Since I blogged yesterday about the positive thing I saw at the Love Won Out conference, today I’ll focus a little more on what I noticed that was, well, just f--ked up. Tomorrow I'll have an interview with ex-gay leader Mike Haley and Jim Burroway of BoxTurtleBulletin will be guest posting on Thursday.
Love Won Out and evangelicals got their praise yesterday. Not today.
I was only able to attend the conference for the first half of the day. I truly wish I’d have been able to spend more time observing and interviewing some of the attendees and staff. It was completely fascinating.
The event was held in a local mega-church. I’d estimate about 700 people showed up for the event, but the auditorium sanctuary wasn’t full by any means. By the time I checked out the vendor booths and greeted the Indiana Family Institute’s Director of Public Policy Ryan McCann, his girlfriend and his mother, the program had already started.
Let me say from the start that my first immediate thought upon entering the church was a memory from high school of my older sister. She is ten years older than I am and used to be heavily into Amway. She and her husband took me to an Amway convention once where motivational speakers would share “secrets” on how to increase their business sales or recruitment efforts. All through the stadium (this thing was huge!) were these little booths offering tapes of the speeches, books, doo-dads and just about anything possible to make a buck. The Love Won Out conference also had a ton of books and CDs claiming to cure you of your sexuality through "secrets" the "radical gay agenda" doesn't want you to know!
Joe Dallas was at the podium railing about the dangers of male homosexuals as I took my seat with Ryan’s family. He was by far and away the most dangerous speaker that I heard. His message was completely warped psychobabble but his public speaking abilities were masterful. It took me a couple days to remember who he reminded me of. Ryan mocks me for this idea on the IFI blog, but he reminded me of Derren Brown, the British mentalist. (If you have no idea who I’m talking about look him up on YouTube. His segment “The Heist” on a seminar he leads that implants the suggestion to steal is a fascinating clip to watch.)
Joe’s voice was preacher perfect. His pitch moderated between the dramatic and the monotonous. He’d speak for a few minutes perfectly rationally and I’d find myself agreeing with him on a few points. Then he’d say something patently ridiculous and I’d find myself nodding along until a couple of seconds later when it would hit me what he’d just said and I’d realize what I had just nodded assent to. Between the hand movements and the voice pitch and inflection, I knew I'd have to keep an eye on him to avoid falling under his spell.
The speaker gave out the usual ex-gay talking points:
- “Inborn doesn’t necessarily mean normal.”
- “We are all born imperfect.”
- “Inborn doesn’t mean God ordained.”
- “We’re not compelled to act on our feelings”
Traits of a gay man include:
- Artistic/intellectual over athletic
His purpose was to lay down the gauntlet to the attendees. Their children’s sexuality was laid directly at the feet of the parents. While admitting that sexuality’s origins may be genetic, he pointed specifically to the parental bond as the number one factor. It even rates talking points in the official Love Won Out handbook. Unfortunately, the handbook and speaker seemed to interchange “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” incorrectly quite often. One example comes directly from this section. This is how it looks in their take-home reminder:
Father/Son Bonding (primary family influence)
Mother/Son Bonding (secondary family influence)
Gender identity influenced largely by family dynamics
Mr. Dallas spewed several nonsensical tidbits into the audience like “The Father is the ambassador to gender identity” while trying to pinpoint how sexual identity develops and my personal favorite, “How a dad acts is how other men will react.” Huh? What the hell does that even mean? It sure sounded ominous!
While the next speaker, ex-gay Mike Haley, gave his testimony I listened intently. I’ll have a post up tomorrow all about him and his testimony and my interview with him.
While I interviewed Mr. Haley, the seminar on “The Condition of Female Homosexuality” started. This section was run by Melissa Fryrear, an ex-lesbian who’s also a Focus on the Family wonk. I have to say, I wish she’d been the speaker all day long. She was horrible. While I’m sure quite a bit of the audience was drawn into her story (she testified for the rest of the time after her presentation), she wasn’t nearly as convincing as Joe Dallas. She made outrageous claims using “scientific facts” to back herself up. She actually claimed that all lesbians were abused. Seriously! Apparently she has a history of making these sorts of claims.
Ms. Fryrear was also quite sexist. Her constant pleas for a husband quickly grew old, but some of the things she said just blew me away. At one point she showed a picture of herself looking particularly dyke-y – short hair, baggy sweatshirt, the whole shebang. As she stood in front of the audience in her demure blouse and skirt with matching heels she proudly proclaimed, “That I show up at Focus on the Family in a skirt, pantyhose and high heels is a miracle itself,” as if God’s wondrous mysteries revolved around her choice of footware. Blasphemy anyone? Anyone?
She followed that one up with “I had no idea how expensive it is to be a woman” and a personal story about a heated eyelash curler. Can you hear the giggle in her voice? One of the other ear curdling moments was when she was praising herself for looking more feminine. “What does it mean to look like a woman on the inside?” she asked. “Now that I’m out of that lifestyle my inner beauty matches my outer beauty.” Because, you know, lesbians are ugly and never feminine at all.
But the best quip of the day came from Melissa. I kid you not, this is a direct quote: “The best part about being straight is that they [men] pay for your meals! You can save your money for manicures!” Oh yeah, because denying your sexuality means no more dishwater hands or hangnails.
Sadly, Alan Chambers wasn’t there for the “Hope for Those Who Struggle” breakout session. I really wanted to interview him. Instead I got a welcome surprise! Melissa would be taking the reins. (How manly of her. I hope she checked her lipstick and blush first!)
I was excited about this session, honestly. I wanted to see what sort of “tips” they’d be offering the roomful of young adults and teens. Here they are (in order) so you can save yourself the entry fee.
- Attend Love Won Out conferences (perhaps they’re looking for ex-gay groupies to follow them from town to town like Deadheads)
- Buy their books (conveniently enough they were on sale right outside, but there were also advertising inserts in the handbook and other materials)
- Visit their website and Exodus International’s site (“I can’t talk highly enough about Exodus!” I can.)
- Join a church that doesn’t condone homosexuality (perhaps Fred Phelps has a pew open!)
- “Get support from other people who haven’t had this struggle”
Apparently, I just need to become a Baptist and I’ll marry the next woman I see. After all, I went to the conference, I came home with two books, I went to the websites and most of my friends are straight. I’m one river baptism from the American dream!
While I could go on and on with the details of what happened, I think you’ve gotten the general gist by now. As I said earlier, I had to leave early so the IFI has generously offered to purchase the CDs of the seminars for me. I stuck around for lunch with Ryan and his lovely (truly!) girlfriend. We sat with a 16-year-old kid whose mother had driven him to Indianapolis from Chicago. Curt Smith, the President of IFI, joined us as did State Representative Cindy Noe. Rep. Noe’s lip curled when we were introduced. “Oh.” She whined. “You’re the people who write about me all the time.”
Since she wasn’t introduced to me as a state legislator, I had no idea who she was. The name rang distant bells, but that was about it. When I was told she was a state Representative I really searched my brain for any posts I’d done about her. I couldn’t come up with any. I mentioned that to her as I left but she dripped acidly, “Yes. You have. One of your people had a problem with my coarseness question or something.” I still doubted we’d talked much about her or I’d have recognized her name; obviously she wasn’t politically powerful enough for me to know her by sight. But the Representative was correct. We have talked about her – 16 times by name - although mostly in the comments section. The post she referenced was Annette Gross’s short post from September 2006 about one of Noe’s online surveys. By any standards, it was one of the least offensive posts that have run on the site. Representative Noe apparently has a thin skin.
As I walked to the car I reflected on how not so long ago I would have been another brainwashed sheep thinking an Amway success shop-a-thon would help me to suppress my sexuality. I’m very lucky. Hopefully some of the attendees saw the message of love the PFLAG contingent sent their way as they stood vigil beside the entrance to the mega-church.
Because love tells the truth.