Scroll down to comment on this story.
Thou Shalt Fear AIDS
by Trenton Straube
But in many cases, family rejection is so extreme that LGBT kids run away or are kicked out of the house. It’s estimated that 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT (about 3 to 5 percent of the U.S. population identifies as gay or lesbian). And homelessness, with its high incidence of drug use and sex work, is a high-risk factor for HIV.
Youths in Ryan’s study were also asked whether they believed they can be a happy LGBT adult. Only one in three youths from highly rejecting families thought so, while nearly all of the youth from extremely accepting homes did. “People who have no sense of the future,” Ryan points out, “are living moment to moment. And what’s the point in using condoms if you don’t [think there’s a future] to keep yourself around for?”
These findings don’t only apply to youth. Ex-gay ideology promotes stigma and shame, says Cahill (now at Gay Men’s Health Crisis), and that relates to HIV because if you have high self-esteem, you take better care of yourself and make better decisions about your health.
“We have data that show that gay people who are out and feel good about themselves as gay men are more likely to practice safer sex than guys who are in denial,” says Cahill, referencing separate research by the AIDS Project of Los Angeles and the New York City Health Department. “Particularly those who are struggling with identity issues—who lead a compartmentalized life where they’re not their full selves—they’re often the ones more likely to engage in riskier HIV behavior.”
Remember Michael Johnston? It’s Not Gay wasn’t his only starring role. In 1998, he was featured in the nationwide television and print campaign “Truth in Love.” Paid for by a cabal of antigay religious right leaders, the ads introduced the general public to the term “ex-gay” and the damaging concept that sexuality was a choice. Johnston’s “Truth in Love” spot featured him and his mother with the headline: “From innocence to AIDS. One mother’s plea to parents of homosexuals.”
Then came his “moral fall,” as the AFA described it. In 2003, Besen broke the story: HIV-positive Johnston had been cruising online, lying about his HIV status and hosting bareback gay sex parties.
Today, Johnston takes refuge in Pure Life Ministries, which caters to Christians dealing with sexual sin. Meanwhile, the AFA still promotes It’s Not Gay, boasting that it’s a best seller.
Johnston’s story, Besen says, illustrates a common ex-gay narrative: Gay people are told they’re going to hell—and the conservative religious ones genuinely believe it—so they go to these ministries to change. When it fails, they think God hates them, leaving them even more damaged and with lower self worth. “These ministries make people act recklessly,” Besen says. “They hold back and hold back, then the dam breaks and they go on these sexual binges.”
Go Ye Into All the World and Preach
A major evangelical tenet is spreading the gospel. As part of this outreach, evangelicals have turned to Central America, Eastern Europe and Africa. But when the messages of Christ’s love are with mixed with antigay fear, the volatile results can be deadly.
Just look at Uganda. Powerful evangelical leaders such as the Rev. Rick Warren and right-wing politicians such as U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R–Okla.) have long held sway in the struggling African nation. In March 2009, antigay Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, Exodus International board member Don Schmierer and ex-gay counselor Caleb Brundidge (a protégé of infamous ex-gay therapist Richard Cohen) headlined a conference in Kampala titled “Exposing the Truth About Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda.” Among the talking points were criminalizing homosexuality, which is already illegal there, and forcing gays into conversion therapy.
Six months later, the world discovered what such animus wrought: the so-called “Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” legislation calling for the death penalty for certain homosexuals and HIV-positive people. The bill bans all LGBT activities and organizations, and it requires citizens to report any gay people they might know. This spring, lawmaker Beatrice Rwakimari followed up with a bill criminalizing HIV transmission and mandating HIV tests for certain people.
As POZ went to press, both bills remained before the legislature. Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear: They will diminish the health of the people they persecute.
According to a report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in countries that ban discrimination, UNAIDS can reach—and therefore save—about 60 percent of MSM with HIV prevention services. In countries where MSM are not protected, that number drops to about 35 percent. What’s more, Michel Sidibé, the head of UNAIDS, told reporters that in countries such as Malawi and China, with discriminatory laws, about 33 percent of new HIV infections are among MSM. In countries that don’t criminalize this minority, the new HIV incidence rate among MSM plummets to between 3 and 6 percent.
Efforts to reach this high-risk group are undermined by homophobia. And homophobia is fueled by ex-gay ideology. A prime example is the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) in the Muslim town Mtwapa. KEMRI provides HIV/AIDS services, including MSM outreach. In February, a group of bishops, preachers and imams held a press conference against KEMRI and the MSM 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.
Is it a coincidence that 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?
Ex-gay ideology isn’t limited to Africa. Exodus Global Alliance also encompasses Asia Pacific, Brazil, China, Europe, the Middle East, India, Latin America and Canada. Homosexuals Anonymous has chapters in El Salvador, New Zealand and Germany. The list goes on.
Revelations: An Apocalyptic Future?
Meanwhile in the United States, well-adjusted, healthy gay people abound—many in stable relationships and raising children. Most HIV-positive people live well beyond 30—and many could live well into their 80s. Professional groups like the American Psychiatric Association denounce reparative therapy as unethical and dangerous. And more and more ex-gay survivors like Daniel Gonzales—the former reparative therapy patient is now an openly gay architect in Denver—are telling their stories to educate the public. As a result, more people view the ex-gay movement as fear-based propaganda and consumer fraud.
Besen, who still covers the movement via TruthWinsOut.org, says the U.S. ex-gay market is losing ground. Exodus no longer promotes complete and quick change to heterosexuality and instead talks about a lifelong process akin to battling alcoholism—in fact, it prefers the term “strugglers” over “ex-gays.” Its president, Alan Chambers, tells POZ the group is leaving the culture wars and will remain neutral on political issues.
But the war isn’t over. The next battle is for the minds of America’s children. By pushing the Helms Amendment, a.k.a. the “no promo homo” law, antigay foes threaten school districts with lawsuits if they even mention gay people (or, similar to a Staten Island case, HIV education). They’re trying to ensure ex-gay leaders get equal floor time in any LGBT discussions. In March, George Rekers, PhD, an antigay psychologist-cum-minister, under the guise of the American College of Pediatricians, sent a “Facts About Youth” newsletter to 14,800 school superintendents. It presented the usual ex-gay lies as unbiased, scientific research. But fate intervened, and Rekers lost credibility when he was caught hiring a rentboy.com escort to carry his luggage—and give him massages—during a European vacation.
It’s easy to snicker. Homophobes and ex-gay leaders are getting caught with their pants down (literally). But the truth is, people are vulnerable to the ex-gay message because they’re grappling with their sexual identity and spirituality, because they were molested as children, they’re effeminate or because they face very real rejection. These people deserve empathy, not ridicule; professional help, not propaganda.
“The bad guy is not the [person who seeks out an] ex-gay program,” says Peterson Toscano, another ex-gay survivor–turned–advocate. “The bad guy is a society that insists that being heterosexual and gender normative is more valuable than being gay.”
Toscano spent 17 years in reparative therapy—and over $30,000—before he broke free of the ex-gay grip. Now, he’s a performance artist who lives with his partner, Glen, in Pennsylvania and preaches his new philosophy through lectures, film and plays such as his Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House—How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement and through the website BeyondExGay.com.
“I know who I am, it is beautiful, it is good, it is me,” he says. “You could even say that being gay is a gift from God.”
Amen to that.
Pages: 1 | 2
Search: gay, ex-gay, reparative therapy, National Association for Researcg and Therapy of Homosexuality, NARTH, religion, conversion, Exodus, evangelical, Evergreen, JONAH, Homosexuals Anonymous, Christianity, American Family Association, AFA, Uganda
Scroll down to comment on this story.
Show comments (21 total)