"Ex-gay" organization protested in Philadelphia
When members of a so-called "ex-gay" organization arrived in Philadelphia this past weekend, a number of LGBT activists armed with the message "you can't pray the gay away" were on hand to greet them.
In conjunction with Soulforce's Life Rally! and annual symposium, Truth Wins Out held a protest outside of the site of the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality's annual conference. More than 40 protesters clutched pink suitcases in recognition of the controversy surrounding former NARTH official George Rekers, who was caught with a male escort he claimed was helping carry his luggage in Miami International Airport.
Wayne Besen, author and founder of Truth Wins Out, is confident protesters effectively delivered their message to NARTH and onlookers.
"We got the message out that these are disreputable therapists in a very funny and entertaining way," Besen told EDGE. "It's important to speak out against NARTH because what they want to do is be seen as mainstream and they want to be seen as people who are legitimate-when, in fact, their illegitimate and on the far fringe of psychology. They are rejected by every respectable medical organization out there. I think our efforts drove that home in a very vivid way."
Besen has made a career out of investigating the ex-gay movement, and has gained notoriety for outing some of the religious right's most avid ex-gay supporters. Wade Richards, a former aide to former U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell [R-Del.], found himself in a heated debate with Besen about ex-gay rehab during a radio interview. (He came out to Besen months later.)
While Besen may not prove a popular guest at religious right events, he told EDGE that NARTH supporters remained surprisingly mum at last week's protest.
"These quacks, after seeing themselves, knew what they were doing was wrong and they tried to slither through the side exit doors or scurry out of the building with sunglasses on and with their heads down in shame," said Besen. "We may have had one person who came over and talked about Jesus, which is ironic considering NARTH is supposedly secular. They aren't, it's a fraud. NARTH is basically bad science in support of bad technology."
Three years after the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973, Exodus International, an interdenominational Christian organization promoting "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ," came into existence. Former President George W. Bush welcomed Exodus leaders into the White House in 2006 to discuss the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Besen warns if the ex-gay movement is left unmonitored, it could soon find its way into the political arena.
"They're not a threat in terms of serious science-arguing with NARTH is like arguing the world is flat," Besen told EDGE. "Scientifically they're a joke, they're not real, and it's a total consumer threat. They are a threat because their work is picked up by society and its people use these titles-doctors, physicians-a lot of people don't understand who they are. And then politicians start to pick up their work. They're a threat in a political sense."
The Rev. Dr. Cindi Love, executive director of Soulforce, said she's particularly troubled by the recent submission of a bill that would expand the criminalization of homosexuality in Uganda by introducing the death penalty in certain cases. Love expressed concern over the detrimental effects anti-gay and ex-gay attitudes could have on LGBT youth at Saturday's symposium.
"We are very concerned about the emergence of the ex-gay movement outside the United States, the exporting of this grievous form of religious abuse to unsuspecting populations," said Love. "We are very concerned that the rate of suicide amongst ex-gay therapy participants is so much higher than that in the non-participating LBGTQ population. Parents who are desperate to help their children cure their gay tendencies spend fortunes on this snake oil solution."
Hundreds of LGBT activists from across the country met at Soulforce's symposium, and recorded segments from the symposium made them one of the most popular non-profit channels on You Tube. Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and pastor of the Revolution Church, and other speakers demonstrated how faith can be used to both subjugate LGBT youth and free them from their oppressors.
"This attitude, sexism or misogyny, often works to keep people in line with gender norms and effectively limits the scope of their activities and potential," Love told EDGE. "When people use their religion as a weapon to destroy the self-esteem or opportunities of individuals, or to threaten the well-being or lives of individuals, religion has become abusive in the hands of those people."