A planned visit from a Colorado-based religious group that encourages gay men and lesbians to "turn straight" is stirring up gay rights advocates in Oklahoma City. Focus on the Family of Colorado Springs is holding a conference there on Saturday to show gay people that they should "abandon the homosexual lifestyle." About 200 gay rights advocates plan to stand across the street from the "Love Won Out" conference with signs reading "Diversity Now" and "God Loves Gays and Straights." "They want to cure these people of something that cannot be cured nor should be cured," said Jim Craig, who is organizing the rally through the Interfaith Diversity and Equality Alliance. "Their louder message is, gay is wrong, and gay is not natural, and gay is not accepted by God. Our message is just the opposite."
Craig said that gays in Oklahoma City, who have established a district of clubs and businesses in the central part of town and many of whom attend the Church of the Open Arms, are not worried that the conference will stall Oklahoma City's progress toward acceptance, Craig said. Mostly, he said, gays are surprised that people still are preaching such old-fashioned ideas. "Those views are almost laughable," he said. "This is 2003. We know that we were born gay. We were born lesbian. We were born bisexual. I was not abused. I was not neglected. I didn't have a doting mother. There was no family history
that matches what they say causes homosexuality."
Focus on the Family mails out thousands of invitations to its conferences and usually ends up with about 1,000 participants, the majority of whom are relatives and friends of gay men and lesbians, said Mike Haley, a self-described "ex-gay" who is speaking at the conference. This is the group's 24th "Love Won Out" conference and the first in Oklahoma City. Nathaniel Batchelder, a member of IDEA and director of the human rights group Peace House, said Focus on the Family's anti-acceptance rhetoric is harmful to gay men and lesbians struggling with self-esteem and could even lead to suicides among them. "Our sexual orientation can be inborn and it can be a personal choice, but there is no reason for it to change," Batchelder said. "Same-sex love and affection are every bit as beloved by God as opposite-sex love. If we just stop worrying about it as a problem and love one another as we are, then all the fear and shame goes away."