On the Eve of a Protest

Tomorrow loads of people (50-100 or more–how many people make a load?) will gather to protest in front of the Emmanuel Centre in London where inside an ex-gay conference is happening.

I actually sat outside of the Emmanuel Centre for about three hours today. Two hours as I waited to meet a journalist stuck in traffic, and then I returned to eat my lunch later in the day. The Centre is directly across the street from the Home Office Building (which has these lovely multi-colored panels on its roof that at about 4:00 washed the Emmanuel Centre in rainbow light).

When I arrived four burly bouncers (I found out later hired just for the event) and a police officer stood at the entrance. I saw a few participants enter, mostly white males in their late 20s-30s. At one point a taxis pulled up with older men with what looked like boxes of literature. All in all it was a quiet scene, but organizers were clearly on high alert.

Having noticed me after I returned, one of the organizers alerted two police officers (their numbers had grown to three ) who came over to check on me. We had a cordial chat about why I was there (eating my lunch at that moment), and they asked me if I knew what was happening inside. I told them, “Oh yes, I lived it.” It was all pleasant as they told me about gay police officers who have a large presence at the annual London Pride. I talked about the ex-gay movement in the US and my two years in the Homo No Mo Halfway House. They laughed and were appalled.

They seemed prepared for the protest tomorrow (two stacks of metal barriers stood across the street from the Centre). They said they only hope it doesn’t get out of hand and that people will be respectful and act with dignity. (code for: we don’t want any trouble here.)

Throughout the day and as I spoke with them I thought about why a protest/action/witness is important. Sure this is a tiny event, and as far as I know the people who attend it are all adults who want to attend it, some of who feel profoundly unhappy with being gay. I guess folks could have just let them have their conference and not make a stink about it. Perhaps if there was not a long history of anti-gay oppression by religious leaders as well as in the mainstream society, we could let this one slide.

The reality is that young people today suffer tremendously at the hands of bullies all around them. In the US  the number one cause of death among queer and questioning youth is suicide. That is not true of their heterosexual counterparts. They get the message that they are not wanted and sadly some take that bitter message to heart and take action.

Sitting there this morning one of the participants came by to say hi. I will not post his name or any other identifier other to say that he was not Bristish but had come from the continent for the conference. He read my blog recently and wanted to meet the human behind the words.

Yeah, there are humans behind the words on both sides. Although many of us feel disgusted with people like Joseph Nicolosi, who has made a career out of trying to straighten out gays and has propagated misguided and faulty theories he got from the British ex-gay counselor Elizabeth Moberly, (theories that directly affected my family in tragic ways), there are more people involved than just these practioners. Along wth the human leaders of this movement are other humans, mostly men, who feel profoundly unhappy about being gay. They have several reasons for this discontent.

One topic came up in our conversation is the desire of this one man to be less passive. He feels it will help him in his work and in his life. That took me back to NYC in the early 1980’s when I attended LIFE ministries. They taught over and over how men need to be assertive and decisive while women had to be submissive and meek. (What a riot whenever a group of us tried to all go to a restaurant together. The women would ask, “So where do you want to go?” aiding the men in our quest to be assertive, while none of us wanted  to be pushy, “really wherever you want to go. I don’t have any preference.” Finally one of the women would explode, “Oh for Xxxxxx sake, let’s go to Dallas BBQ!”)

Of course none of this had to do with us being gay or lesbian. This is about gender and gender roles, gender expectations. It reinforces the heirarchy that exists in the world and the church that insists that men are superior to women. Men rule the roost. This is taught as if it were natural law (hang out with Bonobos to see a different construct in nature!).

Much of the Ex-Gay Movement is an anti-feminine/anti-woman movement. Even their core teaching states that boys become gay when they have an overbearing mother and a passive/absent dad. In other words a strong woman is SO dangerous, she can even alter her son’s sexuality by taking too strong of a role in the house. The message is loud and clear–women stay in your place!

If a man finds that he is a feminized male–because of the ways he talks and walks, his interests, his tastes, etc suddenly he finds that the world around him devalues him (we even see this in the gay world). Sadly because of these negative messages coming at many gay men and effeminate males, they get the idea that they would be more valuable and of greater worth if they were more masculine (based on whatever current model the society has set for what that looks like).

The conversation I had with this man at the conference got me thinkng about the protest tomorrow too. I remember how under siege I felt during my ex-gay years of nearly 20 years. On the one hand I felt I could not possibly be gay, in large part because of my faith in Jesus, but also because of how unacceptable being gay was in so many places in my life. On the other hand I felt that the world around me was changing and becoming and more accepting of gays. People I knew wanted me to just accept myself. They didn’t seem to recognize the desperation I felt, the terror I had that if I were gay and accepted that I was gay that I felt certain I would live a horrible, lonely existence, end up with HIV/AIDS, die and go to hell. I believed that with all my heart, and that belief compelled me to seek out ex-gay treatment in North America, the UK and South America. Ultimately I spent over $30,000 in pursuit of the cure.

Back when I was ex-gay, if I were at a conference and a large crowd gathered to protest it, I would feel under attack. “Why can’t they just leave us alone???” I would notice any outrageous behavior in order to reinforce the assumptions I had that gays were godless and perverted, rude and unreasonable. I would feel invaded and violated. The very voices I was trying to drown out found their way to the very place where I fled to for escape and salvation.

Perhaps some folks inside the conference will feel likewise when they see the protesters outside. They may mistake the reasons why many of us feel the need to stand up as witnesses to what many of us have learned are faulty and even potentially destructive practices.

To those who will gather tomorrow (I can’t be there myself because I will be presenting at a conference during the same time) I understand that you may feel anger towards the organizers of this event. They come with a message that at its heart claims that there is something wrong with us for being gay, a message that we had drummed into our ears since childhood, sometimes by our very family. It’s a cruel and hurtful message. It is a lie.

It’s tempting to take a lifetime of anger and disgust at injustice and use it to fuel a protest against this one group. Tempting but not appropriate and not helpful. This is only one cog in the machine, and many of the people  running the show inside the conference are oppressed by the very system that supports their work (and will only support it as long as they continue to take an anti-gay stance). There are also humans in there desperately believing that there is something wrong with them, hoping for a cure. I am sure many of us can relate to that, even those of us who never went ex-gay.

Those people, fellow gays who have signed up for this conference looking for answers and a way out of being gay, do not deserve our pity or our rage. They deserve and need to see our hearts, our humanity, our diversity. They need to understand that “gay life” does not simply happen at some big loud club somewhere. We come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of interests, some religious, some not, poets and hikers and gardeners and rugby players and parents and so much more.

Some folks who are attending the conference may feel unhappy with a part of themselves, unable to integrate this gay part of them with the rest of their lives. Railing against them does not serve them or us.

As the protesters gather let’s remember those harmed by violence–physical, verbal, religious violence. Let’s remember those who harmed themselves because they ingested the false message that they were less valuable than their straight neighbor. Let’s remember the misery that many ex-gay survivors  and closeted men and women, in some cases for decades, suffered with a desperate need to feel normal, to feel okay,  a desperation  that drove them seek out a cure.

A few ex-gay leaders gathering to say that some people “changed” and can change does not threaten me or my life. Even if it were possible to alter one’s orientation, which is not the case, I now find that unnecessary for me. I am profoundly happier and healthier today then during those desperate ex-gay years. I never would have imagined it were possible. I never would have dreamed that I could still love and serve God and be gay. I never believed I would see the fruit of the Spirit in my life like I have since I came out. I was walking around in darkness. It took some time for my eyes to adjust to the light.

Have a great protest filled with hope and light, understanding and truth.


This post has 12 Comments

  1. Deja Nicole Greenlaw on April 25, 2009 at 4:47 am

    Hi Peterson!
    Thank you for bogging us into what’s happening in GB!!! And thank you for protesting the Ex-Gay movement!!!

    I watched your FB movie on how your parents were affected after your ex-Gay Parents Day fiasco. I am so sorry that you and your parents had to experience that awful time…

    It’s so incredible how awful and mean and ignorant that whole ex-Gay scene is… and they have no idea what they are really doing…

    So I thank you for what you do, being a voice and a bridge of truth to the world for the LGBT Community. (And thanx for sharing your Zinnia story!) Keep that awesome PT light shining!!!

  2. Jayna on April 25, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Good thoughts Peterson; I am so glad to know you and learned of your story through you.

  3. lower case paul on April 26, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Good thoughts P2. More than that, what comes through is your desire for understanding, to see and know what is vs. the emotional knee jerk response that seems so natural when struck with a hammer.

    My own particular take is we protest against ideas, not people. We protest the idea that our reality is wrong, broken, demonic, the result of ‘bad’ parenting, bullying, etc.. We protest the deafness of those who insist that they know our reality better than we, so have long since stopped listening and thus stopped hearing.

    I think we do more than protest by showing up at such events. We demonstrate to those who are imprisoned by the ideas that we protest that there is another way to live with who they are. We offer hope.

  4. Joe S on April 26, 2009 at 9:35 pm


    As you probably know, there is no real “ex-gay” movement in the UK. Speakers like Nicolosi are flown in and some people go along to see how certain theories and therapeutic processes might help them live a “non-gay” lifestyle.

    The conference attendees are as gay as the protestors outside (although they might not care for the crass culture of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence) and they know it – whether they describe themselves as gay or SSA.

    This post & protest completely distorts the reality of the Christian SSA subculture in the UK.

  5. e2c on April 27, 2009 at 3:23 am

    Peterson, thanks so much for calling the misogyny in the ex-gay movement (and much American Christian culture) what it really is, and not some sort of “godly order.”

    Now if only people like Mark Driscoll would turn off the talk and start listening…


  6. Carol on April 27, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Peterson – how I wish I was there to stand with the protesters. Well, I actually wish I could just be there drinking tea and having full English breakfast. If I were there I’d hold a sign saying, “Straight wives deserve a straight man.” and “Do you really want your daughter to marry an ex-gay?” or, “Love covers a multitude of sins, but being gay is not one of them.” You can see I’m not a good slogan-maker, but I have good thoughts. I’m thinking of you while you are in the UK, and love this post. Keep on with all you do and say.

  7. lower case paul on April 27, 2009 at 5:09 pm


    “Love covers a multitude of sins, but being gay is not one of them.”

    That’s a great slogan. Wow, I know several people, including myself, that had we heard and believed such a ‘slogan’ could have saved ourselves and many others enormous grief. Don’t underrate the power of your own perception and experience, you have more than good thoughts.

  8. e2c on April 28, 2009 at 2:29 am


    I like your slogans! (Especially the one about straight women deserving to have straight husbands… because I know people who’ve gone through horrible pain in marriage due to the whole “ex-gay” thing; also because I’m a straight woman.)

    Ditto on the full English breakfast – and I think the protest could be fun, given the company. 🙂

  9. Jane on April 28, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences yesterday. I find hope in the police talking about their colleagues who walk in the annual Pride parade.

    I am talking with a former youth member, from the pentecostal days (I was the one of the youth leaders), who is “struggling” with her attraction to women. I find it hopeful that she is sharing with me. She is married with four children, and incredibly unhappy. I am fearful for her, her children and her husband. I am fearful for the church her husband serves as pastor. The depth of the sorrow that living a lie creates is overwhelming. She is one of the very real people who go into those conferences. I don’t know if it’s societal constructs or her own integrity, but she has a real commitment to the marriage and the children. She doesn’t want to walk away and leave these humans with pain. She’s also afraid that she will not ever see her children again if she “gives in to this thing.”

    Real people with real pain. May they all know the real Light of Love.

  10. p2son on April 29, 2009 at 7:33 am

    Joe, the “ex-gay” movement has operated under the radar for several years since the Exodus program Courage transformed into a pro-gay Christian group. Jeremy Marks was the head of Exodus Europe and the founder of Courage. Recognizing that the program and the treatments did more harm than good, he asked the hard questions and walked the ministry through a change process of its own.

    The US-based “ex-gay” movement is varied. Much of it also happens under the radar is in the UK through the work of Christian counselors (who most often have substandard training and over site compared to licensed therapists), youth pastors, ministers, etc. There still are a few ex-gay programs in the UK, mostly unaffiliated with larger groups like Exodus.

    The teachings of Nicolosi (which are a reworking of the British reparative therapist, Moberly) saturate much of the literature and theory that counselors, pastors and ministers draw upon in their ex-gay work. One size does not fit all in the UK or the US when it come to the ex-gay (and what is also often anti-gay) movement. They use a variety of methods and look for a variety of different results, but many of the core values remain the same, and from my experience, these core values actually serve to undermine the health and well-being of the people seeking help.

  11. p2son on April 29, 2009 at 7:57 am

    Thanks Jane.
    I am so glad your friend has someone to talk. Little do we know how these talks can give people the hope they so desperately need. The uncertainty and fear can be so great. I have my own talk with a college student today who has his own questions and doubts. IT’s such an honor to have these opportunities.

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