The preacher lied

The preacher lied

How is it that
officials at the Human Rights Campaign, the Gay and
Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Empire State Pride
Agenda, and other prominent gay groups got suckered by
a 25-year-old heterosexual evangelical Christian, a
man who promised to be their gay-friendly savior but
who was simultaneously giving training sessions to antigay
groups and calling homosexuality a “sin”
on Christian radio? The simple answer is: They wanted
to believe.

This is a story
about yet another slick preacher. But it’s also a
story about gay people so hungry for
acceptance—and gay groups so eager to tap into
the zeitgeist—that they allowed themselves to be had.

It
shouldn’t come as a surprise that faith is the issue
du jour at the gay groups—as it is everywhere
else in George Bush’s America—as they try
to bring in religious LGBT people, aggressively reach out to
gay-affirming clergy, and genuinely try to change the minds
of traditional Christians regarding homosexuality.

HRC, for example,
recently launched Out in Scripture, a “devotional
resource” for which you can sign up to receive
ostensibly gay-affirming Bible verses in your e-mail
box weekly. A team of religious scholars consults on
the effort, which is coordinated by Harry Knox, head of
HRC’s year-old Religion and Faith program.

A former pastor
and former head of Georgia Equality, that state’s
LGBT lobbying group, Knox describes himself as
“inclusive to a fault.” And that
certainly seems to be the case regarding Knox’s
opening his arms to the evangelical charmer in
question, Andrew Marin.

It was in 2005
when Marin, a recent graduate of the University of
Illinois at Chicago (where he majored in psychology) and a
devout Christian, first made contact with gay and
lesbian groups through his Chicago-based Marin
Foundation, an organization for which he had attained
nonprofit status that same year. The Web site for the
foundation touted seminars for LGBT people as well as
straight evangelicals in order to create an
understanding between them—a “bridge”
between the two communities.

Whatever the
loftier goals, some former friends and acquaintances of
Marin’s say he had other hopes for the foundation he
named after himself. “He always said he would
make a lot of money and his foundation would make him
rich,” says Melissa Garvey, a former college
classmate, talking about the months preceding the
foundation’s inception. “He even told my
mom that.”

“I just
never understood what the foundation really was for,”
comments Emily Webster, who met Marin through Garvey,
a friend of hers. She recalls a discussion in which
Marin was cheering on George W. Bush. She pointed out
to him that Bush was certainly not a good force for gays.
“All I can tell you is, Bush is going to help me get
my foundation going,” she remembers him saying,
apparently referring to Bush’s backing of
faith-based initiatives.

Christina
Wiesmore, former senior convention service manager at the
Drake Hotel in Chicago, was Marin’s supervisor
when he worked at the hotel in sales in 2004. She says
that several concerned gay and lesbian coworkers came
to her about statements he’d made. “He would
just say it’s wrong to live ‘that
lifestyle,’ ” she recalls. “He
didn’t agree morally, even though he offered
his support.”

Garvey, a
lesbian, says she befriended Marin in college because both
had an interest in sports and had several friends in
common. Though she assumed he knew about her through
the grapevine, she’d never told him she was a
lesbian—never “came out to him” nor
discussed the issue—precisely because of his
evangelical beliefs. That’s why she was shocked when,
at a friend’s urging, she went to the Web site
for Marin’s new foundation and saw photos of
herself on it (ones he’d taken at social gatherings),
which he used without her permission. Garvey became
concerned particularly because she was not completely
out at work and was trying to join the Rotary Club in
the conservative suburb where she managed a restaurant at
the time. Marin, she charges, publicly outed her for his own
purposes.

Emily Webster,
also a lesbian, agrees with that assessment. She says her
photos were on the site as well, as were another lesbian
friend’s photos, also without permission.

Garvey and
Webster told Marin to take their pictures off his site and
severed ties with him. He did, but what remained on the site
was a story about his friends “Emily”
and “Melissa,” whom he described as having
“come out” to him, one after the other,
shocking his sensibilities and putting him on the path
to his current mission. The story is quite detailed,
describing where they were when each woman told Marin she
was gay. But both women—and others who know
them—say none of it ever happened.

About the same
time, Marin began to gain access to gay groups and
gay-affirming churches.

“He
approached us about a year ago [August 2005], and one of his
strategies was to take folks who were going to his programs
and place them in churches,” explains Steve
Forst, of the Chicago chapter of Dignity, the gay
Catholic group. Forst says Marin told the group that
“about 60%” of his “students”
were Catholic and could be driven to Dignity. But no
one from Dignity actually went to the seminars to check
them out.

“We were
impressed by the idea [of a bridge],” Forst says.
“He was a likable guy.” Dignity made a
$200 donation to Marin—though in the year since
the meeting the avalanche of referrals to Dignity never
materialized.

Next stop for
Marin appears to have been New York’s largest gay
group, the Empire State Pride Agenda. As officials
there describe it, Marin was brought in by a member of
the group’s Pride in the Pulpit program, and he
impressed the steering committee. He was eventually given a
slot to speak at the Pride in the Pulpit conference in
Albany, N.Y. But no Pride Agenda official researched
Marin’s foundation beyond looking at the Web site.

Marin’s
presentation at the conference was on how Scripture was
wrongly used to condemn gays; it was nothing
earthshattering, but it was well-received and
certainly didn’t betray any of the beliefs
he’d previously voiced to others. With the
accolades in hand, Marin contacted Gay Men’s
Health Crisis, the nation’s oldest and largest AIDS
service organization, which gave him some technical
assistance. He called Harry Knox at HRC, who invited
him to be among the cohosts of the Faith and Fairness
program HRC organized at Gay Games VII in Chicago in July,
where Knox would tout Marin’s work. Knox says
he did “due diligence” by looking at
Marin’s “materials” and his course
work. But he also did not attend any of the seminars
or speak with the people who went through them.

During that time
Marin attended a GLAAD function in Chicago and met that
group’s president, Neil Giuliano. Soon he was sitting
down in New York with Cindi Creager, GLAAD’s
director of national news, to talk about media
strategies. According to Chicago Reader writer Kate Hawley,
who profiled Marin in August, both Marin and Creager
confirmed that Creager began promoting Marin to
producers of Larry King Live as a possible guest.
(Creager downplays this, saying it was a
“misunderstanding” on the
reporter’s part, though Hawley stands by her story.)

It was after the
appearance of the Reader article—perhaps the first
public exposure Marin received beyond Christian
radio—that alarm bells began to ring. Marin
said in the article, “It’s theologically
sloppy to say [homosexuality is] not a sin.”

Both Knox and
Creager say they had not previously heard this from Marin.
But a quick review of the foundation’s Web site shows
that Marin had articulated this position several times
before on Christian radio programs. (Both Creager and
ESPA’s spokesperson say that the interviews
were newly added to the site and weren’t there when
they’d inspected the Web site. Knox says he
hadn’t see them either.)

Listening to the
interviews, it becomes clear that when Marin spoke to
gay people he told them what they wanted to hear, but when
he spoke to evangelicals he told them what they wanted
to hear as well. In several of the interviews Marin
even telegraphs to evangelicals that though he
doesn’t believe “ex-gay” programs are
particularly “helpful” since
“it’s hard to get a foot in the door if
you go in talking about hate,” he believes that
churches should “have [gays] come in and then let the
Holy Spirit guide them.” It sort of sounds like
Reparative Therapy Lite. To one Christian interviewer
who challenged Marin on his seeming acceptance of LGBT
people, he made his position clear: “There is a
difference between affirming and welcoming.”

After Melissa
Garvey alerted me to the Reader article, I invited Marin to
be on my program on Sirius Satellite Radio, where he would
not answer a simple question I asked four times:
“Do you affirm homosexuality as normal,
natural, and healthy?” Marin claimed that as a
“bridge” he had to be circumspect and
also denied ever saying the foundation would make him
rich. He also said that he had the full support of HRC,
GLAAD, and GMHC, which he had linked to and listed on
his Web site as “sponsors and donors,”
even though he admitted they had not given him any money.

Both the Reader
story and my interview with Marin seemed to send the gay
groups spinning into damage control. Several gay Chicagoans
I spoke with were outraged to read about HRC giving
accolades to a man who was described in the very same
story as also giving training sessions to the antigay
groups that were organizing to protest at the Gay Games.
While Marin signed on to the HRCsponsored event on
gays and religion, he was also signed on to something
called the Love and Truth campaign, which was heavily
promoted by staunchly antigay organizer Peter LaBarbera and
the Illinois Family Institute. Marin had given a
training to the groups organizing the action shortly
after Chicago evangelical pastor Michael Allen
announced it. Knox says he told Marin he shouldn’t
have sponsored the event, and at Knox’s
suggestion, Marin didn’t go to the Love and
Truth campaign press conference—though he
didn’t renounce the event.

Marin spent much
time himself at the Gay Games events asking LGBT people
to participate in a study that he said HRC had sponsored
with the Marin Foundation: a survey on gays and
faith—which Knox says HRC was not sponsoring.
Marin is not a social scientist, and on my radio program he
couldn’t name one Ph.D. who had worked on his survey.

Officials at HRC,
GLAAD, and GMHC all confirm they’d never given any
official endorsement to the Marin Foundation (though Knox
said he did allow Marin to link to the group from his
Web site), and each group has now contacted Marin to
demand he remove them from his list of sponsors.
(Pride Agenda also released a statement expressing the
group’s “distress” at learning
more about Marin and broke off any links with him.) Within
days the Marin Foundation home page disappeared entirely,
replaced with a page stating “this site is
temporarily unavailable.”

Knox acknowledged
to colleagues in a mass e-mail that “the
responsibility is mine for this and I accept it with
apologies to all concerned.” But he maintains
that dialogue with evangelicals is “so
important” and is worth taking
“risks” for.

But this
isn’t about taking or not taking
“risks.” It’s about doing basic
checking and having a bit more skepticism—and a bit
less of a will to believe.

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