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From The Bay Area Reporter:
The third wave of 'ex-gay' ministries: LGBT youth in the crosshairs
by Heather Smith, December 8, 2005
"All of you need to get ready," said Jason Cianciotto, addressing a group of 60 queer rights activists from across the country at last week's Creating Change conference in downtown Oakland. "The 'Groundswell' bandwagon is coming to your community."
Cianciotto, a research director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, explained that Groundswell is a series of conferences organized by the ex-gay ministry Exodus International and Focus on the Family that provide grassroots training in how to introduce the idea that homosexuality can be overcome in sex-ed curricula, and how to prevent gay-straight alliances and other groups for queer youth from forming at public high schools.
Although the ex-gay movement has been around since 1973, it has only begun to focus its attention on teenagers in the last few years. In part, this is because openly gay teenagers were still relatively rare in the 1980s and early 1990s.
As teenagers have grown more comfortable with queer culture, regardless of their sexual orientation, the ex-gay movement has ratcheted their target age downward. They've moved onto the Internet with youth-oriented Web sites like http://www.freetobeme.com, http://www.findout.org, and http://www.inqueery.com, all of which emphasize that it is perfectly all right to have homosexual urges, as long as you never, ever act on them.
And conservative groups have learned to use words like "tolerance" and "diversity" to justify the inclusion of their viewpoints into high school curricula.
"The way that they phrase it," said Jyl J. Josephson, director of women's studies at Rutgers University, "is that claiming a gay or lesbian identity as a teenager is inaccurate because no one knows at that point. Gay-straight alliances and high school clubs are a threat to young people because they force them into identities too soon."
Josephson and Cynthia Burack, an associate women's studies professor at Ohio State, attended an ex-gay conference last year that was organized by Love Won Out, another Focus on the Family-run organization.
What they found was a whole lot of deeply worried parents. "After 30 years of ex-gay ministries, conservative parents are still raising gay children," Josephson said. "They're blindsided. They don't understand how it happened. And they look to their churches to provide guidance."
Ironically, Josephson said, a lot of the material used at the ex-gay workshops to console the parents of gay children is lifted from old P-FLAG literature, including the since-excised description of the "cycle of grief" experienced by a parent upon realizing that their child is gay and will therefore never have a normal life, get married, or provide them with grandchildren.
"These are people who genuinely do believe that homosexuality is one of the worst things that can happen to you," Burack added. "If you tell them that they are motivated by hate, they are not going to recognize that description of themselves. What you can tell them is that they can be motivated by love, but still do harm. "
That harm can be considerable. "Conversion therapy" has been discredited by the American Psychiatric Association as both ineffective and harmful, to adults as well as teenagers.
What people need to realize, Cianciotto told the crowd, is that queerness and religious faith are not mutually exclusive. Even if they've had traumatic encounters with religion in the past, queer rights activists need to build strong relationships with religious organizations that believe in gay rights.
"We need to reach out to other progressive groups and leaders who are threatened by the religious and political right, and let people know that right wing evangelicals do not speak for all people of faith," Cianciotto said. "Otherwise, we are going to lose."