Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Axe Ex-Gay at Park Street

It was a win-win-win at Park Street today. The ex-gay, reparative sorts finished their training, apparently of gullible ministers, at the church. The LGBT and friends protesters had their say on the other side of the soon-to-be-shuttered windows. The lone Boston cop got to say he restored order to the Granary Burying Ground when he showed up as the protesters were leaving.

Personally, I learned some crucial background about Exodus International, the big gorilla in the ex-gay business. One of the protest rally speakers, Wayne Besen, has written a book (Anything But Straight) on his research on and experience with them.

Mild Aggression

Many of the usual suspects showed at the rally by the south side of the Brewer Fountain. That's where main sponsor Join the Impact MA could get its permit for its sound systems. Locals will note that this was a good 100 yards from the training, taking place on the north side of the Park Street Church.

Perhaps the city thought that might keep the rabble-rousers separate from the anti-gay sorts. At one point, a fellow showed up hoping to find a fight between gay and anti-gay contingents.

The speakers at the fountain were focused, terse and cool on a hot day. For example:
  • Join The Impact's Don Gorton noted a key reason for the need to protest, "The social stigma attached to homosexuality is what they (anti-gay groups) depend on to do their recruiting." He said that unfortunately, homosexuals have been "trapped by the lie that heterosexuality is an option." In reality, Exodus and their ilk are indifferent to converting homosexuals though; they really "want gays and lesbians to live in misery" without legal protections, so they turn to reparative therapy and "attempt the impossible."
  • The Mass. Department of Public Health's Stewart Landers detailed some of the considerable evidence that "you cannot change sexual orientation through this type of therapy." He added that Exodus and similar groups "admit they can't change gays. They just want to stop homosexual behavior." He said passage of the House bill 1728 to protect transgender persons was crucial now. "Tell your legislator!" He also urged Christians to speak with their ministers and congregants about the deceit of reparative therapy.
  • Know Thy Neighbor's Tom Lang joined in with a call that "LGBT people must remain vigilant to expose these lies and deceptions."
The talker was relative celebrity Besen. With specifics and a lot of good humor, he detailed the shenanigans — organizational and personal — of Exodus and its notables. For example, the allegedly ex-gay men they used in advertising somehow reverted to gay bars. "Repaired" gay men who were inspired to marry as part of their therapy ended up divorcing their wives and leaving them in tragic states. Besen said that Exodus loved to show the wedding pictures to bolster their success stories, but somehow left out the divorce papers and other aftermath.

The founder of National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day, Michael Johnston, had what he called a "moral fall" and found male lovers on the internet. Perhaps the crowd favorite was the tale of Gary Cooper and Michael Bussee, Exodus co-founders. They divorced their wives to live together and have a commitment ceremony.

Besen said that the Exodus staff (13 in headquarters with $1 million annual budget and 200 affiliated ministries) know the therapy does not and cannot work. He said that was fine with them because they don't want to change anyone. Rather they want to change the laws that prohibit discrimination against homosexuals. If they can convince enough voters and legislators that homosexuality is a casual choice, the conclusion should be that gays and lesbians can change if they want to. Therefore, there's no need to protect them.

He told me that Exodus and similar groups get their funding from Focus on the Family and other rich anti-gay organizations. I thought they might profit from the gays and lesbians in therapy, but he iterated that this is not Exodus' business.

He said management at Exodus fares well economically. The individual ministries are generally quite badly served financially by it. Instead, the aim is to influence legislation and public opinion, not gather funds from individual contributors, even those who say they want salvation from their gender orientation. To such aims, Besen says, "They spend more on an ad in a newspaper than on their ministry."

Waking the Dead

The rally behind us, it was time for a protest. Isolated beyond the fountain, the group of maybe 30 to 50 depending on the moment made for the church and its trainers and trainees. The signs and bullhorn traveled with chanting protesters north on Tremont into the Granary Burying Ground.

The training room was visible through the tall ground floor windows of the Park Street Church. ...not for long though. Protesters chanted from "Ex-gay. No way!" and beyond. The bullhorn has a particularly annoying siren effect that punctuated some of the series of chants. Pretty quickly, the windows were shuttered from the inside.

After about 15 minutes of protesting, people were in a good mood and also chanted out. As we made our way on the sidewalk between the tombstones, a lone Boston cop and pale little guy showed up at the cemetery gate.

John Hosty-Grinnell clearly had been in this situation before and jumped right in to intercept the constabulary. Rather than tell the cop to buzz off because we were already leaving, he flashed ID and calmed him. The little fellow identified himself as Chris Sherwood, whom is listed by the church as an associate minister. He must have been sent out the handle the situation. He did say a rather ignorant, "They (Exodus folk) are pretty nice people," but he wasn't looking for a brawl either.

Hosty-Grinnell noted that there was a permit for the fountain area and didn't push the free-speech aspect at all. Everyone chilled and as we left, he commented, "Nobody's getting arrested today."

Perhaps after Besen gives his speech tonight at MIT, coupled with the rally, there'll be some media coverage. It won't hurt for more people here to know that the Exodus is a failure at what it says it can do. It should also fail at what it really intends to do.

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eeka said...

Great coverage as always.

The "it's a choice" argument has never made sense. Being a Presbyterian or an accountant or a coffee drinker are choices too, and are hardly reasons for denying rights.

TomLang said...

Where were Arline Isaacson of MGLPC and Scott Gortikov of MassEquality who were both sponsors, scheduled to speak and didn't show up?