Category: Memphis

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.

Memphis Pride

I flew into Memphis on Tuesday night, my third visit to this Mid-South city since February when Christine Bakke and I along with several other ex-gay survivors came to town to work with local LGBT folks in organizing Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth–A Weekend of Action & Art. Last night I performed my play The Re-Education of George W. Bush–No President Left Behind! making it the fourth play I have presented here in 2008. (I guess I need to write a new play before I return :-p )

10 years ago I lived in Memphis. I had gradutated Love in Action, a Memphis-based residential program designed to straighten folks out, in March of 1998, but I returned to the program around this time after a “relapse”. (I think I was the first person to actually graduate then return for more treatment. Usually graduates only come back to work as staff, which in itself is a form of on-going treatment). I spent the rest of the summer of ’98 up through October going through the five phases of the program once again.

Those days still hold dark memories for me. I think about the desperation and the fear that hung over me. After 17 years of seeking God with all my heart, of surrendering, of submitting to various teachings, programs, ex-gay leaders, church leaders, of praying, fasting, memorizing the scripture, worshipping Jesus, bonding with straight male mentors, digging up the roots to my homosexuality, making amends, binding the strong man, tapping into my masculine side, creating a mythology about my past that fit in with the ex-gay developmental model, of doing, hoping, longing, believing, I had experienced no shift whatsoever in regards to my same-sex attractions (a promise dangled before me for years). Worse yet, the more I sought to contain, crucify, hand over, stuff down, manage, and die daily to my same-sex desires, the stronger they propelled me and the deeper I felt depressed, confused, hopeless and ashamed.

10 years ago I sat perched on the rubble of years of believing God and bullying God for “victory over homosexuality.” That I still remained “bound” meant that I had done something wrong. Ex-gay leaders, Christian counselors and uninformed pastors did a disservice to me when constantly put the blame back on me. I failed to turn myself around because:

  • I wasn’t trying hard enough.
  • I was trying too hard.
  • I didn’t want it badly enough.
  • I wanted it too much.
  • I hadn’t yet discovered the root to my problems
  • I needed to find a different treatment plan.
  • I needed to pray more, read more, do more, more, more!
  • I had not yet repented from the heart.
  • I was not willing to resist until death.

In fact, not too long ago in a Conservative Christian anti-gay radio program, a pastor from Central Church, who I knew from my Love in Action days, brought up the need to suffer even until death in our fight against sin in our lives and specifically in regards to gay attraction.

About 10 years ago I finally came to my senses when I realized that change was not possible, change was not necessary, this “change” was destroying me. Instead I took the advice of Love in Action director, John Smid, who instructed us that if something was not working, try something new. He also regularly reminded us that a definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome. For years I tried to sort out my gay side, to rid myself of it or at least control it, but that only bore negative fruit–the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit. A little less than 10 years ago I decided to try something new, to accept the reality that I am a man who finds other men romantically and sexually attractive. I didn’t feel happy at the time about this acceptance, but I needed to face reality, or the fantasy world I lived in would destroy me.

10 years later I enjoy the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a way I always dreamed of–charitas, gaudium, pax, longanimitas, benignitas, bonitus, fides, mansuetudo and continentia. This year’s Pride celebration in Memphis means a lot to me. Over the past 10 years I have reclaimed my life, recovered from much of the ex-gay harm I experienced and grown into health.

Mid-South Pride, the organizers of this year’s festivities, invited me to be the Grand Marshall of the Memphis Pride parade. I would have declined the invitation in any other city (not that others are asking 🙂 but I feel good and yes proud to celebrate Pride here in Memphis even if I will feel a little silly in a car waving to folks along the parade route. This year I celebrate my liberation from 17 years of ex-gay madness and my deliverance from fautly theories and oppressive practices. I celebrate the freedom that I have to be myself, to live in integrity, to embrace a healthy lifestyle based in reality.

Happy Pride!

Ex-Gay Survivor Jacob Wilson Shares More


Jacob Wilson attended Love in Action the summer of 2005. He recently came public with his story in the Memphis Commercial Appeal and at a press conference during Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth—A Weekend of Action & Art. You can see Jacob here with his boyfriend Ryan, who is holding the Christian & Gay sign.

While in Memphis for the weekend, in addition to leading a round table discussion about youth issues at Love in Action, Jacob also agreed to be interviewed by Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin. In the following video Jacob shares about his ex-gay past and his parents’ role in encouraging change. Then he discusses the changes he actually experienced and that feeling of dying inside.

Jacob doesn’t need to come forward to tell his story. His generosity helps so many people. His story shows the anguish someone goes through when they feel the conflict over their sexuality as well as the trials they endure when they attend programs like Love in Action. In hearing his story, I can see the value of the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine in helping folks like Jacob to begin to unpack and understand their ex-gay experiences.

Thank you Jacob!
(and thanks to Daniel Gonzales for posting the video)

Ex-Gay Survivor John Holm Speaks Out

Daniel Gonzales of Box Turtle Bulletin interviewed John Holm, an ex-gay survivor who traveled to Memphis from Illinois to be part of the big weekend. John also attended last summer’s Ex-Gay Survivor Conference and is a fellow Quaker. In this video he speaks a little bit about his ex-gay experiences, dating women and Quakerism.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjA0yqheKcs]

Thank you John for stepping up and telling some of your story!

Beyond Ex-Gay Memphis RECAP

We have had some time to reflect on the big weekend in Memphis and the events surrounding Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth—A Weekend of Action & Art. Christine and I have spent much of the day building some new web pages to give folks a sense of what took place during the weekend.

  • Check out our Memphis photo album with lots of super photos thanks to Bruce Garrett.
  • See video of the press conference and gallery walk
  • Learn more about the Chalk Talk and see up close what people have to say about their ex-gay experiences
  • Read a list of options for ex-gay survivors to consider for their recovery process
We will have information soon about upcoming Beyond Ex-Gay events
April 6, 2008 Portland, OR
May 26, 2008 Barcelona, Spain
October 23, 2008 Nashville, TN

Chalk Talk on Ex-Gay Experiences

Last weekend in Memphis Beyond Ex-Gay held a regional gathering for ex-gay survivors and allies. Like at last summer’s Ex-Gay Survivor Conference we also did a Chalk Talk, which is a visual conversation done on a wall. Anyone can write a word, phrase or image about the prompt. They can also connect thoughts.

This time we chose for our prompt Ex-Gay Experiences. Daniel Gonzales of Box Turtle Bulletin took some footage of the Chalk Talk once we finished. Christine blogged about the experience here.

The power about a Chalk Talk is that everyone can add what they like. Also, their words stay out there. With the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement one of the things we hope to see is ex-gay leaders and others who promote ex-gay therapies to listen to the words and stories of ex-gay survivors. Here is a wonderful opportunity.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbkvBr5x3W8]

Rest, Recovery, and Reflection

What a tremendous weekend in Memphis! All the events for Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth—A Weekend of Action & Art far exceeded my expectations. Loads of people turned out to everything, but more than the quantity of people was the quality of the exchanges we had and the depth of learning and sharing and loving. Bruce Garrett shares how the weekend moved him and posts some photos here.

We did stand in front of Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out event for a few hours on Saturday morning. We held up clear, positive signs with messages like Christian & Gay, We Know You Love Your Children, Integrity Changes Lives, Change at What Cost? Some ex-gay survivors also went into Central Church to present gifts to the people at Love Won Out, framed collages about our experiences (designed by Christine). But this was a tiny part of weekend. We were not there to protest rather the weekend showcased the creative, strong LGBT community in Memphis.

I spoke with a neighbor today who casually asked, “So what did you do for the weekend?” In my mind I scanned the many events and magical moments over the past few days. The Ex-Gay Survivor Art Show that Christine Bakke curated. The preview of Morgan Jon Fox’s film, This is What Love in Action Looks Like, the wonderful party at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center, The bXg Mid-South Regional Gathering, a press conference where some ex-gay survivors spoke out for the very first time, the official retirement performance of Homo No Mo, the Memphis premiere of Transfigurations, a talk on Art, Activism and Spirit at the Quaker Meeting House. So MUCH.

Too much to convey in a casual conversation while waiting on line at the bank. I felt as if I had been a character in A Wrinkle in Time or one of the Narnia books, where I got transported to another time and place, spent months only to return to find out it was really just a long weekend. I replied to my neighbor, “This past weekend? I went to see some friends in Memphis.”

Needless to say I feel exhausted physically and emotionally. Spiritually I feel charged up and renewed. Seeing ex-gay survivors who are not victims, who have creatively reclaimed their lives, encouraged and cheered me.

But I have depleted my resources for now and need some days to recover and rest and reflect on what I experienced. For any survivor, we need to know our limits and take care of ourselves, especially after we have stirred up difficult memories. What we do at Beyond Ex-Gay is complicated personal work that has a public component to it. Unpacking and deconstructing our ex-gay experiences serve multiple purposes. We stand as a witness and warning to the harm that can come because of reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries. Some pro-ex-gay people have begun to listen and think more deeply about their assumptions about the ex-gay option.

Our work though also serves as a tool for healing and recovery. Connecting with fellow survivors helps us as we try to make sense of what we did to ourselves and what we allowed others to do to us. It helps us to see our ex-gay experiences in light of the broader anti-gay cultures that nurtured self-hate, shame and fear. We listen to each other. We recognize that others hear us and know what we are talking about, perhaps for the first time ever since we came out. All good work, but hard work.

As activists, ministers, angelic troublemakers (as Bayard Rustin puts it), our work begins with ourselves. The next few days I will visit my dad where my cell phone does not work and I have no wi-fi (not even dial up). I will help look after him as he recovers from his heart surgery. I will also walk in the woods, cook, watch silly TV, read good fiction, sit in silence, rest, recover and reflect.

So if you don’t hear from me for a few days, please don’t take it personally.

More Memphis

Below are some photos from our action outside of Love Won Out in Memphis. Our goal was to tell the other side of the story. Here you see Ryan, Daniel, Jacob, John and Brandon. Thank you Daniel and Brandon for making the sign and Jacob for help with the words.
Here I am quoting my dad.
The cute couple Jacob & Ryan
Jim Burroway gets interviewed by Fox
Ex-gay survivor Jason with the sign “I tried Ex-gay Therapy (It Didn’t Work) flanked by local supporters from PFLAG and the Memphis Friends Meeting.

Local folks standing out with survivor and Bob (Holy & Whole) who arrived rom Topeka that morning.

Christine Bakke blogged last night about some of the Saturday events here in Memphis as part of Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth—A Weekend of Action & Art.

Today we had, among other events, the Mid-South Regional Gathering for Ex-Gay Survivors and Allies. At the conference in Irvine, I was so busy doing the behind-the-scenes work I didn’t really have the ability to participate in the conference. This afternoon, though, I was able to take part in the activities and workshop we’d planned. I really needed it. I’ve been heavily processing a lot of stuff the last 6 months or so and it really helped to get together with a group of folks who know exactly what I’m talking about, and just really “get” me. It also felt good to be able to communicate with my art.

We did another chalk talk. We’ll post photos of it soon. It moved me deeply and I participated by writing a lot of thoughts on the paper wall, and then crying and processing during the debriefing. I really appreciate everyone else’s comments and input, as well as the understanding nods as we all talked about our experiences. It is so wonderful not to feel alone with all of this.

Read all of Christine’s post here.

Ex-Gay Survivors Speak Out in Memphis

What a day! The Ex-Gay Survivor Art Show opened and we also had a powerful press conference at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center (a really great spot) to kick off Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth—A Weekend of Action & Art. Then this evening I performed the official retirement show of Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House.

The art is amazing and Christine Bakke did a great job of putting it together along with the help of so many others including Jason Ingram, who also has art in the show. We even have art from John Evans, one of the founders of Love in Action.

Daniel Gonzales of Box Turtle Bulletin took video and I know that Bruce Garrett took a bunch of photos. The video is up already (wow Dan, fast work!).

Here see and hear Jim Burroway speak about his recent visit to Love Won Out, what he hear and saw. It moved me to tears.

Here fellow ex-gay survivor and former Love in Action participant Brandon Tidwell shares his story and an impassioned plea to understanding, love and acceptance. Brandon speaks so clearly. I learned a lot about telling my own story from hearing him tell his.

Here Jacob will tells his story including the summer he spent at Love in Action. He was there during the summer protests sparked when I 16 year old boy cried for help when his folks forced him to attend the Refuge program. Jacob relates the horrendous Family and Friends weekend encounter when he had to share his most shameful sexual experiences in front of his parents and a bunch of strangers. Very powerful and moving.

Here John Holm speaks out for the first time publicly as an ex-gay survivor. He will tell his full story tomorrow in front of Central Church, and from hearing it, I know he has so much courage and has done so much to reclaim a life that seemed so desperate for so long.

Here Christine Bakke provides us with a gallery walk about the Ex-Gay Survivor Art Show. Daniel Gonzales and Jason Ingram speak about their art too. Christine explains the idea behind her House of Cards art piece which is sooooo amazing!

I felt so much hope and encouragement at the work these folks have done to reclaim their lives, address the harm they experienced because of their ex-gay experiences and the effects of an anti-gay society. These are not victims. They are survivors and people who thrive in this world. I feel so pleased to be among them this weekend.

Hope to have some images soon. I have not taken any photos yet.

It’s Okay to Be Gay!

In fact, it is great to be gay, if that is true for you, which it is for me. Bianca Phillips at the Memphis Flier wrote a super article all about Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth—A Weekend of Action & Art. For a title she used a slogan that the young folks chanted during the 2005 summer actions outside of Love in Action–It’s Okay to Be Gay!

In the piece she lists off all the events for the weekend shares some of her interview with Morgan Jon Fox and with me.

On Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m., Beyond Ex-Gay will host its Mid-South Regional Gathering, a series of workshops and panels for ex-gay survivors, at the gay and lesbian center.

“There’s a lot of psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage [in ex-gay survivors], and there’s a need to unpack what we’ve done to ourselves and let other people do to us,” Toscano says. “This regional gathering will give ex-gay survivors a chance to check in and talk to each other.”

Also on Saturday, local filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox will offer a preview of his long-awaited documentary This Is What Love in Action Looks Like at 8 p.m. at First Congregational Church.

Jon Fox chronicled the 2005 protests of Love in Action’s “Refuge” program, which offered reparative therapy for gay teens. The protests led to state investigations of the center’s license to treat mentally ill people. Last summer, Love in Action closed Refuge in favor of a more intensive program for parents of gay teens.

“It all started with a few kids sticking up for their friend. It was just something to do for the summer,” Jon Fox says. “They ended up impacting the situation on an international level.”

Read all of It’s Okay to Be Gay.

Also this weekend NPR’s Interfaith Voices will do a segment on ex-gay stuff. They interviewed me for the piece and asked me to share some of my story. You will be able to listen on-line here. (They also have an interesting piece about Billy Graham).

The Ex-Gay Survivor Art Show is coming together nicely. Such powerful artwork. Some of it got featured in Bianca Phillips article.