Memphis Pride & the new director of an Ex-Gay Progam

Wow, what a super Pride event in Memphis this weekend! The organizers put together a fun, family friendly and well organized series of events. They wisely chose a park with lots of shade for the festival, and they had loads of booths. The diversity of the crowd especially impressed me in a city where one can see people travel in their homogeneous packs. Young, old, black and white, transgender, straight, bisexual, lesbian and gay, the crowd showed off a wide cross-section of the population.

I enjoyed being in the parade more than I thought I would. Sitting in a car waving at folks felt like it would be awkward (let me be on stage doing stuff or a chance to talk, but just sitting waving–weird). I saw many friends along the way from the various groups that have helped me through the years–Holy Trinity Community Church of Christ, Integrity and most recently Mid-South Pride with their help during Beyond Ex-Gay’s big weekend back in February.

Lindsey Melvin, a writer from the Commercial Appeal, read a recent blog post of mine and asked if she could interview me. The story appears in today’s paper.

She shares a little of my journey going from participant of Love in Action, an ex-gay residential program in Memphis.

In the Pride parade’s fifth year in Memphis, there was a big push for it to be a family-friendly gathering, and Toscano fit that mold, said Sean Alexander of Mid-South Pride Inc.

“He was chosen for putting a positive image on being gay,” Alexander said.

Toscano also has become a highly recognizable figure in the Memphis gay community for leading ex-gay survivors’ conferences and performing his one-man
plays.

A Catholic who became a born-again Christian as a teenager, Toscano was told he could not be a Christian and a homosexual.

Ashamed, and terrified for his salvation, he entered multiple church-operated gay converting programs.

“It was in many ways psychological warfare. Day after day you were hearing that there was something wrong with you,” he said.

In this article we also get to hear from Love in Action’s new director and a taste how he responds to the media and to criticism of his program.

But according to the group, Toscano’s experience differs greatly from those of most other people getting treatment. Of 400 people who have gone through the program, more than 300 have been turned straight, the group says.

“Our success rate is higher than our dropout rate,” said Love In Action director Jim Scott.

“It works for some people, and for some people it doesn’t.”

Really? 300 out of 400 are successful? Turned straight? Or does he mean that 300 of 400 actually finished the course and graduated? But how often does Jim Scott check up on these folks? What sort of on-going follow-up does he do? What sort of follow-up has Love in Action done over the past five years? 10 years? How long do these successes remain ex-gay? A year? Two? Three months? Two weeks? Who knows and who cares once they graduate and stop paying the outrageous fees that the program charges?

This is false advertisement–dishonest. I believe that Jim Scott bears false witness. Of the six people who entered LIA with me back in 1996, five have come out and accepted the reality that they are gay and there is nothing wrong with it (and two of us were in yesterday’s Pride parade–one in drag!)

Love in Action has maintained a practice of “challenging” participants–(I wanna challenge you! See Homo No Mo for lots of examples) So I have two challenges for Jim Scott.

  1. Over the next five years keep track of these 300 newly straightened people, and then let us know where they are at and how it all worked out for them.
  2. Meet with 50 former participants who have tried the program and have experienced harm as a result of their experiences. Find out what goes wrong and the horrendous cost of pursuing the straight dream.

From my personal experiences and from connecting with over 1,000 ex-gay survivors, I have concluded that the process is not effective (no one actually becomes heterosexual), and it is unnecessary. Most importantly reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries almost always cause more harm than good.

I know a tiny handful of people with lesbian and gay backgrounds who have gone ex-gay and say they are happy as such. They are not ex-gay leaders nor do they pretend that their desires for the same gender have disappeared. For some it is a daily struggle that they willingly admit. They live in the reality that the ex-gay route is not possible for most people.

As Jim Scott begins his term as Love in Action director, I hope he chooses to be humble enough to listen to his detractors, to see that we are not a minority group of disgruntled failures for whom it did not work. We are the large percentage of people who came to Love in Action (and more importantly to God) looking for a cure and instead we found a curse. For some of us it has taken years to recover. We want to help spare other people from making the same mistakes we made. We want to counter the misinformation about people who are not straight. We want to help unearth the many reasons why people have pursued change. reasons often based on fear, shame and oppression.

Perhaps Jim Scott needs to come to next year’s Memphis Pride to see the vibrant, healthy, well-adjusted group of transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay citizens who help make Memphis a wonderful place. Perhaps he needs to spend time at Holy Trinity Community Church of Christ or Integrity to experience the Spirit of God and the fruit of the Holy Spirit among Christians who also happen to be transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, or straight allies.

I get the privilege of spending the morning with the folks at Holy Trinity where I will present the morning message–so I must get offline and finish preparing.

This post has 16 Comments

  1. Joe G. on June 15, 2008 at 3:27 pm Reply

    You don’t look so happy in the car for this parade. Was it too much sun? Didn’t you have any sun glasses?

  2. Lewis on June 15, 2008 at 3:27 pm Reply

    Oh, I think we all know the truth about those 300. Some of us have our eyes and hearts open, others not so much. And, hey, you in a parade! Good times!

  3. NG on June 15, 2008 at 4:46 pm Reply

    joe g, Perhaps if the car he was in had a driver and was in motion…

  4. Auntie Doris on June 15, 2008 at 4:54 pm Reply

    He looks like the Pope in his pope-mobile.

    (oooo is that practically blasphemous?)

  5. boredbeyondbelief on June 15, 2008 at 6:44 pm Reply

    ng – omigod, that’s great. Maybe Peterson found some car left alone by its owners, took a sign with his name on it, placed that on the window shield, then hopped onto the car and begged some bystander to take his picture! The expression we see is his fear that he might get caught. I love it!

    Auntie Doris – would the Pope sit like that, with shorts on no less, in the Pope Mobile? Let’s think about this. 🙂

  6. Auntie Doris on June 15, 2008 at 7:06 pm Reply

    He might do, but he would be wearing a cassock so you wouldn’t notice ;Pi

  7. Joanna R on June 15, 2008 at 9:54 pm Reply

    Glad that everyone has honed in on the photo and it’s not just me who had a little giggle at the balancing precariously in a parked car… (Sorry P!) So glad Pride felt so positive.

    Very, very good challenges to Jim Whatisname. Let’s hope he faces them.

    Am off to cut a hole in the car roof, in order to prepare for your next visit. X

  8. Auntie Doris on June 15, 2008 at 10:05 pm Reply

    ooo I hadn’t thought of that Joanna!! Peterson if we go to home for a visit my Mum’s car already has the necessary alterations for your visit 😉

  9. NG on June 15, 2008 at 10:12 pm Reply

    Well it’s that or Peterson was about to have an uh-oh moment.

  10. Bruce Garrett on June 16, 2008 at 3:56 am Reply

    Gosh…wish I could have been there Peterson!

    It’s really easy to just throw figures out there when you don’t keep any actual data to prove you wrong, let alone do any follow-up. I suppose those 300 successful LIA clients are part of that “thousands” (or is it hundreds of thousands…I can never keep it straight…so to speak…)that Exodus claims to have helped with their “same sex attractions”. Eric Hoffer once said that propaganda doesn’t fool anyone, it merely allows people to keep fooling themselves. I suppose it keeps the money coming in from fearful parents too. Ask Scott when he’ll start offering people a money back guarantee if the program works so well.

  11. paul on June 16, 2008 at 12:13 pm Reply

    JoeG (aka, “boredbeyonbelief”),

    “ng – omigod, that’s great.” LOL

    Gay people need good self affirming skills.

    Bruce,

    “Money back guarantee?” lol, what a novel idea.

    Auntie D,

    Pope mobile, he he. But where’ the bullet prove shields??

  12. Peterson Toscano on June 16, 2008 at 1:04 pm Reply

    Wait! You can’t see the driver??? Weird. I bet next you’ll tell me you can’t see my faery wings or queer halo!

  13. NG on June 16, 2008 at 1:44 pm Reply

    Wait! You can’t see the driver??? Weird. I bet next you’ll tell me you can’t see my faery wings or queer halo!

    wait, harvey, is that you?

  14. paul on June 16, 2008 at 4:28 pm Reply

    If y’all were able to see the bumper, you’d also see the bumper sticker that solves the whole problem, it reads:

    “God is my co-pilot”

  15. scott on June 16, 2008 at 4:50 pm Reply

    iPeterson, Did your arm get tired from all that waving?
    Here’s one former LIA graduate, Class of 1994, who is a happily gay man. I know many more from that era who are also happily gay.

  16. Joe Moderate on June 19, 2008 at 6:39 pm Reply

    Woo-hoo! Check out that sexy Grand Marshall 🙂 I see you went with shorts–excellent choice for the occasion!

    I just read the article about you and Christine in the June issue of the Advocate. I love the photo of you in your “People for the ethical treatment of people” t-shirt. You rock, Peterson!

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