Young Man forced to attend Ex-Gay Program

Some of you may have heard through Facebook or on the blogs about Bryce Faulkner, a college-aged man from Arkansas who many believe has been coerced to attend an ex-gay program. As far as we know, Bryce is not a minor, but is a college-age young adult.

According to Waymon Hudson over at the Bilerico Project,

The request to join a new group came through my Facebook page. The group was called “Friends of Bryce“, which could have been anything, but had a note attached that said “Please Help.”

Bryce 1.jpgWhen I clicked over to the group, an all too familiar tale unfolded. Bryce Faulkner, a young gay man from Arkansas, had gone missing after his parents had discovered he was gay. They had gotten into their college-aged son’s email account and discovered messages between Bryce and his boyfriend.

The parents then gave Bryce an ultimatum- enter an extensive and severe “therapy” program or lose all their support for college and living expenses. For a young man from a conservative small town whose entire life, including his job, was tied to his parents, who had nowhere to go and no one to turn to, there really was no choice.

Bryce was sent to 14 week long conversion therapy camp and has not been heard from again.

Lots of people have commented on the blog entry and there is even a letter writing campaign to Bryce’s parents encouraged by at least one web site. Christine Bakke, who co-founded/co-lead Beyond Ex-Gay with me, encouraged me to share some thoughts from a recent conversation she and I had. I did so in the forms of a comment (a very long comment) that I thought I would repost as a blog entry.

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Waymon, thank you for blogging about Bryce and for facilitating this discussion. Christine Bakke and I had a long talk recently about the various types of ex-gay survivors.

The vast majority of people who go to these programs do so as adults who willingly seek to “de-gay” themselves for all sorts of reasons. (Check out this article at Beyond Ex-Gay where I list the many things that compelled me to go ex-gay– and here is the video with the similar info- )

Some teenagers, minors, have been forced against their will to see “therapists,” ministers, counselors and even attend Christian ex-gay camps. Although the Love in Action (LIA) Refuge for minors program closed back in spring 2007, there are other Christian boot camps around the US that offer “help” for all sorts of issues–drugs, alcohol, etc and sadly the parents of  lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens send their childrent to these camps to get straightened out.

College-age young adults like Bryce can get coerced by parents who threaten to withhold financial support should the child come out and not pursue an ex-gay path.

Of the well over 1,000 ex-gay survivors I have met in North America, Europe and the UK, this last category of college-aged folks coerced to attend often come out of the programs the least harmed. Since they are not fully invested in the process, and they are a little older than a younger teen, they typically have the inner resources necessary to get through the programming and still maintain their sense of self. They also often bring a healthy skepticism that creates problems for the folks running these programs.

Most likely Bryce is at the Love in Action Source program in Memphis, TN. It is close to where he is from, is a residential program, and would have started a new three month cycle sometime in June about the time Bryce went missing.

The good news is that programs like LIA are wildly ineffective. The vast majority of people who complete the program typically come out of the closet. I have seen that among the college-age folks like Bryce, these not only come out but become serious queer activists as a result of their negative experiences.

No doubt these programs do cause harm and most people who have been exposed to the dodgy methods and theories need help in recovering. Living without the parental support can cause huge distress. Christine and I have met many of these ex-gay survivors who have been able to move beyond these negative experiences to live open and healthy lives.

We may not be able to do much to help Bryce at this moment. If he is at LIA, he has no Internet access, phone, etc. He is in lock-down, so likely is unaware of this conversation, but he will emerge, and I imagine when he feels it is safe to do so, he will contact his friends.

My mom before she died in 2006 asked me to do her a favor. She never forced me to attend LIA, but at first she thought it wasn’t such a bad idea. She couldn’t imagine anyone being happy and gay after all the grief she saw gay people go through in her neighborhood growing up in Manhattan.

My mom asked me to be gentle with parents when they don’t yet get it. Usually they are not motivated by hate or intolerance but by fear and ignorance. Most parents simply want the best for their children and believe that by sending their child to such a program will help. My mom, once she discovered how awful the treatment was and how depressed it made me, understood that I would be best helped by being affirmed for who I was and accepted fully regardless of my sexuality. For her like many parents it was a process, (just like for many of us it has been a process to feel at peace and secure in our own sexuality).

I share this because I imagine folks are very angry with Bryce’s parents. There is even contact info on at least one site with an encouragement to communicate with his parents directly. In reaching out to his parents, if you feel so led to do, please try not to make negative judgments towards them. Assume they love their child and want him to live a happy life. Tell them your story, your own journey. Help them to see that their worse fears will not come true if they affirm their gay son. In fact, quite the opposite.

Check out this great interview with Jacob Wilson who went to LIA in 2005 at age 19. He gives an eye-witness account of what happened to him, how the brainwashing affected him and how he ultimately broke free from it. He now works as an activist in Iowa.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8uLkNefhkQ&hl=en&fs=1&]

–peterson
www.beyondexgay.com

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This post has 18 Comments

  1. Stasa Morgan-Appel on July 8, 2009 at 7:46 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing that about your mom. Bless her. And may we all, as we are holding Bryce and others in his situation in the Light, also hold their parents in the Light.

    Holding parents in the Light reminds me of the situation between Laura Davis and her mom, which Laura describes in her book about reconciliation… Davis is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, who wrote extensively about the recovery process roadmap as an adult. This led to estrangement with her mother, who didn’t believe her. Eventually, it was actually the False Memory folks who helped their reconciliation… by trashing her kid to her.

    So, too, perhaps, may ex-gay programs eventually assist, all unwittingly, in the reconciliation between proudly and happily out gay, lesbian, and bi folks and their formerly-hostile parents.

    Love does help facilitate such transformative miracles.

    • p2son on July 8, 2009 at 8:09 pm Reply

      Humans can be amazingly resilient. I really like the account you share. I totally understand the danger of these ex-gay programs (I spent 17 years as ex-gay and it has taken me a decade to recover) but sometimes we give them much more power than they deserve. Some of the most solid and engaged people I know have survived these sorts of camps.

  2. Mary Ellen on July 9, 2009 at 3:30 am Reply

    What a hopeful and helpful approach to understanding the positive possibilities that exist even in this most painful sort of situation.

    • p2son on July 11, 2009 at 1:37 pm Reply

      Thanks Mary Ellen, I feel grateful to my parents for helping me to see their side of things. It’s helped a lot.

  3. Jennifer on July 10, 2009 at 1:26 pm Reply

    Awesome letter, P — very informative, and very constructive. Like you, I don’t see all parents responding out of malice, much of the time parents really want to make sure that their child does not take a wrong turn, and they have no experience with dealing with difficult situations like this, and they just try to apply what they know, and people they thought they could trust are telling them to take certain approaches… and sometimes they make some horrible mistakes.

    The road to happiness is hard not just for the person coming out and trying to figure out and accept who they are, but for the families as well, who have never been forced to confront such things before. The resources and experience just is not there yet… although it can be learned.

    The sign of love is simply that the family, once they begin to understand, chooses to make the journey alongside us… not that they get it right from the start. It just can be a long road sometimes. Understanding all this upfront can enable us to be patient so that the family has a chance to make the journey with us.

    • p2son on July 11, 2009 at 1:40 pm Reply

      Yeah Jennifer, everyone in the family has a coming out experience. Fortunately parents have more support today than ever with all sorts of resources and excellent groups like PFLAG. It does require that parents step out beyond their comfort zones and worldview to consider other ways of thinking. If not, they may end up driving their children far from them.

  4. Jane on July 10, 2009 at 3:36 pm Reply

    Another concern, for me, is the retention of any spiritual life Bryce may have. It is detrimental when you are taught that who you are is not who is acceptable to any celestial power. My prayer for Bryce and his parents is that they recognize the sacred value of Bryce and themselves and can live in that. I’ve been through the ex-gay “stuff” myself. I admit that I still experience moments, usually at 2 or 3 in the morning, when I wonder if what I believe and say during the day is “right.” I’m learning that there is a much broader sense of “right” or “wrong” than I was led to believe for many years. I came out of an abusive home and had very little self to hold on to, but over the last 8 years have been gaining more and more of myself. I pray that Bryce has a strong sense of self and that it is somehow strengthened through this time. I’m reminded of a bumper sticker that a friend of mine had made: If you love Jesus seek Justice — any fool can honk. May Bryce and his family seek justice for themselves rather than a foolish belief in a whimsical God.

    • p2son on July 11, 2009 at 1:43 pm Reply

      Jane, you make a good point. All of the “God-sanctioned” therapy ends up driving people far away from any God.

      I understand those late night jarring fears. They bothered me for the first few years after I came out. My mind was riddled with ruts that took me directly to a place of fear, guilt and shame. It took time to renew my mind, to understand the misinformation that I was given the false god that was preached to me. It was part of the growing up process in some ways. I had to stand on my own feet without the Evangelical props holding me up.

      Sad that the most potent tool in much of the church is fear. But God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.

  5. Michael Camp on July 11, 2009 at 4:43 pm Reply

    Peterson,
    Good points about the parents. We must remember that parents and friends who don’t “get it,” are brainwashed themselves AND are victims themselves of Bible abuse–they are taught to read the Bible literally and when they see that word “homesexual” in their NIV they think that is God’s Word and how can they question God? They don’t see the original Greek and the cultural context and the point of the passages that the Bible is against oppressive or idolatrous forms of homosexuality (as for heterosexuality), and not ALL homosexuality. I was like this for years. So, as Mel White teaches, the parents and friends are usually well-meaning and are not the enemy–the enemy is ingrained traditional prejudice and abuse of the Bible. Thanks for sharing. Check out my latest post on gay marriage:
    http://deepthoughtpub.blogspot.com/2008_12_01_archive.html
    Best, Michael

    • p2son on July 11, 2009 at 5:54 pm Reply

      Michael, thanks for the link. Will check it out.

      The other problem we face in framing the parents as the bad guys and the young person in the program as the only victim is that we can misrepresent the situation.

      When Zach Stark at age 16 was forced against his will to attend the LIA program, he had little choice. As a minor he was a victim of a church culture that his parents bought into and which encouraged them to do harm to their son although they most likely they believed they were doing good. He had no easy legal recourse to resist.

      Once someone is no longer a minor, they no longer become pure victims. Although it is difficult and terrifying resist, if someone is over 18 they can legally say “NO!, you cannot make me do this!” and as an adult, they can live with the consequences. I understand that the financial consequences of this can be huge, but not impossible to overcome, especially with the assistance of the affirming parents of a boyfriend and a community committed to take care of each other (which I know doesn’t always happen.)

      Many of us who agreed, even begrudgingly, to take part in the ex-gay process need to take responsibility for our part in it, even if it is a small part. This is essential for overcoming the harm we experienced. Although we lived in a world that stood against us and it was far easier to go ex-gay, as adults we could have stood against that tide.

      By foisting all the blame on the parents in these cases where adult children are involved, frees us from the responsibility, though challenging and costly, of the adult children.

      I feel for Byrce and the intense pressure he must have felt from his family and most likely his church to go into ex-gay treatment, but it sounds like he complied as many of us did over and over–not only in ex-gay programs but as we remained stuck in the closet, tamped down our differences, lived inauthentic lives in order to please others.

  6. Michael Camp on July 11, 2009 at 8:41 pm Reply

    Peterson,

    You hit the nail on the head: “lived inauthentic lives in order to please others.” Even as adults, who should take responsibility for our decisions, many of us are addicted to approval. A psychological personal problem that takes some of us years to overcome. I think balance is in order. Encourage ones like Bryce to take responsibility for their own lives and don’t blame everything on parents and church and tradition (as you made this point so very well), but also show understanding for the psychological quandry people find themselves in and the pressure they are under to please others.

    • p2son on July 11, 2009 at 8:48 pm Reply

      Michael, I agree. Christine Bakke of http://www.beyondexgay.com and I were just talking about this and how for some this is a bitter struggle–awful consequences for living an inauthentic life and awful consequences for coming out–not a fair choice to have to make.

      Many of us lived suspended in fear for so long, we need to extend understanding to those who also also stuck while holding out a challenge and hope for something more.
      With that comes a responsibility to offer the kind of real support to those who do come out and lose a lot as a result.

  7. Regan DuCasse on July 12, 2009 at 2:56 pm Reply

    That beautiful boy. I only cut parents so much slack. If they force their family member on condition of withholding something so important to their future livelihood and independence, then that isn’t a loving gesture. Even a mistaken one.

    It’s what abusive people do. It’s what abusers do to exact total control they shouldn’t be entitled to.

    The most loving thing a person can do, is set their loved one free. Not imprison them under such conditions.

    The most powerful incentives would be loss of family, love, support and communal connection.
    Such actions have KILLED, or certainly put vulnerable young people at risk.
    I think deep down, their folks know that. They just underestimate what being gay is and what it means and are fearful of having even a little empathy. They miscalculate the risk because they think their son or daughter won’t choose the street.

    But what the folks won’t admit is: There IS no choice because one doesn’t choose being gay to begin with. Nor can give up being loved or loving. Might as well demand they stop eating.

    The track record after compelling young people like this is abysmal. And no one can appreciate the depths of misery, yet judge the misery as a symptom of homosexuality, rather than the treatment gay people receive.
    This disconnect from causation and correlation is unforgivable. The measure of all of this is so backward and frustrating, I want to tear my own hair out.

    I hope that Bryce comes through this stronger, and tougher. I’d hate to think of anything happening to him that damages him for life.

    Were he MY son….if only he were mine…
    Things sure as hell would be different.

  8. Rev. Brett A. Harris on July 13, 2009 at 3:33 am Reply

    One of the first things I did after igniting the story about Bryce Faulkner was to try and get as much clergy involved as possible. This is really about fundamentalism. Homosexuality just happens to be the issue. Fundamentalism in any form does not allow for divination and does whatever is necessary to destroy those deviations. This is intellectually truncated and counter intuitive in a world of such diversity. Those who stand for the love and compassion of God need to be just as forceful as those who force their rigid fundamentalists interpretations on society and its inhabitants. I am all for freedom of religion; especially being a secular minister. However this goes against the conscience of humanity. This form of fundamentalism is not mainstream nor is it acceptable.

  9. Wayne Besen on July 14, 2009 at 2:27 am Reply

    Good post. Thanks Peterson.

    I do have one area of discussion. You state that the vast majority of people in these programs are adults who chose to go.

    I may have agreed with that a year ago. But, I am beginning to think that the vast majority of people who have an “ex-gay” experience are kids who are forced into therapy. I have no data – but for every survivor I meet who attended an official “ex-gay” program – I meet 10 who had been forced to see the shrink to “change” by their parents.

    I do agree that they are often the least damaged, as they are not invested, as you said.

    I’m not disagreeing with you – and I could be wrong. But, this is an observation of my travels over the past couple of years.

    The number of people I meet who endured such an experience often boggles my mind. I think Exodus, really, is the tip of the iceberg. They supply the “program” and NARTH provides the fake psychology. Focus promotes the programs.

    But, most of the work, I think, is done in private offices by therapists. Some are ethical and help the child come out, in the end. Others are quacks of the NARTH variety and cause great damage. In a few cases, the youth are taken advantage of.

    Anyway, that is current state of thinking on who attends ex-gay programs. 🙂

    • p2son on July 14, 2009 at 1:14 pm Reply

      Hi Wayne, good to “see” you.

      You may very well be correct. While most of the traditional ex-gay programs take in mostly people over the age of 18, I would not at all be surprised to find out that many more young people are affected on a daily basis by “treatment” that happens under the radar through Christian counselors and youth workers. I agree that Exodus is only the exposed tip of the iceberg. So much happens out of sight.

      Focus on the Family over the past 10 years has focused directly on parents and pastors in their quest to straighten out young LGBT people. No doubt Exodus endorsed books and teachings that push a lot of the NARTH doctrines have gotten into the hands of youth pastors, who when they discover a queer kid among their charges will do their best (and worst) to sort the child out.

      This has also been the case in Europe and the UK where for years even LGBT activists were saying that there was no ex-gay movement afoot in their countries. In the UK a recent study revealed at 1 in 6 trained professional therapists surveyed said that they offered some sort of reparative therapy to clients. When I was in Barcelona last year, people came out of the woodwork talking about trained therapists who provided ex-gay treatment, in some cases for years.

      Over at Beyond Ex-Gay we highlight the story of a young man in Malta who came out to his parents. The parents were basically cool with the kid being gay (refreshing) but they wanted to make sure it was not just a phase, so they sent him to a therapist who turned out to offer the kid ex-gay treatment, in fact, suggested the boy had a spirit of perversion that needed to be exorcised. You can read the story here: http://www.beyondexgay.com/narratives/malta

      I wonder too what happens in Christian summer camps and behavior modification camps. I met a Point Foundation scholar once from a Mormon background who was sent to a camp for misbehaving Mormon kids–drugs, alcohol, porn and yes many gay kids were sent. This camp was located in Mexico away from US intervention (although there is barely any oversight of these Christian treatment centers in the US). The treatment was so bad, that he said the Mexican government shut it down because of human rights abuses.

      Wayne, as places like Exodus and Focus lose their power and dominance (and they seem to be shrinking of late) we need to find out where else these faulty and harmful ex-gay practices happen. The teen years is one of the worst times to tamper with someone’s sexuality and sense of self. Older teens may fare better. Studies reveal just how vulnerable they are at this time and that tampering with them when they are in their early to middle teens will have disastrous results.

      Sadly we still have lots of work to do in regards to the ex-gay mess.

      Nice to hear from you.
      Peterson

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