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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.
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comments 1 - 15 (of 21 total)
JuanO, Indianapolis, IN, 2010-10-22 14:58:35
It seems to me that this article, while well written, is very ethnocentric viz. American ideals are superior to others. It might be argued that in the case of Uganda, American evangelicals tainted the water so to speak. However, the ex-gay view of homosexuality is common in most traditional/non-western cultures. To prescribe blame to evangelicals is grossly off the mark, and to accuse traditional cultures (Asia, Africa, etc.) of moral inferiority is slightly close-minded.
NelsonG, New York City, 2010-09-26 20:52:40
I don't know about anyone else, but I have no doubt Toscano is lying and he made that abundantly clear when he threw the friends of Bryce Faulker under the bus. Otherwise he would have seen about doing away with the ex-gay movement, instead of profiting from it with his Marvin Homo No Mo act.
Jane, , 2010-09-26 12:35:27
Jerry, why would Peterson lie about having a partner? Doing do would infer still being wrapped up in the ideology of the ex-gay movement. All you have to do is google his name and you will find out that is not the case.
Next, let's not forget the sisters who have found their way out of ex-gay ways. After 10 years I finally came out for good and am now learning how to be a strong person - who is queer. Much life to all who come through that particular pain.
Abdul, Detroit, 2010-09-21 01:22:47
The dogma of most Christian religions is nothing compared to the dogma of Muslim extremists who still stone homosexuals to death! Being gay in Muslim countries is completely forbidden! When is the liberal left wing going to acknowledge this fact and start speaking out about it instead of always focusing on the mostly peaceful actions of Christian groups?
David G. Christie, New York, 2010-09-11 08:48:52
Another ex-ex-gay here. Thanks for this.
james, LaGrange, 2010-09-01 23:33:55
It breaks my heart when the right and the left choose to drive the wedge of division deeper and deeper by reporting only on the extreme. Let's talk about what we all have in common like a desire to have a relationship with our heavenly father and wether your gay or straight its sin that seperates us from God. I still struggle with same sex attractions but out of the lifestyle for 5years. Jesus is Lord of my life, not my sexuality.The church has let the gay community down,be reconciled to Christ
Jerry, ST. Petersburg FL, 2010-08-27 20:53:38
Interesting the one guy still lives with a partner so says the article. Makes me wonder about him lying and still being gay.Hiding behind a curtain and downing what he really is.
ukguy, North, 2010-08-26 16:55:57
Amazing. I chose to do DIY reparative therapy in the absence of NARTH in the UK with the encouragement of my parents aged 17. I developed even lower self esteem than I had had before, developed drug problems and started having occasional unprotected sex. It was almost like self harm in my head. At 22 I was diagnosed HIV+. I can honestly say if my family had bee supportive of my sexual preferences, I doubt I would have developed problems with drug use and certainly woudn;t have had unsafe sex.
Tom Greer, Dallas, 2010-08-24 10:16:39
Thank you for this very informative story. I'm an out, proud and healthy man who just happens to have been living with AIDS since 1981. I've recently met some men who are in a group not mentioned here, but which sounds like reparative therapy. I'm grateful to have this article to share with them.
Daniel Gonzales, Denver, 2010-08-23 15:34:27
jamespaul, I was in therapy for about 18 months start to finish, after that it took me about another 18 months before I was ready to formally come out and now I regularly speak out against the ex-gay movement and I'm involved with various gay activist groups. Google ExGaySurvivorDan and you'll find much of my work on youtube and such.
Peterson Toscano, Sunbury, PA, 2010-08-23 15:14:03
jamespaul, Daniel Gonzales is an out proud gay guy. You can see some of his artwork at www.beyondexgay.com and look for his YouTube videos.
Frederick Wright, Tampa, 2010-08-19 19:03:35
Antonio, It is wonderful that you have the courage to face Righious People in their thoughts and action. However you must understand that a lot of Gay Folks believe and love their community of Faith. I have lots of Catholic Friends that are loving and Kind. The spirit of Righiousness in the make up of some Riligon is the battle for me, not the loving People that express their faith with Love. The Gay person that commits sucide because of being out casted from their faith goes much deeper.
R. Scott Harrison, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 2010-08-19 18:29:02
Thank you so much for this article. It tells the truth of increased HIV risk for those who have gone through the ex-gay movement, reparative therapy or conversion therapy. Many of us who are working in HIV prevention, as I do, and who went through the ex-gay movement for years, as I did, have long understood these painful realities.
jamespaul, San Francisco, CA, 2010-08-19 13:54:10
If anyone knows whatever became of David Gonzalez, the first person mentioned in this article, would they kindly share the outcome of his experience with his therapist?
Gary, Danville, 2010-08-19 12:50:09
comments 1 - 15 (of 21 total)
Amen. To those who are different, say "Thank You, God" and mean it!