Category: Media

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 🙂

Doin’ Time with Tyra

Some of you may remember a blog entry about a very last minute trip to Los Angeles earlier this month. It was all very covert, but I got the call today that frees me to share some of the details with you. (note: this is not the BIG news I have for you next Monday; this is just big news.)

I went to Los Angeles to be a guest on the Tyra Banks Show. The show will air on Thursday April 12, 2007 and proves to be quite interesting. In the show Tyra (we are now on a first name basis) looks at some places where lesbians and gays are not safe.

One segment will be about the world of sports, specifically basketball Her guest will be John Amaechi a former NBA player who recently came out. Tyra will also look at the world of Hip Hop with some same-gender loving rap artists. Very interesting.

And sandwiched between the two will be a segment about how it is not safe for gays in the church, which of course brings up a conversation about the ex-gay movement. For this segment her guests include, John Smid, the director of the Love in Action (LIA) ex-gay program (which I attended for two years), an LIA staff member and a recent LIAgraduate. These folks will go on first to tell their stories and talk about the LIA ministry.

Then Tyra brings gay Mormon dad, Steven Fales onto the stage along with me. (Steven is the writer and performer of the one-person show, Confessions of a Mormon Boy.) Tyra shows a video of us telling our story, full of scary music and wild screen shots, and then we have a few minutes to talk. We made a great team. I have to say it was great being there with Steven who was so very centered before the show. We then had a great debrief afterwards.

(See here the photo of lovely Steven and little ole me–really I am a tiny person–I forget that)

Honestly I felt quite anxious about this program. Tt was only with the insistence of Sarah, my booking agent, that I did it. I did not know how I would feel being on the set with John Smid, particularly in the rough and tumble world of daytime TV where they love conflict. When the program airs, I’ll share a little more about these feelings and the challenges I faced. Overall, I think it will be another opportunity for survivors to share their stories.

Go here to find out where in the US the show airs. For folks in Sweden and the UK and Saudi Arabia (yeah, I know you’ve been lurking), I am not sure what to tell you. Do you have Tyra in Sweden?

Oh and on the Current TV station, a short independent film about the ex-gay experience has been greenlighted and is airing (about three times a day for the next five weeks). The film juxtaposes interviews with John Smid and me along with excerpts from my play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House. To find out more, click here. A shorter on-line version is still available here.

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.

Back on Montel

Last week I was in NYC for another taping of the Montel Williams Show. This time the entire hour program will be dedicated to the ex-gay movement.

Guests include ex-gay survivor–Lance Carroll, the man who outed Ted Haggard–Mike Jones, President of Exodus International–Alan Chambers, and writer of this blog–Me.

The episode should prove to be interesting to say the least. I don’t know if anyone will get it up on YouTube. Hopefully since I don’t have a TV myself and will most likely be on a bus on the 15th.

The program will air on Thursday, March 15, 2007. Check local listings for details.

Montel Williams Show

Thank goodness for YouTube! I don’t have a TV and was traveling yesterday anyway when the Montel episode aired that had Lance Carroll and me on it. But I got an e-mail saying that it was uploaded on YouTube (oh and a wonderful photo of Noa and son watching it!) [youtube=]

Spilling My Guts

Last week Susan Campbell from the Hartford Courant interviewed me for her regular column . In response to the Ted Haggard story she wanted to know about my own involvement in the ex-gay movement and in the conservative Evangelical church.

In telling my story I shared with her something that I nearly had forgotten. I was 17, had just become a Christian and my libido was on HIGH ALERT. She writes about what happened and the results of my actions and then my words.

He’d been caught in an intimate act with another young man at a band weekend in upstate New York. As he confessed what had happened to the angry organizers, he saw their faces soften when he said he was a Christian and didn’t want to be a homosexual.

I learned such a critical lesson that night spilling my guts in front of those angry men. I learned that straight men will show me tolerance and even compassion as long as I admitted I struggled with my same-sex attractions.

Throughout my career as an ex-gay, whenever I messed up, (and Lord knows I messed up a lot), I turned to a straight man–the hall director at my Christian university, my pastor, my accountability partner, an ex-gay program leader (okay not exactly a straight man)–and confessed my sins. I groveled, I cried, and humiliated myself in their presence. As a reward, they did not eject me from the school, the church, or the program, well most of the time.

Sometimes I did things so outrageous they had no choice but to eject me. Perhaps that was my way of ejecting myself.

Susan Campbell’s piece is entitled Saved By Therapy Or Faith?

Sad to Be Gay Remix

zoë posted a thoughtful analysis of the BBC documentary, Sad to Be Gay. This piece was filmed in early 2005 and shows a BBC correspondant, David Akinsanya, seeking change for his unwanted same-sex attractions. His quest brings him to Love in Action in Memphis, TN. David interviewed Wade Richards and me in Huntsville, AL as part of his research.

Strachan goes on to juxtapose same-sex attraction with the gay lifestyle (aka the bar scene for many) along with David’s difficult childhood and reveals why someone like David would be dissatisfied with himself. What emerges sounds very much like the profile of a “successful” ex-gay leader who testifies how he has fled the evils of homosexuality and an empty lonely life and not simply the story of someone experiencing an inward battle over sexual desires.

David is quick to deny he’s ashamed of his sexuality. It’s just that he’s been there, done that. “I’ve been out on the scene for twenty years,” he says, “And it’s not really done anything to enhance my life.”I’m not surprised. If I’d spent twenty years on the gay scene I’d be more than depressed, I’d be suicidal.

Gay may be good, but the gay scene isn’t, or not for me. More of my straight friends go to gay clubs these days, and if anyone has actually found the love of their life amid that heaving morass of sweaty male torsos bopping away to incessantly hideous euro-pop remixes, well good on them. The term “gay village” isn’t a misnomer. It’s invariably claustrophobic, incestuous and bitchy. Little wonder that David’s gay relationships haven’t made him feel good about himself. Even those who like that kind of thing tire of it, and twenty years sounds like a life sentence.

You can read the whole of Sad to Be Gay here.

NY Times Highlights Ex-Gays in Metro NY Area

Michael Luo, religion writer for the NY Times, wrote a piece that looks at various ex-gay options in the New York metro area (and not just Evangelical Christian groups). He focuses mostly on the words and lives of people who currently identify as ex-gay, but he also interviewed professionals who denounce gay reparative therapy.

“There’s not a debate in the profession on this issue,” said Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist and former chairman of the Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues of the American Psychiatric Association. “This is like creationism. You create the impression to the public as if there was a debate in the profession, which there is not.”

The piece goes on to talk about LIFE Ministries in NYC, a ministry that according to Luo claims, “that complete “freedom” is available for anyone willing to put in the emotional and spiritual work.”

Although Luo states that “for every ostensible success story, there are many other stories of people who have concluded they were deluding themselves, including some who used to be among the movement’s most visible leaders” he only includes one example of someone who had made that conclusion. That one would be me.

Peterson Toscano, 41, spent years in ex-gay ministries, including LIFE, during the 1980s and 1990s and eventually got married, only to see his marriage fall apart after he was unable to keep his homosexual urges in check.

He finally decided: “If you keep trying this, you’re fooling no one.” Now openly gay, Mr. Toscano lives in Hartford, attends a gay-friendly Quaker meetinghouse and performs solo comedy sketches around the country, including one that pokes fun at his experiences in the ex-gay movement.

Read all of Some Tormented by Homosexualty Look to a Controversial Therapy.

Daniel Gonzales on Weekend America Radio Show

Have a listen to Daniel eloquently speak on Weekend America about his sordid ex-gay past.

The announcement that Ted Haggard emerged from three weeks of intensive counseling convinced he is “completely heterosexual” has raised quite a few eyebrows. We talk about this with Richard Cohen, the author of “Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality,” and also with Daniel Gonzales. Gonzales went through therapy to “cure” his homosexuality, but says it did not work.

Daniel is in Phoenix right now where he protested Love Won Out, the Focus on the Family anti-gay roadshow and spoke to a lot of local press there. Go to Ex-Gay Watch to see some video of the press conference. Even Telemundo showed up!

It is not easy to stand up as an ex-gay survivor. I know there are many who prefer to leave that part of their lives far behind them, and I respect that. But we need people like Daniel to come forward and share their narratives. The parents who want to force their kid into some program might just change their minds once they hear the sort of damage that may come of it–damage to their child and to their relationship with their child. A person struggling with their same-sex attractions may hear something that will give them clarity, direction and hope.