to consider our experiences without feeling threatened by them. Perhaps you will hear what some of your fellow travelers have experienced and will extend understanding rather than judgment that we somehow didn’t try hard enough, want it bad enough, or that we caved in. Those judgments are disrespectful of us and the sincere searching we each have done. We have found peace and clarity after much soul-seeking and work. That need not threaten the peace that you have found.

  6. Thom Hunter on March 21, 2011 at 9:46 am Reply

    Jonathan,

    Whether or not homosexuality is a choice is something that can be debated forever, there being no definitive proof. Regardless, as individuals, we have the freedom to make a choice as to whether we will live as homosexuals or not. Choosing homosexuality means, for the Christian who accepts the Bible as God’s Word, rejecting portions of it and exerting self over God. Or . . . which may make sense to Connie or to Holly, who apparently do not believe in God.

    As a believer, I am thankful that God makes things clear and I don’t have to wander around in the cultural mess. Is it easy to follow God’s will. No, not always. But, in this fickle world where people come and go, He is a constant for me and many who want to live lives that are built on His purposes. If we make that choice, we should be able to help each other live it without the ridicule of the gay community, who are always saying what they want is the right to live as they have chosen to live.

    the pro-gay movement is one of the more hypocritical movements of our time.

    To Alex: Exodus does not need to reform. It has a stated purpose and people are free to seek its resources or not. Just as I would choose not to seek the support of a pro-gay organization, others may choose to avoid Exodus. However, it is there for those who need it based on decisions they have made for themselves.

    Thom

    • Nick on March 21, 2011 at 1:18 pm Reply

      Regardless, as individuals, we have the freedom to make a choice as to whether we will live as homosexuals or not.

      This statement is so patently wrong it burns my eyes! You can deny and deny your feelings to your death, but God knows who and what you are. You can no more choose to be gay than you can choose to be white, or black or asian, or have blond, black or red hair, or green, blue or black eyes. I am sick to death of people saying that gay is a choice! NO ONE would choose to be this way, not in today’s society. I remember that men in my life always felt “the same”, and they were “like me” and thus I felt secure around them. Women on the other hand, were “different”, and they didn’t like the same things I liked, and they weren’t built the same. I didn’t like frilly dresses or bras or panty hose. Those things never did it for me. I guess what I am trying to say is that I was never comfortable around girls, women in general. I never had any as close friends, even into adulthood, even though I have known many women who I regard very highly. I just never ever concieved the notion of marrying a woman and having intercourse and having babies and all that. This was, and still is an alien concept. My brother, who is totally straight, thinks exactly the opposite. He could never ever contemplate living life without his woman, and his family. I get tired of these so-called Christians harping ad-nauseum on and on about gay people and how evil they are and how they are damned to hell and all that. Why are they concerned at all about us then? Why do they make it their business to try and “change” us? Because they are exclusivists. Their motto is “be like us, or be damned!” I never read any words in the Bible that makes any statements like that. This is another reason I left the church (another story).
      Thom, I think you have been brainwashed by the exclusive straight world and church into thinking you are damned just because you happen to feel the most comfortable with another man. That is really a shame. Wish I could meet with you in person and try and make you see the error of your ways. Always remember, God doesn’t make junk. You are as important to him as the Pope or any other mortal being on this earth. You should learn to embrace your “differentness” as a blessing, and not a curse.

  7. Thom Hunter on March 21, 2011 at 9:58 am Reply

    p2son,

    Honestly, I really did read your blog post well and I know it represents your thoughts and beliefs and I’m not trying to talk you out of those. I just didn’t address every point.

    Personally, I’m not looking for affirmation as an ex-gay, and I’m not trying to say that others who have tried to move out of the gay life and been unsuccessful are failures of a sort, or just did not try hard enough. Perhaps you and they came to a different conclusion and made a decision during the process that seems right to you.

    This is a very polarizing issue with some saying you cannot change and should not try and some saying you can and should. Still, there needs to be a reason for change that goes beyond someone’s judgment of you. That’s one of the reasons I am not judgmental. It’s not motivating. My desire to change came from my faith. Only when I got to the point where I did not care what others thought — from either side — could I make a rational decision.

    I know it’s hard. I was twice removed from churches through church discipline and have experienced harsh judgment. I also have known that were I to “accept” homosexuality, I would find a very affirming group. All of this aside, it’s my decision and it came down to myself and God.

    I believe the Bible is true . . . but unless I share that truth with compassion, it is ineffective. I am not threatened by you as a gay person. As I said, if you searched and came to a different conclusion than I did, then I respect that. All I am asking is that we respect each individual’s right to make that search, hard as it may be, with all the resources available. The rest is, I believe, in God’s hands. But then . . . I am a believer.

  8. Joe G. on March 21, 2011 at 11:20 am Reply

    I like how you label “ex-gay” stuff straight supremacist because in effect that is what it is. As some of the poasters above have written, their straight supremacist ideas are based on (their interpretation of the) Bible, but it doesn’t make it any less prejudicial.

  9. Susanne on March 21, 2011 at 11:39 am Reply

    Ahhhh..what we do in the ” Name of God”, would make God sit down and weep. Do we really think God/ Jesus would want any of his creation to feel less than? He created us ALL in His image and likeness; not just the Str8 folks. When man speaks for God we are usually going to get ourselves into trouble. I think God can handle speaking for himself. And, if we say anything, in the name of God, that is not rooted in LOVE, we are not speaking for our God.
    I was married over 20 years to someone I thought I knew; heart and soul. What my kids and I had to find out was that he was/ is gay. He failed to mention this before we got married. And yes, he knew at that time that he was attracted to men.
    So, where do we put the collateral damage of my family? If we hadn’t found out, I believe he would have gone to his grave without ever saying a word about his sexuality. I never hated him for being gay; I believed he didn’t have a choice in this and that is how God made him. What is wrong is the behavior and the lies. My sons have never been the same since this revelation. Their father continues to make himself the victim and closes his eyes to their pain.
    I told my sons that his shortcomings as a father have nothing to do with him being gay; this is the kind of father he is. Gay or Str8, he would be as unconcerned as he is. Your sexuality doesn’t make you a good parent or a bad one. I know many LGBT moms and dads who are amazing parents. I wish my kids had that kind of dad.
    I just feel that if Jesus wanted to say that LGBT people needed to get str8 there would have been a parable about it. Lord knows there’s a parable for just about everything!
    You know what they say…” Better to live your life believing God loves you andf die to find out He doesn’t, than to live you entire life as if God doesn’t love you, only to die and find out he always did….”
    Peace,
    Susanne

  10. Mark H on March 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm Reply

    Thom, some years ago I might have written posts very like yours, but no more.

    I would have a lot more sympathy for Exodus’s right to access the media if they believed that it was as important to follow Jesus’ / the Bible’s standard for honesty, about which there can be little doubt, as it is to follow their standard for human sexuality, about which there has to be a great deal of doubt.

    Exodus and others of their ilk (of whom, like Peterson, I have extensive personal experience) routinely twist and distort scientific findings (the latest instance being Exodus’ iPhone app.: http://www.truthwinsout.org/pressreleases/2011/03/15385/) to untruthfully make it appear that science supports what Exodus wants people to believe. If science really supported them they would not have to do this. Scientists regularly have to tell Exodus and others to cease and desist from using their science in this way.

    Exodus and others routinely hold up individuals as examples of people who have “changed” long after it has been documented that those people have a) continued to frequent gay bars and/or b) continued to engage in gay sex.

    And, while knowingly holding up these false “poster boys” and “poster girls” in order to engender false hope, Exodus and others suppress information about all the people who have been through their programmes and even devised and led their programmes who have repudiated them because a) they didn’t work, b) they cause serious spiritual, social and psycholgical damage, and/or c) they lead to such hopelessness that people attempt or are successful at suicide. They also don’t tell you about the leaders who have abused the trust of the people who turn to them for help by having gay sex with them.

    When Exodus and others of their ilk apply Jesus’ standards to these matters, then they will have the right to tell me what they believe Jesus’ standard is for human sexuality. Until then, I am forced to conclude that their agenda has little to do with Jesus’ standards and much more to do with what Peterson calls straight supremacy.

    And, yes, by the grace of God I am still a believer, but not thanks to Exodus.

  11. Thom Hunter on March 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm Reply

    Mark,

    I can appreciate the journey you’ve been on and also the deep distrust that any of us can develop when someone we are told to follow falls. It happens in every aspect of life, unfortunately and reinforces the truth of the imperfection of this life. You made some serious claims about individuals — past and present.

    I can’t really address the claims you’ve made here because my experience with Exodus has been based more on my personal benefit. I have gained from the meetings and from the encouragement and insight of some very good speakers. I am not very familiar with anyone there on a one-on-one basis, but the ones I know I have no reason to distrust. I know that it is the nature of man to sometimes believe he has conquered something that comes back to him later and continues to be a problem. Sexuality is not singled out in that realm.

    For the very reasons you cite, I base my freedom only on my relationship with Christ and a daily commitment to Him and to what I believe He wants for me. I’m not much of a follower or men. I have not seen in Exodus the dishonest portrayals you claim. If that was your experience, I am sorry it happened. That’s not been my experience. If I am somehow deceived, I’ll let God deal with that. I know that when I depend on God for the answers to my life’s dilemmas, there is no deception.

    Science is an issue on both sides of this issue. Pro-gay advocates have certainly abused science for their cause.

    I am most glad, Mark, that you are a believer. That’s the biggest issue here. I happen to believe, based on my understanding of the Bible, that homosexual acts are sinful. So are many other things we do. Like you, I am very thankful for grace.

    Thom

  12. Milton Harris on March 21, 2011 at 9:55 pm Reply

    Hello, I have read your comments. I struggled with Homosexuality all my life. I had been married three times. Because of what the Church has to say on this issue I was totally confused. I also believe that I decieved my wife for not telling them that I was gay. I am 63 years old and I came out at the age of 53. I also pastor a Church and my members are both straight and gay. Our Theology is to teach the Good News and God Unconditional Love for all people. I follow the Teachings of Jesus Christ who did not say anything about His followers being gay. In fact there is very little in the Scriptures about His followers being gay. I agree that we do pick out the Scriptures we want to build our Theology on. There is more in the Scriptures about adultery, fornication, lying, murder, stealing. Our Churches are filled with Women Pastors and Teaching, we have no problem with that. It was when I finally came out to God He poured His Unconditional Love on me. I knew that God Loved but because I was living a lie I was blocking God’s Love, Grace and Mercy. When I came out to Him it was like the windows of opened up and God’s Love, Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness covered my Spirit, Soul, and Mercy. I had left the Church but I never left God and of course He never left me. The only thing He told me was to never let any of His members ever feel uncomfortable. You know we spend so much of our lives trying to change who we are that we don’t have time to help others who don’t know to Him through our love for each other. So lets love one another and get to allowing the Holy Spirit to draw us closer to God and to each other. God Bless, Pastor Milton

  13. Kelly on March 23, 2011 at 12:18 pm Reply

    The problem is not about being gay. It has more to do with being gay in a society that is full of bigots and prejudiced people who due to their own insecurities, feel justified in denigrating anything that doesn’t fit their narrow view of the world. People who are deciding to be true to themselves only have a more difficult, unhappy life because of the prejudice and bigotry they have to deal with from others. You go to a Unitarian Universalist church where people of all types are accepted, loved and supported and you will see plenty of healthy, well-adjusted gay people. When anyone is able to surround themselves with a loving network of people who understand God is about unconditional love, there isn’t the conflict that society’s bigots and ignorance creates.

    It’s not the person or his/her sexuality that creates the unhappiness. It’s the narrow doctrine and ideology that unfortunately many Christians live and interpret from a book that regardless of its noble objectives, was still only written by men who had their own weaknesses, prejudices, agendas, and for many lack of education.

    Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ but I don’t like your Christians. They are not like your Christ.” That’s the truth!

  14. Kelly on March 23, 2011 at 12:25 pm Reply

    Very well said Pastor Milton. It’s so nice to see a good example of Christian faith that engenders love and compassion, unity and community steeped in support with open arms. Thank you for being a beacon in an oftentimes misguided Christian majority.

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