Exodus International left a gaping hole in the "Day of Truth," a conservative counter-protest to the LGBT-inclusive "Day of Silence," when they ended their sponsorship earlier this year.
When Exodus, an "ex-gay" group, made the announcement last month, they specifically cited to the spike in gay suicides in their rationale. President Alan Chambers insisted "All the recent attention to bullying helped us realize that we need to equip kids to live out biblical tolerance and grace while treating their neighbors as they'd like to be treated, whether they agree with them or not."
Now another right wing organization, Focus on the Family, has taken over lead sponsorship of the event, which they're rebranding as the "Day of Dialogue."
It's tempting for cynics to dismiss this new direction as nothing more than a publicity stunt. I admit that was my first thought. And, yes, from an institutional, PR angle, Focus on the Family's announcement reeks of self-interest.
But we're all well-advised not to dismiss this turn of events.
Despite the name change, Day of Dialogue maintains the same mission statement as "Day of Truth."
"[The day] will boast a new name while maintaining the same goal it's had since its 2005 inception: encouraging honest and respectful conversation among students about God's design for sexuality," Focus' forthcoming press statement will read.
The event is meant to oppose the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's "Day of Silence," during which students take a "vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools," and take an explicit stand against bullying.
"Any form of bullying and harassment of others is always wrong, including making fun of others, speaking down to them and saying things that hurt people," says the event's corresponding website. "Christian students in particular should be bold in speaking up to oppose that kind of behavior because it goes completely against the model Christ gave us."
Surely Focus on the Family simply wants to paint itself as more understanding, empathetic and inclusive. But while the group continues to endorse anti-gay politicians and legislation, like DOMA, which they still vigorously support, its rebranding strategy rings empty, at best.
That doesn't mean it won't be effective.
A recent Pew Research poll reflects what we could all guess: younger generations are more inclined to accept gay marriage, and gay people in general, than older generations. The youth, having grown up accustomed to LGBT people on television, music and other media, view sexuality as less of a "big deal" than their parents or grandparents. And that trend will no doubt continue to grow. Focus' "Day of Dialogue" may even help that along.
While Focus on the Family as a group continues to be a thorn in the side of gay rights, their "Day of Dialogue," even if born of a churlish attempt to shore up public opinion, may in fact help students see the lavender light and open their arms to their queer peers.
Focus can't, after all, control what the students say, right? Or other students' rebuttals?
If you ask me, dialogue's better than thrusting some "truth" upon students.