[EDITOR'S NOTE:] This guest post was written by Marcia Neff. Marcia is one of those remarkable women who will change your life just by knowing her. She's also my PFLAG mom, so keep your language clean or she'll wash your mouth out with soap.
Recently, a conference centered on “restorative therapy” came to a large Indianapolis area church. Love Won Out, a Focus on the Family program, drew over 1000 people. This conference is based on the premise that “individuals don't have to be gay and that a homosexual identity is something that can be overcome.”
In response, the Indianapolis chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) sponsored a gathering near the church that day to counter their message. As we were leaving, a group of us were approached by a conference attendee puzzled by our rally. He didn’t understand why we’d be critical of people being told to love their gay children. We’d like to make our position clear.
We understand that many people struggle to reconcile their faith with this issue. We also acknowledge that every gay child who comes out to someone struggles in doing so, and that every parent who hears this from their child must come to grips as to how they deal with it. Seeking guidance, people come to this conference aching to hear Love Won Out's comforting promise that homosexuality can be cured.
We have walked in their shoes. We all love our children, but we believe there’s another way.
For the following Love Won Out message, we’re grateful: Speakers are telling attendees that they should love their gay child and not reject them or toss them out of their home. This is amazing progress from past religious right messages that there’s no place in society for someone who’s gay. (Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell once stated, “Homosexuality is Satan's diabolical attack upon the family that will not only have a corrupting influence upon our next generation, but it will also bring down the wrath of God upon America.”)
But even though they’re now conveying a more positive message, along with it comes reputed “scientific” evidence that homosexuality is not a sexual identity, but a developmental disorder. Love Won Out conferences are church-based; however, their message is expressed as much in the language of science as in scripture.
Their speakers use research that has been questioned and challenged by the medical and mental health professions. Their restorative therapy approach is based on a theory that a boy’s early rejection by or lack of closeness with his father excludes him from bonding with men in a natural way, and that he identifies with his domineering mother instead. So since opposites attract, he becomes sexually attracted to men rather than to women. This same general hypothesis applies to women who are attracted to women.
The facts: Every major mental health and medical organization in the nation rejects the idea that sexual orientation is a mental disorder. Homosexuality has not been classified as a mental illness in America for more than 30 years. It was removed from the national register of mental illnesses, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, in 1973.
As for restorative therapy, the American Psychological Association issued this statement in response to a picket of their 2006 annual convention by NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), "For over three decades the consensus of the mental health community has been that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The APA's concern about the positions espoused by NARTH and so-called conversion therapy is that they are not supported by the science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish."
Until society no longer denounces people because of their sexual orientation, compromising both their humanity and their civil rights, and until religious communities no longer condemn them based on scripture that can be interpreted in a multitude of ways, change will come slowly.
Our gathering outside Love Won Out was a celebration of unconditional love and acceptance for our gay children absent a call for them to change or be cured of their sexual orientation. Our hope was that if just one vulnerable youth in the back seat of a car saw the message that they’re not fundamentally flawed, but are worthy of love and acceptance as they are, we’d save them years of personal anguish.