Archive for the ‘ex-gay survivor conference’ Category

I arrived safe and sound in Barcelona and will be part of a press conference today about our upcoming conference:

Teràpies reparatives per l’homosexualitat Perquè existeixen i quins perills representen or in English Gay to Straight Therapies–The reasons they exist and their potential harm.

Already I met three ex-gay survivors in Catonia who have shared their stories with me. One has agreed to come forward at the press conference and at Friday´s conference to talk about his experiences of 10 years of reparative therapy.

We met for dinner last night, and I experienced a certain kinship with these other ex-gay survivors both because of the similar route we had taken and some similar negative consequences we now deal with including physical problems like back pain, skin conditions, etc. We can´t say for certain that there exists a direct correlation between our physical ailments and our ex-gay experiences, but many startd up when we began to pursue ex-gay treatment. For me my lower back problems abated once I accepted myself and worked through some of the ex-gay trauma.

No time to write more at present, but I have been working on a poem that I know some of you will like. More than one person has encouraged me to do more poetry, and I have found it a relaxing escape while on the road.

Tonight I will meet with a group of gay Christians who meet weekly in Barcelona. Then I am off to Madrid tomorrow for a few days before I return to Barcelona for the conference on Friday.

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The US-based ex-gay movement has attempted to make inroads into Spain and Latin America in the past. Exodus Global Alliance (then just Exodus International) sent Jose Luis Maccarone as an ex-gay missionary to Spain. He eventually came out and tells some of his story in this YouTube video. At the end of 2007 a news story hit about a priest doing ex-gay therapy in Galicia, Spain. Just yesterday I also read about ex-gay movement afoot in Mexico.

Beyond Ex-Gay working with other LGBT-affirming organizations in Catalonia, Spain has organized a conference at the University of Barcelona on May 30, 2008.

Teràpies reparatives per l’homosexualitat
Gay to Straight Therapies

Perquè existeixen i quins perills impliquen
The reasons they exist and their potential harm

This conference will consider the phenomenon of gay reparative therapies, discredited treatment plans that attempt to alter a homosexual orientation and identity. Presenters will explore the various types of treatments that have been offered, the potential harm for patients receiving such treatment, and the various motivating factors that influence individuals to pursue such treatments for themselves or their loved ones. The conference will use modern and dynamic learning techniques.

A panel of speakers will present short talks and then will answer general questions. The participants will walk through facilitated discussions looking at reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry—the reasons they exist and their potential harm.

Speakers include:

  • Jordi Petit, Honorary President of la Coordiandora Gai-Lesbiana de Catalunya president (the Gay-Lesbian Network of Catalonia)
  • Noemí Domínguez, Clinical psychologist and Master’s in sexual and couple therapy (University of Barcelona)
  • Peterson Toscano (um, me) ex-gay survivor and co-founder of Beyond Ex-Gay

The conference will be conducted in Catalan, Castilian (Spanish) and English and will include multi-media as well as traditional presentation. In addition to the panel other ex-gay survivors from Catalonia will be on hand to share some of their own experiences. Earlier in the week I will also get to meet with a group of gay Christians who meet regularly in Barcelona.

You can learn more about the conference at the Beyond Ex-Gay Barcelona event page. For some resources in Spanish, check out the Spanish-language blog I maintain with my friend Adriana, Dos Equis.

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The Advocate magazine published long article about ex-gays and ex-gay survivors and the changing landscape of the ex-gay movement. They quote quite a lot of people including Christine Bakke and me. (They often overlook the lesbians, so I am so glad they gave her plenty of space to share).

For more than a year, the website BeyondExGay.com has been a virtual gathering point for ex-gay survivors, many of whom now picket ex-gay ministries events and conferences and attempt to share their stories with attendees. Beyond Ex-Gay also holds conferences of its own. “Our primary goal is being a support group for ex-gay survivors,” says Toscano. Like Christine Bakke, who runs the group with him, he attended ex-gay ministries for years before finally accepting his gayness. “Our secondary goal,” Toscano adds, “is to talk about the harm of reparative therapy” — therapy meant to de-gay you –“in ex-gay ministries.”

The reporter, Tim Murphy, spent time getting to know the subjects of the piece and took a humanist approach to each one. In his conclusion he admitted an affinity for John Smid, who recently resigned as director of Love in Action.

I laid down my reporter’s notebook (metaphorically — we were on the phone). Smid was funny and thoughtful and affable. I told him that I’d like to be his friend, that as a comfortable, happy gay man raised Catholic but now more inclined toward a broadly spiritual liberal humanism, I’d like to meet for coffee and discuss these issues more. And I said I truly had no interest in changing him. Could he say the same thing?

Some people find it hard to believe, but many ex-gay leaders can be charming, interesting and fun people. But hey, most are gay after all.

It is a long piece that helps to flesh out some of the events over the past year.

The Believers—Ex-gay Survivors Making Peace With Those Who Tried to “Cure” Them

If you want to see the LOGO Be Real program on-line with wonderful footage from the Memphis bXg event and more of Christine, my own dad, and John Holm, another ex-gay survivor, click here.

On a personal note, I finished a few days with the delightful John Henson in Wales and have moved in with Auntie Doris for a few days in London before heading off to Oxford. Purrrrrfect weather–so sunny and clear.

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Trailer as in movie trailer–no, we did not hold our conference in double-wide metal box (no offense to trailer dwellers). Brian Murphy who created the short film (approx. 15 min) about the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference, has just released a much shorter version that he posted on YouTube. So for those with short attention spans, slow internet downloads or just too busy for the whole 15 minutes, you can get a sense of the conference in under three minutes. Thanks Brian!

You can view the complete version here.

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Brian Murphy, a filmmaker and one of the Soulforce Equality Riders attended the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference this summer in Irvine, CA. He shot video and put together a great short film. Most moving for me is the portion where he films the Chalk Talk where we write our ex-gay experiences, both the good and the bad. Also the film highlights the stories of more ex-gay survivors, some speaking publicly for the first time.

The link for the film is here or just click on it above.

In other multi-media news, Daniel Gonzales just posted set of videos in an excellent and insightful series where Jim Burroway talks about his visit to Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out conference. Check it out here.

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Art by Quakers fills my life today. Some months ago Robert Batson, a member of Hartford Friends Meeting (aka Quaker), exhibited some of his work at the meeting house. The art captured my attention, and I purchased piece. Today I brought home the 18″x24″ Untitled painting by Robert. I love the colors and the use of space and the emotions, some contrary, that piece expresses to me. (click on it for larger view)
Then after meeting we had our monthly potluck lunch where I met a visitor, a retired high school art teacher. Sadly I did not catch his name, but he offered to draw something on my journal cover. He created this dove.
Finally while sitting with Jamie Taylor, a Friend from meeting, we chatted about literature and art (and a thousand other things. A PhD candidate doing research in public policy and homelessness, Jamie embraces many interests–poetry, meditation, social justice issues, dynamics of relationships, etc. So we converse broadly)

As we talked about art and the strange fit for the artist in the Quaker community, I doodled something I have titled Quacker Worship. I think Alex in Sweden inspired me as he attended a Quaker retreat near Stockholm this weekend (note the colors).
Quaker Art–a strange fit. As a performance artist working in comedy, I find that presenting to a Quaker audiences fills me with anxiety and concerns that I rarely experience in other venues. Some Friends enjoy and “get” what I do, but I regularly meet Quakers who do not (and tell me so as they offer their critiques, suggestions and sources of offense). I find that some Quakers offend easily. Some focus so much on words that they miss the point. I do take some of what they say seriously and consider it to see if it speaks to me (usually it does not).

Art for me comes from a place of worship–it serves as worship infused with messages. It is ministry (and yes I still shrink from that word but begin to accept it). I do occasionally speak in meeting (vocal ministry). But my art is my worship and includes more than words.

At the Ex-Gay Survivors Conference Christine Bakke organized an art show, created collages of the ex-gay experience and currently curates our on-line gallery. Seeing the impact of that art on those who have viewed it reminds me that people need more than vocal ministry. In fact, vocal ministry can get stuck in the head (and we Quakers can be a heady bunch). Words get clogged and can miss the mark, but art–visual, musical, performance, dance, film–can bypass the filters and get to a deeper place in us.

Often an audience member tells me they feel moved by one of my shows, but they do not fully understand why. They sometimes hear messages that I never utter or script. Art wedded with Spirit aids our abilities to grow, heal, feel challenged and find hope.

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We have been getting some great e-mails from people who attended the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference. Also, lots of folks have been blogging about their experiences.

Check out the BeyondExGay.com Conference Reflections page here. Also, if you blogged about your experience and reflections on the conference, let us know. If you don’t blog (wait, there are people who don’t blog???), send an e-mail to bxg @ beyondexgay.com

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Over at her blog Christine responds to snarky comments Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, left over at Shawn O’Donnell’s blog. Shawn wrote about the moving experience he had at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference,

The most emotional part of the weekend was a chalk talk we did… where people shared their emotions about their ex-gay experiences on this huge sheet of paper. The entire ceremony was done in silence. It gave me the chills. I don’t believe there was a dry eye. I felt like I was at the Veteran Memorial or the Holocaust museum.

To which Alan lashes out,

Harm? Come on, Shawn. No one is being harmed by Exodus offering people a choice. You KNOW better.

Christine digs into this choice that Alan offers,

Now, about the “choice” issue. What choice are they offering?

Is it the choice between being kicked out of your church, or being loved as “the struggler?”

Is it the choice between a relationships with parents who believe we can and should pursue change because others claim to have done it, or living a life being true to yourself but without a good relationship with family?

Is it the choice between which state to live in because Exodus has politically backed anti-marriage equality amendments that could negatively affect your children or yourself?

Is it the choice that many women have to make whether they will stay in a marriage with a man who is not able to love them well, or whether they will leave and break up a family?

Is it the choice of having to believe that you are broken and inferior, or the choice of finding your own wholeness in a world that is all too ready to believe what they are told about gay people?

I can understand Alan being defensive when people who have intimately known the work of Exodus stand up and tell a different story than the party line. No one wants to hear that the work they do actually causes more harm than good. Although medical associations have warned of the risks of reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry in the past, we are seeing something different with folks like Shawn O’Donnell and the many others who are coming forward.

When survivors step up and tell their own stories, stories that challenge the misconceptions long held by Exodus leaders and the conservative Evangelical church, can cause people to scramble to silence these voices. It can also cause some people to humble themselves to listen to see if there is a truth they need to hear.

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Christine Bakke posted a blog entry today about some of the events that took place on Sunday during the optional activities for the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference. The big question we had was, What do we do with the Chalk Talk??? We created such a powerful group statement that we couldn’t just throw away. Having documented it through the pictures and videos we took, Christine and Pat Walsh and others came up with a beautiful idea of what to do with it. See for yourself.

Daniel Gonzales took loads of video during the conference and asked people to talk about change. Did they feel they did change while they were ex-gay? What was that like? He has these posted over at Box Turtle Bulletin. Here is video of my friend Scott who also attended Love in Action.
And here is video of Ron, who used to be a Love in Action house leader. You can see more here.
And earlier in the week Daniel asked a few of us the same question.

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On the blogs and in the media folks are still wrapping their heads around the many ex-gay and ex-ex-gay events that took place last week. Many of these events were organized by Beyond Ex-Gay (bXg) and Soulforce, the most notable being the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference, the public apology by three former Exodus leaders and a private dinner attended by three people from Exodus and four ex-gay survivors.

Those of us involved in planning the events of last week are still catching our breath from it all. After nearly a year of planning, it felt stunning to see our dreams and thoughts come to life. Christine and I (with tons of help from our friend Steve Boese) launched bXg in April. Shortly after that we announced the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference that we co-hosted with Soulforce and the LGBT Resource Center at UC Irvine.

Anyone who has spent any time looking at the bXg site can get an idea of what Christine and I are about and what some of our goals are. There we post narratives of fellow ex-gay survivors, and resources such as poetry, art work and articles.

We don’t seek to bash people who identify as ex-gay or invalidate their experiences. Instead we wish to create a space to tell our own. The primary reason being for our own well being and recovery. Too often we shoved our ex-gay experiences in the closet believing that people in the LGBT community may just mock us for spending so much time, money and energy seeking to alter our sexuality. Some can be insensitive to personal and spiritual struggles that filled so much of our lives.

In looking at the events of the past week and the exposure they generated, some people have asked what we hope to achieve. They suspiciously wonderr if we wish to see groups like Exodus diminished, dismantled, and destroyed. In a politically charged debate I can see how they can raise these questions.

This weekend we saw the birth of the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement. It is a movement without a manifesto or agreed upon goals. Instead we have created a venue for people, who desperately sought to change and suppress their sexuality, an opportunity to unpack their experiences and to ask the essential questions–

Why did I pursue change? What was I looking for? What did I do to myself and let others do to me? What good came of the experiences I had? What harm came of it? How can I recover from these experiences and move on?

These are hard questions to face both by survivors and by those who advocate reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry. For 4 1/2 years I have asked myself these questions and wrestled with them on this blog and through my performance work. Looking at these questions initiates a grieving process for many of us. But in looking at these questions we get past the rhetoric to the heart of the matter–not Is change and suppression of same-sex attraction possible?–but Why is it so highly desired and what are the costs in pursuing it?

It also raises the question about the responsibility of those who advocate gay reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry. What happens once people leave your care? Do you know? Do you care?

Some want to know what the purpose is of setting up meetings between ex-gay survivors and proponents of ex-gay ministry and reparative therapy. For me the primary goal is truth sharing. Where it goes from there depends on the people at the table. For it to be true dialog we need to be open to listen.

In the ex-gay discourse there has been an imbalance in the information sharing. Those of us who attended ex-gay ministries and received reparative therapy know intimately what these leaders have to say. In some cases we sat for years under their teaching carefully paying attention, writing notes, reading the books assigned, attending the lectures, listening to the tapes. We know that side of the story. We know firsthand that many of the people who advocate ex-gay ministries and reparative therapies do so out of a sincere desire to help people.

The imbalance comes in that many of these ex-gay ministers and reparative therapists do not know the other side of the story. Most (in fact I know of none) have any organized aftercare program or follow-up. They don’t even send out a survey asking, “How was your ex-gay experience? What can we do differently to make it more beneficial to you?” There are stories and truths that they do not know, and part of the work is to create venues where we can share these narratives with ex-gay ministers and reparative therapists.

bXg provides such a venue for those willing to come and spend some time at the site. The dinner provided another such venue. The press conference outside of NARTH’s offices where three survivors shared their stories and presented beautifully designed and framed collages offers yet another venue. Through documentary films, radio and TV interviews, letters, blogs and personal conversations, we seek to tell the other side of the story. (Daniel Gonzales just posted some more video over at Box Turtle Bulletin)

Do the ex-gay survivors want to see the end of all ex-gay ministries? You will have to ask each one of us individually. We have different opinions about this. We do not need to have a unified message because we understand these issues are complex. The process of institutional change is an organic process, a dynamic process and one that depends on who is willing to come to the table and what attitudes, assumptions, fears and hopes they bring with them.

The Ex-Gay Survivor Movement–What’s It All About? It is about speaking the truth in love. It is about seeking to tell our stories as honestly and vulnerably as possible. It is about telling our stories for our own well being. It is about telling our stories as a witness to the harm we see from a church and a world that insists that to be anything but straight is not good enough and what happens to the people who passionately follow that line of reasoning.

This movement is a radical departure from what some people expect. Even some gay activists are caught off guard by it and do not understand why many of us don’t feel bitter and angry. Some conservative Christian groups, who do not know firsthand about the ex-gay struggle yet they insist it is the only route for same-sex attracted people, seem to feel threatened by the gathering of a handful of people who are willing to care for each other, listen deeply to each other and publicly tell our stories.

There is a mysterious power in telling our stories, and one thing is for sure, the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement is about standing up and telling our stories. I hope that the Church, ex-gay ministers and reparative therapists have ears to hear, and that they don’t haggle over words and ultimately miss the point.

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Many people have written to me about how meaningful the Chalk Talk experience was for them this weekend at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference. The folks at Soulforce displayed some photos on their site that I have posted here as well.

The Chalk Talk provides participants an opportunity to engage in a group discourse through writing and drawing. The facilitator (Jallen Rix and me in this case) provides a large blank writing space (white board or sheets of paper), plenty of markers and enough room for people to move around so they can write and see. The activity is conducted in silence.

The idea comes directly from my work as a CFG Coach and my training with the National School Reform Faculty. CFG coaches provide ways for teachers to improve their teaching practice through peer professional development facilitated through the use of various protocols. The Chalk Talk is one such protocol. They have many others–may favorites being the text-based protocols and the Future Protocol.

As a high school teacher at the Watkinson School in Hartford, CT, together with my fellow teachers, we adjusted the protocols for use in the classroom. And since then I have tried them out in other venues. I love the protocols because they embody much of what I value in Quaker practice.

As we gathered in front of that large sheet of paper with the two trails of paper on the ground, we settled into what felt to be a hushed sacred silence. So much pain, so many memories stirred up and appeared on the page. Bit by bit we built this wall, which some said felt like a memorial. Our prompt–Ex-Gay Experiences–The Good/Harm drew out responses including drawings. Many people claimed the good they received from their ex-gay experiences as well as listing the deep deep harm they experienced.

We then debriefed the experienced and began the process of storytelling, of mourning and of healing.

This week I am in River Falls, WI (near Minneapolis, MN) for the Friends General Conference (Quaker) for our annual gathering. All this week I lead a three-hour a day workshop for 21 high school students. The workshop is entitled Looking In–Looking Out, a forum where we explore our own lives and the world around us. We do art, worship, play games, discuss, study the Bible, do drama and of course have snacks.

Today we focused on our faith journeys and did most of our sharing through a Chalk Talk (on a proper chalk board for a nice change). When with Friends I refer to the Chalk Talk as Meeting for Worship with Attention to Graffiti. Our prompts God/Belief/Me. The spirituality of high school students consistently floors and humbles me. Today they wrote so many profound and witty and insightful and heartfelt comments.

One of the young Friends put up a phrase that provoked much discussion:

God is an ugly creature
to test our faith

Some people objected and felt put off by it. Others said they could relate to the sentiment particularly if you have a God who is always testing you and putting you through hard times to prove a point.

The author of the statement finally shared her intent. She said that so many people call themselves Christians. Some are kind people, but some are mean and talk about a mean God. They say all sorts of horrible things about God as they share their faith. She said she sees God as this battered creature who shows up at our door for us to take in and nurse back to health.

This concept moves me deeply, that we can be called to shelter and nurture a battered God, to make room within and a nest of sorts for this God beaten by believers.

So often young people and people in churches and ex-gay programs rarely get to share their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs. It so often is a sit down, shut up and listen sort of affair. What I love about the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference (and I desire to do in my workshop this week) is that we sought to create a space for people to speak out and be heard.

This threatens some people who have more to gain from our silence. It is frightening for us who engage in the process because so many thoughts emerge, some which seem to be in conflict. But in this deep communal sharing, we come to a broader truth and understanding. We break away from the polarized debates to the heart of the matter. We get to the people and we get to the things that matter most to God–love, mercy, justice and relationship.

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It has been a whirlwind! Do a Google News search on ex-gay and you get scores of article written in the past week. We had the LA Times article which announced that Alan Chambers doesn’t believe anyone truly changes their orientation. Then all the fallout from that by folks who disagreed.

Then we had the big news with a press conference sponsored by Beyond Ex-Gay and Soulforce where three former Exodus leaders came forward to issue a public apology. That story got picked up by the LA Times, the Associated Press, CNN, tons of bloggers and papers all over the globe.

Then we saw some ex-gay survivors inviting Exodus leaders to dinner with some of them coming to listen.

Then we had the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference with a powerful Chalk Talk, interactive workshops and some powerful healing and networking. You can see photos here.

Then after some spectulation Morgan Fox at the QAC confirmed that after two years of activism the Love in Action Refuge program (for participants under the age of 18) has officially closed.

Phew, I need to catch my breath. Can there possibly be more? Well, can there? Hmmmm.

I left LA on Saturday night after the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference Closing Gala and hoped on the red-eye to Minneapolis. Then my new buddy, Kathy, picked me up and drove me to the University of Wisconsin in River Falls for the Friend General Conference (Quaker) yearly gathering. The morning I arrived (was that only yesterday???) I kicked-off a 6 day workshop with a group of 21 high school students. It’s called Looking In/Looking Out. We will spend time explore ourselves–personalities, interests, passions, fears, etc and then look out at the world to the needs and beauty around us. Lots of art, theater, discussion, movement and worship.

After all the activity, these young people really help to ground and center me. I mean after a week of cameras and microphones and conference organizing, it grounds me when a teen turns to me with their major concerning being “Wait, aren’t having snacks!”

It’s great to be among Friends, but I also feel sad that I had to leave so soon after having such a deep experience with so many other survivors. I feel I am so connected to all of you who shared so much of yourselves in Irvine–Dee, John, Zion, Shawn, Worthie, Karen, Jaylen, ahhh, so many more.

But the lunch line just died down (Quakers have a major vice at these types of gatherings–We EAT a lot of food).

Thank you all for your comments and thoughts. I know Alex was away in Stockholm to see Rufus Wainwright (I am so envious!). But thank you all for all the ways you have walked with me through this week.

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