Editors' Note: Guest blogger Vincent Cervantes is a queer Latino/Chicano, speaker, writer, and activist. Since 2006, Vincent has traveled throughout North America to share his own personal story as an "ex-gay" survivor. His story has been shared through Details Magazine, The Tyra Banks Show, and other various media outlets.
Exodus International, Love In Action, the National Organization for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals (NARTH), "reparative therapy," "conversion therapy" -- too many of us are more than familiar with the programs and organizations that promise to 'cure' homosexuality, otherwise known the 'ex-gay' movement. Unfortunately, for some of us, that familiarity comes from having experienced these therapies and programs personally. 'Ex-gay' survivors (former 'ex-gays') are evidence to the fact that homosexuality cannot be treated nor cured. However, organizations like Exodus International and NARTH have yet to close their doors and admit that they are dangerously harming the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals.
While the leaders of the 'ex-gay' movement may genuinely believe that they are reaching out with good intentions to individuals struggling to understand their same-sex attractions and/or gender variance, the reality is, these leaders are doing more harm than good; and that is the narrative that needs to be shared. The 'ex-gay' movement needs to take responsibility and ownership for the harm that caused in the lives of LGBTQs.
Soulforce, a national non-profit organization dedicated to responding to religious- and politically-sanctioned oppression against LGBTQs through relentless non-violent resistance, is at the forefront of charging the 'ex-gay' movement with that responsibility. This past weekend (November 5-7) Soulforce hosted a symposium centered on "The Truth About Faith, Love, Science, and Reparative Therapy," that essentially served as an indictment against the 'ex-gay' movement by openly exposing the harm and violence produced by 'ex-gay' ideologies and practices. Leading (and diverse) voices in the field, including theologians, pastors, academics, psychotherapists, social activists, and many others, gathered to actively converse on the dangers of the 'ex-gay' movement, in order to produce an inclusive, radical counter movement.
With the recent media attention to the high rate of queer-related suicides among young people, the timing of the Soulforce Symposium could not be more relevant. The Symposium equipped us with a language to talk about the harm produced by these therapies and programs that will ultimately hit the heart of the 'ex-gay' movement -- both the personal heart and the institutional heart. As Jay Bakker pointed out in the opening plenary for the Symposium, "Silence is violence!" And for that reason, we can no longer sit idly by while the lives of LGBTQ individuals are being violently affected by 'ex-gay' rhetoric; we must act and we must act now, because, as Jay also stated, "This is our life and our time -- there is no reason to take our life away!"
In order to disarm the 'ex-gay' movement, we must be willing to talk openly about the violence abuse takes place in these programs. At the Symposium, Dr. Jallen Rix identified the features of religious abuse that exist within reparative therapy programs. He essentially argues that these programs produce an unholy relationship within the individual, which creates internalized shame and self-hatred. This self-hatred becomes amplified as individuals begin to view themselves as 'disordered' and in need of treatment. Bill Meyer examined how prejudices against homosexuality pose as 'science', which enables groups like NARTH to employ psychiatry and psychology as a means of 'treating' homosexuality, despite contemporary scientific evidence that debunks their theories. Ultimately, what these programs and therapies are, as Dr. Christine Robinson posited in her presentation, is a genocidal project. The term genocide is not a hyperbole in this discussion, but instead accurately describes the annihilation of a population.
It is imperative that we talk about the 'ex-gay' movement on these terms. The violence and harm against LGBTQ individuals gets theologically and pseudo-scientifically supported by these organizations and programs. We must be willing to challenge the violently false information present in their ideologies and practices -- that is what the Soulforce Symposium endeavored to do.
I believe that the information and arguments presented at the Symposium allows us to create places that cultivate a sense of hope and inclusion among all people. My experiences as an 'ex-gay' survivor and scholar of religion and theology, reveal to me the need for a radical inclusive movement that rouses the spirit as much as it engages the intellect. Without soulful rejuvenation and inspiration, the enormity of injustice could extinguish our hope and energy; and we cannot be willing to sit and let that happen. We are pained with stories of how people have been hurt and our lives have ended as a result of 'ex-gay' rhetoric. As much as the Symposium was an indictment against the 'ex-gay' movement, it was and incitement to deliver an end to that pain.