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.”
When 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.
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.