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Jan. 24th, 2004 @ 02:46 pm Love Wins Some, Love Loses Some
That article from November 2001 that I told y'all about in the post below. My first time as an undercover reporter, except that I ran up to Alan Chambers, who I had only "known" online, and gave him a hug. I don't like Alan very much now, not since he's proven himself to be a BIG, FAT LIAR! But I still like this.



Love Wins Some, Love Loses Some
“Could’ve Played With the Cat…”

My British acquaintances call the sort of mood I entered Winter Park’s Calvary Assemblies of God church in “lemon-faced”. It was 8 a.m. on Saturday, November 10. I could’ve been sleeping, watching cartoons, or playing with my kitten. Instead, I was attending Love Won Out, a seminar from Focus on the Family about “addressing, understanding, and preventing homosexuality,” and I would be stuck there until 5:30. Uggh…

Say this for Focus, though—they take customer service seriously. The volunteers were competent and cheerful. A band around my wrist and a workbook in my hand, I entered the sanctuary in time for well-known professional ex-gay John Paulk’s welcome speech. He bragged about the “bookstore” in the lobby. “Most Christian bookstores stock maybe one or two books on homosexuality,” he said. “We have fifty of the best resources!” Many of those resources were over $20—this on top of the $50-60 admission fee. It seemed like an excellent time for a wild-eyed Jew to bust in with a cat-o-nine-tails and overturn folding tables. Paulk also noted that “Satan really didn’t want us to be here.” Apparently, Satan manifested himself in abnormally long hold times for people who tried to register by phone and audio problems. It was good to know that Jesus could triumph over such difficult obstacles.

“Psychology and Christian Love”

Joseph Nicolosi, the renegade psychologist who founded the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, took the stage to discuss “the Condition of Male Homosexuality.” He opened with a “joke”: “Two gay men were standing on a street corner when this beautiful, sexy young woman walks by. One of them turns to the other and says, ‘At times like this, I wish I was a lesbian’.” I bristled while others laughed. The joke itself wasn’t that bad, but it didn’t exactly demonstrate love. As a person with an actual psychological disorder, I also know I wouldn’t like it if one of my counselors told a depressed-person joke at a conference about understanding depression.

The speech went downhill from there. According to Nicolosi, homosexuality can be nipped in the bud at an early age. All one has to do is be a more involved father or less-involved mother, and patrol for signs of “sissy-boy syndrome.” Symptoms include being “shy, sensitive, introverted, artistic, and imaginative.” This “syndrome” has a 75% correlation with homosexuality. He rehashed the widely discredited “domineering mother/absent or distant father” theory and extolled the virtues of rough-and-tumble play between fathers and sons. “The boy might crack his little head and risk brain damage,” Nicolosi joked, “but that’s a small price to pay for heterosexuality.”

There are no masculine, quiet, or monogamous gay men in Nicolosi’s world. In sweeping generalizations and outright stereotype, he tried to make the audience believe that all gay men were effeminate, hypersexual, and hostile to all things beloved by conservative Christians. I took fast and furious notes in order to get everything down for Watermark. But many others were doing the same, and I knew they couldn’t all be journalists. I immediately prayed for any creative boys they knew.

Janelle Hallman, an ex-lesbian therapist who helps women with “unwanted lesbian issues”, initially seemed much more sympathetic. There was no contempt, list of red flags, or humor at her patients’ expense in her speech. Instead, she began by telling the crowd that “women who struggle with lesbianism tend to be highly intelligent, multifaceted, and gifted, with a strong sense of justice and integrity.” In a soft voice, she said that “no little boy or little girl aspires or chooses to become homosexual. Same-gender feelings are confusing.” From there, her tone became one of pity. Hallman taught that girls become attracted to their own gender when they are denied “mother love” or close friendships with girls. Sexual abuse can help the process along. “The lesbian experience can be one of utter isolation and inner desolation,” she observed, and she certainly made it sound that way. Lesbian relationships, she claimed, “are fragile, unpredictable, and volatile,” marked by “infant-like dependency”
and an “adolescent style of relating.” Lesbians hate their own femaleness, and sometimes God. I found myself wondering whether she’d done all her research by reading the Well of Loneliness. Unfortunately for the children, friends, and students of the note-takers, this is 2001, not 1928.

“Interlude in the Ladies’ Room”

I needed a break after Nicolosi’s speech. I walked into the hall and collected pamphlets from seven ex-gay ministries, most of them from Florida. One, El Hijo Prodigal (the Prodigal Son), is targeted toward Hispanics. But the most interesting ministry was San Antonio’s EXIT. Jill and Amy, two funky 25-year-old ex-lesbians who look like they’d be quite welcome in a lesbian bar, play “Christian acoustic alternative” music and have a website for teens called MyTrueFreedom.net. Jill earnestly told me about the importance of ministry to “Generation X.” “I am familiar with Generation X,” I replied testily. “I’m 27.” This, along with my being sick and dressed for invisibility, made me feel like a sea hag.

So I desperately needed to fix myself up in the ladies’ room. Three women argued over the appropriateness of Nicolosi’s jokes. I smiled at one who said, “What if strugglers are here, or gays who are curious? That was so insensitive.” I found myself asking women why they attended, and when I realized what interesting answers I could get, my bathroom breaks became frequent. A middle-aged woman cried on my shoulder as she told me about her gay ex-husband, who decided to “leave her for sin”. The worried mother of a Bisexual son wondered aloud, “What did I do to make him that way?” One college girl was upset about her lesbian sister, another about her friend. And a “lesbian struggler” was shocked when I hugged her and patted her shoulder. I’d decided not to open a can of worms by telling her I was Bi, and she teared up when she told me how other women had shunned her at church.

It was intriguing to get the lay of the land, and for once I was glad that strangers open up to me easily. But the best bit of information came from a volunteer, who told me that 175 to 250 people were in attendance. (By contrast, the October conference in Atlanta drew 700 people.) “That’s good, though,” the woman said. “Orlando is kind of a laid-back town.”

That Laid-Back Orlando Style

Alan Chambers is a longtime Orlandoan and well-known in the ex-gay subculture. He first embarked on the ex-gay path at age 17 and rose through the ranks, becoming a popular speaker, director of Orlando’s Exchange Ministries (formerly known as Eleutheros and Fringe Youth Outreach) and, as of October, Exodus North America’s new executive director. One of his responsibilities is counseling youth, so he spoke about responding to sexual-minority teens.

“I wish they’d had a conference like this years ago,” Chambers began. He asked attendees to raise their hands if they were “parents, leaders, friends, or strugglers.” Half the group didn’t admit to fitting in any of these categories, and Chambers teased the holdouts. “You know, when my wife was younger, she’d get embarrassed if someone caught her at K-Mart. And her mother would say, ‘If they catch you at K-Mart, it’s because they’re there, too.’” People laughed and relaxed.

I attempted to take notes, then realized that Chambers doesn’t speak in bullet points. His presentation was one of the more loving at the conference, and definitely the most spontaneous. “Parents say, ‘We want our kids to be normal’. Pastors say, ‘I don’t think it’s right. They’re being teased.’ But that’s not good enough. The most important thing is to reconcile kids with Christ, but that’s not what parents and pastors ask for!” He detailed some of the unloving responses young sexual minorities of his acquaintance have gotten: a young man whose father wanted his son to look at pornography and have sex with women, a pastor who yelled at an obvious lesbian (now an ex-lesbian) and her friends at a drive-in movie, parents who restricted their childrens’ activities after they came out and became obsessed with homosexuality. “There is more to your kids,” Chambers stressed. “I had to realize that homosexuality wasn’t all there is to me. I have a broken arm; I’m not a broken arm.” He stated that “today’s teens are all 100 percent out for the truth” and that “teenagers all go through that very ugly phase. Don’t assume that all their troubles come from homosexuality. Often, it’s just adolescence.” To parents, he advised, “You are the parent. Don’t be afraid to discipline.” He alluded to the “Parents: The Anti-Drug” commercials. “Accept that your kids may grow up to be gay, but it’s fair to set rules when they’re under your control. You should make your kids attend counseling!” I disagreed with Chambers, but at least I didn’t worry about the children of parents who listened to him. I took that as a good sign.

Teaching Dangerous Things

Then I attended Dick Carpenter’s “Why is What They’re Teaching So Dangerous?” and “Teaching Captivity.” Carpenter, Focus’ education policy analyst, is a former elementary-school principal, high-school teacher, and college professor. Here in Orlando, we have no active GLSEN chapter, gay-friendly curricula, or Gay-Straight Alliances. I wondered if Carpenter would tailor his message accordingly.

He would not. The speech, like most others, followed closely with the workbook—no spontenaity here. Much alarm was expressed over the usual suspects, and a few programs that aren’t what anyone would call widespread. I shuddered myself when he talked about the student who wasn’t allowed to wear his “Straight Pride” shirt, but nobody seemed to care about the problems faced by sexual-minority teens. Carpenter quoted “The Overhauling of Straight America” to make it look as though gays are reforming every school in their own image. Film clips from “That’s A Family” (which looks at all sorts of “nontraditional” families, not just gay-led ones) and “It’s Elementary” inspired horrified responses. Carpenter implied that gay youth suicide is not a widespread problem, and that when it does happen, “hopelessness” and “the same problems that cause homosexuality” are to blame. He informed the audience that “cultural change is more permanent and lasting” than political change, and cited a recent Zogby survey that found high-school students more likely to hold pro-gay views. I almost laughed out loud when he discussed the dangers of popular culture. He correctly cited Melissa Etheridge and George Michael as gay artists, but implied that they were popular among teens. (And here I was thinking that they preferred less…well…friendly acts like Eminem, Limp Bizkit, Incubus, and Britney Spears.) The loudly-expressed disgust over gay characters on TV and pro-gay statements by teachers made me feel, for the first time, as though I was in enemy territory. Carpenter even thoughtfully provided a souvenir—a sample letter for parents to adapt for their children’s schools, asking them not to teach about homosexuality. “It’s a matter of time before all this happens in your schools,” he advised ominously. “It’s much easier to prevent these programs than to get rid of them once they’re in.” This, then, was his little something-something for Orlando. Strangely enough, I didn’t feel any better.

The Need for a Fresh-Air Break

The next class, for me, was “Questions and Answers on Lesbianism,” presented by Janelle Hallman and ex-lesbians Jane Boyer and Christine Sneeringer. I was overwhelmed by sadness—profound and unnecessary sadness—almost from the beginning. Most of the audience consisted of women worried about relatives. One mother wondered how to reach her daughter—a successful, partnered Ivy League academic whom she obviously took much pride in. A young woman cried when she described the loss of relationship with her sister. “I wish I could talk to her the way I did before,” she said. “You can!” I wanted to scream. To their credit, the ex-lesbians told her that she didn’t have to “harp on homosexuality all the time,” and that “there is much more to her than being lesbian.”

But the session was dominated by a middle-aged woman. With her cropped hair and masculine demeanor, I’d thought at first that she was there to make the session more interesting than the presenters had bargained for. (Never mind my own long hair and skirt.)
Instead, she talked about being a Christian who had never acted on her lesbian desires and, indeed, had never been intimate with anyone. She was kicked out of three churches, a statement that made many women shake their heads and sigh. “I never thought I could change,” she said through tears. “Now it’s too late for me.” Many of us shed tears as Hallman, Boyer, and Sneeringer attempted to console her. At the end, I patted her shoulder in the hall, and whispered, “I’ll pray for you,” neglecting to mention that it wouldn’t be to the Christian God. “I’ll pray that you find happiness.” She thanked me, and I went to the bathroom to weep rather than talk.

Sneeringer was due to present her testimony, but there were two copies of her written testimony for free in the hall, and I was much more interested in the rally forming across the street. I also needed a break. There were about thirty people of all ages. Several were from UCF. A handful of ex-gays came out to talk to them, including Anne Paulk (John’s wife) and the girls from EXIT. An unnamed member of Exchange, who looked to be about 18, came out with cookies. He was rude and confrontational, inciting rude commentary from the protestors in return. One protestor gave me a rainbow sticker. “They’ll throw her in the dungeon!” another shouted. “I used to go to this church,” I replied cheerfully. “It’s big, but I don’t think it has a dungeon.” I put the sticker onto my plastic bag emblazoned with the Focus on the Family logo, creating a unique souvenir.

Just…So…Tired

I returned for Joe Dallas’ sermon. Joe Dallas is an ex-gay minister who looks like an aging Village Person and speaks like a fire-and-brimstone preacher. It was an interesting combination, and probably made his message of loving homosexuals while opposing pro-gay policies more credible. But to be honest, my Tylenol Sinus and the caffeine from my four Diet Pepsi Twists were wearing off, and I was simply too tired to pay much attention.

Weeks later, I still feel tired and sad when I think of the conference. Even in the midst of a literal war, a culture war is still being fought. The fact that Focus can charge rock-concert prices to listen to professional ex-gays is proof enough that too many people are too invested in the fight to help make peace happen. Unfortunately, when one is provoked, it’s hard not to fight back. I said many prayers to the Gods that night. One was for enough people on both sides who are brave enough to pursue new and different strategies, the kind that don’t create unnecessary pain and fear for anyone.
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From:thjorska
Date:January 24th, 2004 12:29 pm (UTC)
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While browsing through some past entries of a friend of mine, I found this, which I thought might amuse you.

Also, on Friday someone called me a queer and punched me. Is this a rite of passage or something? It may not count, because of the circumstances (long story).
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From:princesswitch
Date:January 24th, 2004 12:32 pm (UTC)
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It is amusing. :-)

The fact that you got punched isn't! Tell me the story! (Or point me to it in your LJ if I missed it--that's possible.)
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From:thjorska
Date:January 24th, 2004 12:46 pm (UTC)
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Ah, it wasn't a hard punch or anything, and if it was it wouldn't have been all that bad - my girlfriend digs bruises :D

Anyway, the story: There's this annoying little punk at college, probably about 14, but he's allowed to be there because he's a cripple (dig me, not PC!). Anyway, being crippled hasn't stopped this kid from being eight shades of obnoxious and then some, and I mean really loud-mouthed obnoxious. This week in the canteen, while he was trying to steal something from my friend while his back was turned, I threatened to "bum him into next week". He scampered away as fast as his crippled legs could carry him, frantically covering his anus and shouting back abuse.

The next day I was sitting in the canteen with same friend, having breakfast, when he and his (only) friend passed by. He called me a homo, to which my friend replied "watch out, or he'll bum you into next week" and we both laughed. Cripple boy's friend came up to me, whacked me on the arm and shouted "Leave him alone, you queer!"

Perhaps realising that I (6'2) might be liable to hurt her (4'5), she hurried away. After a couple of stunned seconds me and my friend burst out laughing, and I even drew a little cartoon of the event.

Not the most awful gaybashing ever, you have to admit, especially because I'm not even technically gay.
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From:princesswitch
Date:January 24th, 2004 12:48 pm (UTC)
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You know, I never thought I would apply the word "amusing" to the story of an attack provoked by homophobia, but I just may start today. :-)
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From:thjorska
Date:January 24th, 2004 01:48 pm (UTC)
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Well, I try to help :P
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From:annikadara
Date:January 24th, 2004 12:34 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for posting this. I've never gone to the LWO conference...but am familiar with Janelle as I am from the same area as hear and she was involved with the ex-gay ministry I was a part of and also ran several ex-lesbian support groups here. So I actually know quite a few people she counselled and also almost ended up being counseled by her as well...it's a strange small world. I have such mixed feelings reading this. Like I said in another comment, FOTF has come a long way, but....wow...yeah - depressing. I need to think about all of this. Sometimes I read stuff like this and question if I was right to leave the whole ex-gay deal. Othertimes (like a bit now) I read this and think...yup. And I cry again for all the people in my life who are so into all of this...(ex-gays that I know and my xian relatives). Anyway, thanks again..
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From:princesswitch
Date:January 24th, 2004 12:40 pm (UTC)
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So I've simultaneously depressed you and made you feel better? Weird, but I understand. I used to doubt my conversion to Paganism sometimes, so I can sort of relate, even though I've never been to an ex-gay ministry.
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From:spryng
Date:January 24th, 2004 04:17 pm (UTC)
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Dear gods, that is disturbing.
50 bucks to attend? That's insane.
Man. All this stuff keeps reminding me just how far we still have to go.
It's so sad, but at least, like you pointed out, there's some reasonable people in there. People who'll see a person for who they are and not for their sexuality.
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From:princesswitch
Date:January 26th, 2004 10:07 am (UTC)
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I know it keeps getting better, though. As annikadara pointed out, they used to not try so hard and were a lot less reasonable.

I paid 60 dollars. When I got it back, I donated it to GLSEN and Lambda Legal.