A agree with Mike Airhart that The Advocate piece was a nightmare that glosses over the issues. I also think they mischaracterized the state of the “ex-gay” movement and were factually wrong on many fronts. Not to mention the reporter needs to get a hold of his emotions and not suck up to ex-gays who think he is “perverse” and “sexually broken.” The failure of this article was a shame because the Advocate magazine has traditionally done a terrific job covering this issue. I have confidence they will get it right in the future. Here is a summary of my beefs:
The article: “Exodus encompasses more than 120 ministries in the United States and Canada.”
The Facts: Exodus claims a 59 percent increase in its member agencies, growing from 117 in 2003 to more than 200 in 2008. (although Exodus is prone to exaggeration)
The article: “A growing chorus of such stories, it’ shaken up the usual talk-show paradigm.”
The Facts: Could anything be further from the truth? Telling the story of survivors is not a new phenomenon. Anyone who thinks it is, simply has not been out of the closet very long, spinning the issue or is ill informed.
In the 1990s, there was a key ex-gay survivor group that I worked with in Washington, Dos Equis, that provided me survivors. These courageous individuals were telling their stories in national media while some of today’s leading survivors were sill in ex-gay groups, essentially paying the salaries of Exodus’ leaders. Before this, the documentary “One Nation Under God” told the story of survivors, including John Evans and Mike Bussee. And, Sylvia Pennington articulated their struggles in the book, “Ex-Gays? There Are None?”
While at the Human Rights Campaign, I held several press conferences, beginning in 1998, with ex-gay survivors. These included high profile events at Washington’ famed National Press Club. During this time period, I booked survivors on major talk shows and had their stories told in national media. In 2000, under my direction, HRC produced a groundbreaking publication, “Finally Free” that introduced America to 14 ex-gay survivors.
While I appreciate and greatly admire the current work of our newer survivors, to take sole credit for a survivors movement is unfounded and historical revisionism. Indeed, today, TWO (and BoxTurtleBulletin) are also leaders in this arena — and this is reflected by the cutting-edge videos that fill our website.
The article: The article referred to me as an ex-ex-gay.
The facts: I was never an ex-gay and I appreciate the Advocate correcting this error.
The article: “Before they’d have [Truth Wins Out executive director] Wayne Besen saying “These programs don’t work’ and Alan [Chambers, who heads Exodus] saying they do,” says Toscano. Bakke adds, “What got lost was the actual people who were doing [the ex-gay ministries]. It’ like a kid in a custody battle. We’re finally stepping forward, serving as a witness and a warning.”
The facts: The quote made it appear as if two political operatives were in a nasty catfight, at the expense of the “authentic” ex-gay victims. Then, it presents the newer survivors as the one who had come to the rescue and introduced survivors to America. As I stated above, placing survivors in the media is something that has occurred for more than a decade. This is an incontrovertible fact that can be checked on both Google and Nexis. The latest wave of survivors has done a terrific job and I applaud their amazing efforts. But, they were not the first and follow in the footsteps of many others.
The article: “Exodus has been changing….They point to a June 2007 story in the Los Angeles Times in which Chambers said he wasn’t sure he’d ever met a someone who’ completely ex-gay. Chambers also admitted that after years of heterosexual marriage he still struggled with feelings of gay desire and that “by no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete.”
The Facts: The “ex-gay” ministries began changing the way they talk about the issue years ago — after I exposed their two top leaders as frauds (John Paulk — 2001 – and Michael Johnston – 2003). Mr. Chamber’ quote in the L.A. Times did not signal a new direction for Exodus. Indeed, several members from Exodus, including Chambers, had said similar statements in the past. That is why Chambers was correct to say in the article, “That’ a mischaracterization of what we’re saying.” Examples of the longstanding change in Exodus’ rhetoric can be seen by CLICKING HERE.
Furthermore, a week before Chambers’ L.A. Times quote, Exodus ran ads on Christian radio that proclaimed the group offered, “sudden, radical, complete change.” So, even though they changed their rhetoric years ago, the group is wildly inconsistent. What the Advocate article presented was not an accurate portrayal of the big picture. And, for some survivors to portray Exodus as evolving in any significant way is not backed by the facts or reality. It is wishful thinking, at best, and giving people a false sense of security at worst. Sure, there were glimmers of hope – such as Love Won Out not advertising with Billboards of late. However, they already have billboards up in Orlando for the upcoming June symposium. Let’s get real and follow the facts, not our wishes and desires. That is not helpful.
The article: Last year, Exodus let go of the lobbyist it had briefly hired to work on Capitol Hill…
The facts: The truth is, we don’t know why they recalled their lobbyist and — as the article points out — Exodus is still involved in politics. Indeed, the lobbyist was an experiment that lasted only one year. So, the abolishing of the position, while welcome, did not necessarily offer a major change, but returned the group to the status quo. To claim otherwise or take credit for this action is a leap in logic.
The article: The article makes the case that Exodus has been changing its ways.
The facts: Oh, really? The article failed to mention Exodus’ television show “Pure Passion” that refers to GLBT people as “perverse” and “sexually broken.” It somehow left out that Exodus opposed both hate crime legislation and ENDA in the last Congress. The article forgot to highlight quotes from Exodus that are still on its website, such as, “In today’s society, homosexuality is reaping a bitter harvest (AIDS)…Homosexual involvement reaps deep devastation in the lives of many who practice it.”
Only three months following Beyond Ex-Gays’ conference where Chambers supposedly had changed, the ex-gay leader told the “Family Impact Summit,” a right wing conference in Brandon, Florida ( Sept. 21, 2007) “We have to stand up against an evil agenda. It is an evil agenda and it will take anyone captive that is willing, or that is standing idly by.”
The change that the article touted has not occurred. Wendy Gritter is offered as evidence. But this conversation is tired and old. The Wendy Gritters of 1998 were “ex-gay” leaders named Alan Chambers and Tom Cole – who swore off politics. Ten years later, Exodus is still a hate group led by Mr. Chambers. Having brunch with Exodus leaders (which I have also done on several occasions – perhaps more than anyone) has not produced tangible results. It has been, quite frankly, a major disappointment and, so-far, a waste of time.
Additionally, Exodus promotes “spiritual warfare,” believing that, in some cases, homosexuality is demonic. One of Exodus International’ most celebrated leaders is Andy Comiskey of Desert Stream ministries. In his book, “Pursuing Sexual Wholeness,” (still sold by Exodus) he calls homosexuality “spiritual disfigurement” and believes that “Satan delights in homosexual perversion because it not only exists outside of marriage, but it also defiles God’ very image reflected as male and female…Another related source of demonization is the homosexual relationship itself…That attachment and communion are indeed inspired, but their source is demonic.”
The totality of the evidence suggests that Exodus is playing both sides of the fence. To suggest that they have “changed” or “moderated” in any significant way is flat out not true.
The article: There are other signs that these two worlds, the very same until that moment when some make peace with their gayness and others renounce it, are coming closer. … It lets participants choose to belong to what’ called Side A‚Äî”those who are in gay relationships or hope to be someday” — or Side B, “those who view their same-sex attractions as a temptation and strive to live celibate lives.”
The Facts: This model (Side A and B) is not new, as presented in the article. It came from the Bridges Across project, which was a noble attempt to make nice with the ex-gays in the late 90′. The project, however, largely fell apart because the two sides had little in common. One side thought that GLBT relationships were good and the other side thought they were bad. It became difficult to have “friends” that said “Happy Anniversary, now break up with your partner before you roast in hell.” I must admit that I almost fell to the floor when this was presented as a fresh approach. This would be like writing an article on the Mid East and presenting shuttle diplomacy as new and innovative.
The article: The reporter writes, “It was particularly painful to listen to Fryrear…”
The Facts: This is a woman who gets paid big bucks to tell parents whose lesbian daughters just came out that she never met a lesbian that was not sexually abused. Fryrear is a con artist and an abusive person who pays her bills by lying about lesbianism. I’m sure there are “nice” people with moving stories who bilk senior citizens in Florida retirement homes. But, I would not expect AARP to portray them in a semi-positive light. I understand that the Advocate wanted the story to be interesting — but these are really bad people who are part of a multi-million dollar industry to smear the GLBT community. Let’s portray them as the charlatans and con artists that they are. Those who are still desperately seeking approval from ex-gay leaders, need to resolve their internal conflicts and get over it. It’s not helpful.
The reporter also said that Smid was, “funny and thoughtful and affable.” Actually, Smid is a religious extremist who has psychologically scarred many people. He runs a cult-like group that uses brainwashing techniques. It appears the Advocate reporter was not familiar enough with the subject to get a genuine flavor of the unsavory characters he was dealing with.
The Advocate article got it wrong on so many fronts that it should be taken off the web and chalked up to a failed journalistic experiment.