Most of us are familiar with "ex-gay" or "reparative therapy" groups, like National Organization for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, Love Won Out, Exodus International, and Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, which peddle a very dangerous message to people of faith struggling with their sexuality: that homosexuality is an unnatural defect that is not part of God's plan and it can be removed over time by attending the group's events. Of course, it happens to cost a substantial fee.
It's the modern version of snake oil, or to put it in a more modern context, those electrodes that promise you six-pack abs with no exercise. And while we may laugh, these folks are not only still taken seriously in some quarters -- popping up on cable television with regularity or trotted out as "balance" in coverage of LGBT issues and religion -- they are no joke to be taken lightly. They continue to destroy lives here and are taking the show on the road in other countries around the world.
As you can see, the pernicious message of these groups cuts across religious denominations, and it will take a diverse coalition to stop the suffering they cause. Soulforce, an organization that advocates nonviolent resistance in the face of religious antigay oppression, is at the forefront of this movement, working with organizations like Truth Wins Out and others, and will be gathering in Philadelphia this weekend to offer an alternative to the message of hate and self-loathing. Our symposium, "The Truth About Faith, Love, Science, and Reparative Therapy," will aggressively take on the "ex-gay" frauds. As importantly, it offers a message of love and hope to those who fall prey to these programs.
And while scientists have utterly discredited the "ex-gay" movement, and these organizations have become laughingstocks for many in our community, much of the harm done by the "ex-gay" movement goes underreported -- and it has a far broader reach than one might think.
Just as we see the "ex-gay' industry waning in the United States, it is rearing its ugly head in Asia, Africa, Brazil, China, Europe, the Middle East, India, Latin America, and Canada. One organization, Homosexuals Anonymous, has chapters in El Salvador, New Zealand, and Germany. A horrified French journalist recently asked me how this harmful industry could be growing in the 21st century outside the United States. My answer is simple: Follow the money and follow the fear.
Satellite broadcasting has made it possible to spread the "ex-gay" message to more countries than ever before, and evangelical TV networks such as Trinity Broadcasting and Daystar Television have taken the initiative in doing so. Africa, where many countries criminalize homosexuality, has proven particularly fertile ground -- with viciously hateful consequences A prime example is the Kenya Medical Research Institute in the Muslim town Mtwapa. KEMRI provides HIV/AIDS services. In February a group of bishops, preachers, and imams held a press conference against KEMRI and the MSM (men who have sex with men) who work at and visit the site. The next day, a mob attacked the center and then went on a witch hunt for people suspected to be gay. Three months earlier, the American "ex-gay" group Homosexuals Anonymous, led by Doug McIntyre, spoke at 15 local Kenyan schools and held a conference for almost 200 church leaders. Is this a coincidence? I say not.
In our own country, the "ex-gay" message leads to violence as well. As the rash of recent bullying-related suicides has shown, all too many of our young people have been taught to hate and fear their LGBT peers. They learn this message both at home and in their houses of worship, and many parents and religious leaders have no qualms whatsoever about instilling the message that homosexuality is nothing more than a "lifestyle choice." Why wouldn't many of our children and teenagers, having been taught that LGBT kids are choosing to embrace a sinful "lifestyle" that is despised by God, seek to punish their LGBT peers for their "decision" through acts of cruelty? Why wouldn't they see them as "other" and "less than"?
The evidence is clear: The message that homosexuality can be "repaired" does not just ruin lives -- it ends them. I urge our community and our allies all to join us this weekend and beyond, because taking a stand against reparative therapy is not just about standing up for what is right. It is about saving lives.