Thursday, March 29, 2007

How the Religious Right uses the "ex-gay" movement

Tanya Erzen, the author of Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement, recently spoke at my church, and I said a little about that here. While I'm sure many of you are familiar with groups like Exodus International already, I know there must be at least a few who are not. At my very progressive Episcopal church, where I heard the presentation I will share below, some members of our congregation didn't know that such a thing as an "ex-gay movement" even existed.

Tanya started by telling us that her topic would be, "The ex-gay movement and how it's shaped debates, especially around GLBT rights in the United States, and will talk a bit at the end about what I see happening in 2008 in terms of the gay marriage issues, as well as some trends I see trends within Christianity which may be positive."

She continued...

The first advertisement shows Alan Chambers, who's the president of Exodus International, which is the umbrella organization for the ex-gay movement, and it appeared in the Cincinnati Examiner as well as other media outlets throughout 2005 and 2006. Basically it was targeted to appear before the midterm election. And the ad, if you read it, includes Alan Chambers' testimony about his homosexuality. But unlike previous testimonies which are very common in the ex-gay movement, this one explicitly makes an argument about gay marriage, and this is something different that the ex-gay movement is doing. Instead of them claiming in this ad that gay marriage is wrong for biblical reasons, it says that making gay marriage legal will prevent gay men and women from realizing what he says are the root issues of their homosexual behavior--basically that they are truly heterosexual. So they're saying, if you give everyone the right to marry, no one will go to ex-gay ministry and transform themselves to what everyone *should* be, according to them, which is heterosexual.

Since the mid-1990s, groups, Christian right organizations like Focus on the Family have taken their cue from people like Alan Chambers, and have moved away from hateful anti-gay rhetoric to language that is more about compassion and hope for healing. They are also trying to make inroads with churches, so that instead of churches saying "We accept GLBT people", they will refer them to an ex-gay group or Focus on the Family.

People like Alan Chambers are very key to the media strategy and policy arguments made by these Christian right organizations.
The talk (more to come in a future post) was based on the research Tanya Erzen did, spending two years in San Francisco at an ex-gay ministry, not undercover--they knew what she was doing. She interviewed people, attended their conferences, and four or five years later is still in touch with a lot of people who went through that ministry.

What the ex-gay movement does, is make the argument that being gay is not biological, not immutable, and because it is not a legitimate identity according to them, you don't have to give people any rights on the basis of that identity. So, what the marriage debate becomes about is not just opposing rights for GLBT people, but denying the very existence of such an identity. Tanya noted that this is a very important and dangerous change they have made in the framing of the issue. These Christian right organizations now rely on testimonies of people who identify as "ex-gay" in their opposition to the whole gamut of public policies that seek to extend basic civil rights protections for GLBT people in the realm of marriage, adoption, school curricula, partner benefits, etc.


Shirl said...

Anything to cause more damage to gay people. This "cure" stuff is truly the biggest pile of crap I have ever seen. First of all there is nothing to be cured of, as most sane people know. Secondly, during my many years of association with gay and lesbian communities of every description in every part of this country, I have run across a few of those "cured" folks. It ain't true, any more than it was true all the years that I pretended to be straight.

If your determination is strong enough, if you are stubborn enough, you can certainly act the part you think will be most acceptable. But every "cured" gay man I ran into was still gay, but now he just was gay in hiding and on the side. . .outside of his marriage. Big progressive step forward.

Most of the "former" lesbians I ran into were still lesbians, still attracted to women but playing the wifely role and not necessarily acting on their attractions to women, but still lesbians. Now they were just "acceptable" in society and church because they were "cured."

None of these "cured" folks were as happy as they pretended to be.

Very sad. Very sad indeed.