This is part 3 in a multi-part series detailing Adam’s experience at the Focus on the Family “Love Won Out” conference. Catch up with part 1 and part 2.
I was one session deep into the ex-gay “Love Won Out” conference and I still had a very clear “us vs. them” mentality. Since age 12, I’ve had a contentious relationship with the anti-gay evangelical community. They hated who I am so much that they want to change me; therefore, I have nothing positive for them. This war became very cloudy with the testimony of Mike Haley.
Haley looked like he was out of central casting for a thirty-something gay white male. He started his “testimony” by welcoming all of the gay activists in the audience. He said, “I know you are here and as long as you are respectful, I am glad you are here.” In my paranoia, I was convinced that every pair of eyes in the room was on me. It definitely gave him the power in the situation because it was clear that he wasn’t going to say anything that he didn’t want us to hear.
I was also taken aback because he used the word “gay.” Usually, the fastest way to find out if someone is an ally or a hater is by analyzing the use of “gay” vs. “homosexual.” “Gay” is a bad word in the evangelical community because it dignifies our identity. They prefer “homosexual” because it sounds like a disease.
Haley spoke speedily with purpose. He was attractive, charismatic, disarming and impossible to hate. He told his story about growing up as a model child, who felt different because of his “homoemotional needs.” He spoke to a counselor at age 16 who (rightly) told him that there was nothing wrong with him, so he went to a gay bar and he found his home. He was on a “gay treadmill” for 12 years and he talked about the pressure to stay thin because of how he was only valued for what he looked like. He volunteered at HIV/AIDS organizations, he went to PRIDE, and he more than established his credibility as he built a connection with every gay person in the audience. He was already more valuable of a spokesman for their cause than James Dobson or Tony Perkins could ever be.
He told the Christians in the audience how hurtful it was to see Bible verses on signs at PRIDE, saying, “you think we will read those signs and change, but instead it pushes us further away.” He told the audience to eliminate “love the sinner, hate the sin” from their vocabulary. He got it. He was saying things that I feel everyday. Then he started talking about choice and I was ready to finally disagree with him. Instead, he said “no one chooses to be gay.” I was dumbfounded. He added, it may not be in people’s biology, but that is irrelevant, because it is not a conscious decision that people make.”
I realized that he was making me far too comfortable and that the emotional journey of his testimony was the key to their conversion philosophy. He gained the trust of the gay-identified audience members by meeting us where we are and speaking in terms that are comforting and disarming. Then once that trust was established, he zeroed in on the “change is possible” message.
He started in on how being gay isn’t God’s plan for people and he compared homosexuality to alcoholism and drug abuse (more on that will come in part 4). He began to detail his journey to leave homosexuality and how God rescued him. I was finally reminded that we are diametrically opposed, but I looked around and the damage had already been done; the room was full of tears. I was surprised that his story did actually move me. He was unhappy and he found something that he claims makes him happy. I couldn’t think of a reason not to be happy for him. I wonder if he would be happy for me, if I testified about how happy my husband makes me?
I don’t know if he is still attracted to men or if he is genuinely attracted to his wife. It honestly doesn’t matter to me –- what matters is that he now dedicates his life to telling people that the way they live is wrong and the way that he lives is right. I am not OK with that. Also, I was disappointed that he didn't address the actual process of "becoming straight." Perhaps this was just the initial sales meeting to rope people in, and they will burden them with the gory details later?
Next was the testimony of “ex-gay” Melissa Fryrear, another phenomenal presenter who oozed charisma and likeability. Fryrear described herself as a “super lesbian” who abhorred the thought of physicality with a man. She told her story of feeling called to God, so she and her partner of seven years began going to church. Fryrear said even though it wasn’t her partner’s thing, she supported her and even bought Fryrear her first Bible. The story almost immediately jumped into her realizing that everything in her life was wrong as she “left homosexuality.” Everyone in the audience was too busy admiring her to notice how completely messed up it was to abandon her very supportive and loving partner, a la Lisa Miller.
In fact, love was completely absent from their message. They didn’t once acknowledge the possibility that two members of the same-sex could be in love. They applauded Fryrear for leaving the person who she spent seven years of her life with and probably would be married to, if she’d been legally able to.
I had found my moral high ground in the spirit of love. It became my new happy place -– for the rest of the day whenever I was traumatized by the brainwashing group-think environment, I would close my eyes and think of the love I have for my man –- a love that is stronger than anything I would endure that day.
Just two-hours into the conference and I was suddenly empowered and ready for more –- but I didn't know how long that empowerment would last.
This is part 3 in a multi-part series detailing Adam’s experience at the Focus on the Family “Love Won Out” conference. Stay tuned for Part 4 coming soon. In the meantime, check out part 1 andpart 2.
Photo credit: Ihar