It has taken me a while to write this post about attending the Love Won Out ex-gay conference with Ryan McCann, Public Policy Director of the Indiana Family Institute. Between the election, the blog contest and simply relaxing and cleaning the house, I’ve not felt I could give it the time it really needed. I wanted this post to be thoughtful and not just a knee-jerk reaction.
I guess I’ll just say it… I think Love Won Out may be helping some parents of LGBT youth.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a believer in reparative therapy. I think the idea of “You can pray away the gay!” to be ludicrous. Several of their statistics were cherry picked from scientific studies that do not actually support their arguments while others came from dubious studies or discredited researchers. I’m going to skip focusing on these things right now and save them for a later post (probably tomorrow) about the obviously ridiculous issues of the conference.
I don’t intend to be an apologist for the ex-gay movement, but I’m left feeling as if I’ve seen a monumental shift inside the church. I saw positive progress with my own eyes. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the evangelicals and religious fundamentalists are starting to realize that we exist for more than brimstone target practice. I think my own experiences within the church family can illustrate how gigantic this glacial development truly is.
I come from a very religious family. I grew up Presbyterian and attended the school Bible club faithfully my freshman year. I always carried a Bible and used to read it during study hall. Dr. D. James Kennedy was constantly sending me booklets and pamphlets and I regularly read non-fiction books on spiritual topics. I’d order those little Bible tracts and leave them in public restrooms. For that matter, I still carry the same Bible from high school in my computer bag today; I take it with me everywhere I go. Several of the verses comfort me and help to ease my mind. Isaiah 40 is a particular favorite, particularly verses 27-31.
27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard
Have you never understood
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
I treasured those verses through middle and high school and they still have a profound impact on me today. I was the class fag. I wasn’t good at sports; I was intelligent and I walked funny. (For those that don’t know, I walk on my tiptoes and always have. My mother put me in one of those circle stroller things for babies that allow them to push their way around a room. I was too little for it and so I learned to walk on my tiptoes. I’ve tried to walk “normal” for years. It never works. I am truly a “twinkle toed” queer.) I was the target for beatings and slurs; I was the social outcast.
That verse comforted me so strongly because at least God knew what I was going through. My life was hell and most of puberty I just wanted to kill myself to escape it. These few words, however, helped me to cling to the edge of sanity. While I may not have felt I had the strength to continue being the brunt of the school’s homophobia this one small clip told me that there was someone with unending strength that I could lean and depend on. After all, I could not count on the school administrators to stop my tormentors and talking to my parents was simply out of the question. Mind you, I wasn’t suicidal because of my sexual orientation but because of the constant persecution from my peers.
The televangelists and various religious writers only condemned homosexuality as a mammoth sin if they mentioned it all. The message that they sent was explicit: “Gays are an abomination.” Yet the more I hid who I was and denied my sexuality, the more my schoolmates seemed to sense that I was an easy target. When I started to own my self-esteem issues and rightfully come out as a fellow human being, my tormentors had to take a step back. I found that the more open I became about my sexuality, the more the bullies left me alone. As I asserted who I was it gave pause to my harassers; when I hid such an integral part of me for Christ, I made myself a bigger target. As I came out, I started to drift away from my faith. You know what they say, "God helps those who help themselves." God didn't stop my attackers, but instead served as a cosmic security blanket. I didn't need a child's reassurances from an inanimate object. I needed validation as a human being worthy of freedom from abuse, violence and hateful slurs.
So I can empathize and feel deeply the pain that some of these kids and young adults are experiencing when they come to an ex-gay conference. I know intimately the desire for change and wishing that God would somehow miraculously remove the struggles with our sexuality. I know the emotional exhaustion of trying to please your parents and your church and feeling removed from both. Their fatigue and weariness was my own.
When I came out to my parents, I was emancipated by court order and had to get my own apartment. It was my junior year of high school. I struggled to keep my grade point average up, to say the least. Yet, I didn’t really feel too much anger at my mother. After all, weren’t you supposed to cast the sinner out from among you so they didn’t tempt you into sin yourself?
That is not the message that I heard at Love Won Out. The first thing I heard as I walked into the auditorium was Joe Dallas speaking about male homosexuality. Many of the things he said were ridiculous and distorted, but one thing he said made a huge impact on me. I wanted to cry right then and there.
“Love your child for where they are at. Don’t shun them.”
What happened to fire and brimstone, Sodom and Gomorrah? What happened to holy retribution and pillars of salt? Is it possible that the evangelical church has finally realized that gays and lesbian exist and have a right to share the planet? While they are not reaffirming our lives are they, at the very least, acknowledging the fundamental need for kindness and tolerance? It wasn’t that long ago that the tent revival-call of “Repent!” was the only voice we heard echoing out of the church. How many untold suicides and hate crimes have happened as a direct corollary to anti-gay teachings? I was almost one of those statistics. How many children have been thrown out of their family homes?
As many mainline Protestant denominations have welcomed the LGBT community into their pews, the evangelicals have steadfastly condemned our very lives. I attended Love Won Out because I accepted the Indiana Family Institute’s challenge to see it for myself. IFI opposes and demonizes our community. They fight against our rights to fair housing, workplace discrimination protections, public accommodations and even our protection from hate crimes – all items they favor continuing for the religious community. By no means are they a friend to my family or countless others, but even IFI draws a line in the sand and doesn’t condone parental abuse.
I found a small kernel of hope at that convention. No child should be abandoned because of its sexuality. No child should be “shunned.” That should be the clarion call of all religious organizations no matter their stance on homosexuality. Perhaps it is too late for my parents to hear this message but for the hundreds of attendees that early Saturday morning I hope the statement came through loud and clear.
I heard it. I’ll bet God did too.