Facebook, other websites, and the entire blogosphere have blown up recently over the viral video of a young man, Marquis Jones (or Andrew Caldwell, apparently his other moniker) rapturously exclaiming his "deliverance" from the sin of homosexuality. Testifying in his foppish suit replete with canary-yellow cravat, he shouts that he's not gay anymore, and that he likes "women, women, women," before blubbering practically in tongues.
In response to the hubbub, the young man has initiated a $50 million lawsuit against Twitter for the harm he's suffered from the mean comments posted in response to his video-recorded "conversion." Jones subsequently released a song incorporating his deliverance testimony. And the Church of God in Christ, which sponsored the convention where his conversion occurred, has threatened legal action against him. Whatever may come of that flurry, and publicity stunt or not, Jones's actions gave me a reason to take a moment to consider the damage many gays suffer because of homophobic institutions.
My Facebook feed has been filled with naysayers noting the young man's mannerisms and dress. Also feeling like the gentleman doth protest too much, I joined in the derision too, casually and cavalierly lampooning him.
Ultimately, I was called out for my glib incredulity by a gay Facebook friend, who pointed out that sexuality can be fluid, and that over time, and depending on the circumstances, a lot of people go through changes and adaptations throughout the course of their lives. As a man who was confronted by his family in a makeshift "intervention" at age 20, I know something about changes and adaptations. That difficult experience was responsible for sending me largely back into the closet for decades.
I spent many years in a loving relationship and marriage with a woman filled with lots of wonderful experiences and blessed with two beautiful children. But after 23 years, I nonetheless felt myself cracking under the weight of the truth of my sexuality and came out at the age of 46 in a way that caused hurt and frustration and confusion to everyone in my life. The wounds are still healing.
Based on my experience, I can say with some authority that a church or any institution that perpetuates the stigma associated with homosexuality is doing harm to people's lives and hearts and souls.
Ultimately, the question that I asked my friend who pointed out my insensitivity to shifting sexual desires, especially young people, is what is there to be "delivert" from? The sin of being same-sex attracted? The young man's testimony is not even about being reformed from acting on his sexual impulses (assuming that there is something inherently wrong with that). No, he claims to be delivert from even being attracted to "mens." And that homophobic attitude is hostile to those of us who see nothing wrong with accepting and embracing our natural orientation. An institution that preaches that people need to be "delivered" from their God-given desires is an affront to those of us who seek dignity and respect, to be treated equally and fairly without regard to our sexual orientation.
Sexual orientation conversion is the essential evil that is the subject of a screenplay, SICK! that I have cowritten. It tells the story of LGBT pioneer Barbara Gittings and her effort to get the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses in the DSM-II. That struggle, played out in our story over a three-year period, included real events where activists overtook a San Francisco meeting of the APA, a gripping debate between the pro and con camps within the organization, and a psychiatrist giving a speech to the APA disguised in a distorted Nixon mask and oversize tuxedo! That groundbreaking but little-discussed moment in LGBT history, led to the headline on December 15, 1973, "Twenty Million Gay People Cured."
Now over 40 years since Barbara Gittings helped bring down the stigma that was used by employers to justify unfair antigay discrimination, by landlords to refuse to rent to the "mentally ill," and by churches to buttress their homophobia cloaked in pseudo-science that "proved" that homosexuals were not only sinful but also "sick," we are still hearing from unfortunate souls feeling the need to be "delivert" from the way God made them. Even 40 years on, there continues to be an inherent assumption that there is a need for a "cure." I think there's lots of things we need cures for -- cancer, HIV, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's. Being same-sex attracted is not one of them.
In the end, I hope and pray for the sake of people like this young man, that they can find a place of spiritual support that doesn't condemn what they are while claiming to "save" them.
TERRY FRANKLIN is a lawyer and the cowriter of the screenplay SICK!, which follows the fight of Barbara Gittings to remove homosexuality from the APA's list of mental illnesses.