Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ministry's on a misguided mission to scare gay teens straight

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SUSAN PAYNTER SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER COLUMNIST Wednesday, October 26, 2005 They're from God and they're here to help you by heading to Seattle this week with a whole new take on the meaning of scaring teenagers straight. Groundswell -- a so-called "ex-gay" ministry from Florida that targets teenagers -- insists it speaks to kids "kindly and compassionately" about what the Bible says about homosexuality. But the gist is that young people who are gay are also sinful, sick and wrong. In order to be righteous, healthy and right, they must be "helped" to change. Oh, and while they're in the neighborhood, they hope to get that message into schools. The push, under the auspices of the evangelical "gay fix-it" group, Exodus International, will set up shop Thursday at Redmond's Antioch Bible Church. So, today, groups including the Safe Schools Coalition and the Washington Association of Churches will join with local teachers, physicians, parents and gay teens for a pre-emptive strike of acceptance. Nineteen-year-old University of Washington freshman Bryce McKibben says that telling teenagers they need to change in order to be happy is destructive. Gay teens and those struggling with sexual identity often are depressed and confused. "So, when a religious group comes along suggesting there's a way out by changing who they are, and then it doesn't work, it just adds to the feeling of failure and isolation. Even suicide," he said. "Imagine spending a lot of time trying to be someone else and then being rejected by the very religious group that was supposed to save you. It would be like emotional purgatory." And most mainstream researchers hold that "repair therapy" rarely, if ever, works. Now a UW freshman, McKibben was a 16-year-old Eastlake High School student when he came out. It was being "in" and lying to the people closest to him that caused his anxiety and depression. Family physician Carol Waymack's now-23-year-old daughter was 16, too, when she acknowledged her orientation. "It was not a choice. It was who she was from well before she could put words to it," said Waymack who, like McKibben, will speak at today's event. "She was probably aware from the age of 10 or 11 and her happiness just blossomed after she came out." It would not have been helpful for someone to come along and make guilt, fear and damnation a part of that process, Waymack said. "Helpful would be knowing she could be happy and accepted either way. That there are many ways to live a healthy, happy, responsible life." OK, but what about the Bible? David Strong, pastor of Christian Community Church of Joy (which meets at Seattle First Baptist Church) says kids he counsels often ask about passages about abomination. The Bible has been used to hurt people for many reasons, including to condone slavery, said Strong, who is African American. He prefers "Love thy neighbor as thyself" and "God is love." "Telling someone, especially someone young, that who they are is not valuable and rejected by God is dangerous," Strong said. "The message then is that the Bible says you're bad, not that God loves everyone, no matter who they are." At the same vulnerable, searching time that Strong was studying to become a Roman Catholic priest, he was wrenched over coming out as gay. "I remember going into the chapel and hearing, 'Thou shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,' " he said. "The truth ... not changing or hiding or hating the truth of who you are." "Why do these church folks want to be in our schools?" asks Monica Corsaro, pastor of an ecumenical campus ministry at the UW. "They have the freedom to teach whatever they want in their churches. But to claim that (what they are teaching) is science is damaging and there is such potential for harm. Young people are trying to discover where they fit and are often exploring their spirituality for the first time outside of their parents." School should be a place to feel safe says Ballard High School teacher Sarah Talbot, the mother of four and a lesbian. It's not the place for proselytizing or being told that who you are is not OK. "Gay teens are as morally sound as anyone else," she said. And part of what reprogramming groups do is recruit some teens to harass others, says Beth Reis of the Seattle-based Safe Schools Coalition. Students don't give up the right of free speech when they walk through the schoolhouse door, Reis says. And that includes kids who believe that the three-letter word gay translates to the three-letter word bad. "They have every bit as much right to express opinions as others," she said. "But it's important for schools to enforce a line between expression and bullying." And it does happen. The recent statewide Healthy Youth Survey of sixth- through 12th-graders showed that more than 12 percent of students reported offensive comments toward gays, many of them religiously or biblically based. "Pitting young people against one another is not compassionate, it's abusive," Reis said. "And there is no evidence from any respected researcher that these kinds of 'therapies' and reprogramming are effective." They may be scaring kids but they're not scaring them straight. Susan Paynter's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Call her at 206-448-8392 or send e-mail to susanpaynter@seattlepi.com Original Source: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/paynter/245864_paynter26.html

1 Comments:

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