Bay Windows Coverage
Ex-gay movement plans Boston confab
LGBT youth group organizing a series of protests
By Ethan Jacobs
Published: Thursday, August 11, 2005
Media Credit: Marilyn Humphries
QueerToday.com founder Mark Snyder stands outside Tremont Temple Baptist Church, where the ex-gays will gather this October.
The ex-gay movement is coming to Boston this fall, and a group of young LGBT activists plans to start protesting early. On Oct. 29, the Tremont Temple Baptist Church will welcome Focus on the Family's Love Won Out conference, which is expected to draw a crowd of about 1000 people seeking information on the ex-gay movement. In response, QueerToday.com, a long-dormant group of youth activists that made headlines in June 2003 with a protest outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, will begin demonstrating outside Tremont Temple Baptist Church Aug. 14 in anticipation of the October conference. QueerToday founder Mark Snyder said he hopes to hold several protests between now and October, leading up to a larger protest the day of the event, and he hopes the community turns out to voice their disapproval."Of course we would love it if the church would cancel the conference, but that looks unlikely, so now we want to voice our concern and let people know that this is happening in Boston," said Snyder.Love Won Out, which holds six conferences in North America each year, promises to bring the heavyweights of the ex-gay movement to Boston. Speakers slated to attend include Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, the largest ex-gay resource and referral organization; Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president of the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), and Nancy Heche, the mother of actress Anne Heche and a crusader in the ex-gay movement. The elder Heche's husband was a gay man who died from complications of AIDS and Anne Heche had a highly publicized relationship with Ellen DeGeneres before marrying a man.Wayne Besen, an activist against the ex-gay movement and author of the 2003 book Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, described the Love Won Out conferences as the most respectful face of the ex-gay movement, due in large part to the slick production values and funding supplied by Focus on the Family to stage the conferences."Love Won Out conferences are the anchor for the ex-gay movement. They're important because the people running them are a lot more PR-savvy than the rest of the ex-gay movement," said Besen, who has attended one conference and protested outside two others. "This is Broadway, the others are Off Off Broadway. This is a slick production, very well put together and designed."As a result, he said, Love Won Out conferences usually attract more media coverage than other ex-gay functions.Melissa Fryrear, an ex-gay speaker at the conference and gender issues analyst for Focus on the Family, said the conference workshops are designed to give people information on how to "cure" homosexuality, either in themselves or in loved ones."The largest group of people who come are parents who have a son or daughter living homosexually. The next largest group are pastors and church leaders. And we also have educators and counselors attend, certainly lay people from churches, others from the community. We have people certainly themselves who are struggling with homosexuality and are considering, wanting to come out of homosexuality," explained Fryrear.Snyder said QueerToday targeted the Love Won Out conference in large part because the group, which he said comprises 10-15 active members in their 20s, believes the ex-gay movement is particularly damaging to LGBT youth. He said the message that homosexuality can be prevented and cured drives LGBT youth to commit suicide and accused Love in Action of "religious terrorism.""[Focus on the Family] uses their interpretation of the Bible to attack our community, spread lies about our community and encourage people to hate us.... These people do inflict terror in our community. They make us feel unsafe. They make us afraid. That's terrorism in my opinion," argued Snyder. QueerToday's only previous protest at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross garnered headlines as activists disrupted a Sunday service to protest the anti-gay rhetoric of the state's Catholic bishops.Snyder's argument, if not his rhetoric, is supported by the mainstream medical community. The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree that there is no medical benefit to reparative therapy, which those in the ex-gay movement use to try to "cure" people of homosexuality. The latter two groups concur that reparative therapy can actually have a negative impact on the mental health of those who undergo it.The impact of the ex-gay movement on LGBT youth became particularly visible recently through the case of Zach Stark, a 16-year-old gay blogger from Tennessee sent to an ex-gay facility called Refuge against his will last June for eight weeks. Prior to entering the program, Stark caught the attention of other bloggers, posting information about his story and about Refuge on his blog, and the story garnered the attention of the gay press and, to a lesser extent, the mainstream media. Although many LGBT activists used Stark's case as a rallying point against the ex-gay movement, Stark posted a statement on his blog Aug. 1 defending the program following his release.Snyder said QueerToday will gather at Tremont Temple Baptist Church Aug. 14 at noon to protest the church's decision to hold the conference, and they have invited likeminded members of the community to join them. The group hopes support from the community will be strong enough to carry out several more protests leading up to October, but no other protests have yet been scheduled.Snyder said his group asked the church to pull their sponsorship of the conference but the church has remained steadfast. Representatives of the church did not return a call from Bay Windows seeking comment for this story.Besen said QueerToday is taking the right approach in publicly opposing the conference, which he accused of swindling the public with false claims of curing homosexuality. He argued that the only "success stories" in the movement who attend the conferences are professional ex-gays who have a financial stake in selling the movement."It's heartbreaking because the majority of people [at the conference] are friends and family members of someone who recently came out, and they're incredibly sad and vulnerable and desperate for answers, and what they're going to get is only going to drive their family and friends further apart. What you don't see is most important of all is ex-gays, because ex-gays don't exist," said Besen.Fryrear disputed Besen's claim, saying that there are plenty of success stories, but that those people often keep quiet to avoid intimidation by the gay community. "Literally thousands of men and women have successfully overcome homosexuality. Not everyone feels safe to share their story publicly because to be honest, in my own life, I have to have personal security when I travel. I could never repeat to my mother the things that are said to me," said Fryrear. "There's a lot of hatred directed towards former homosexuals, and people don't want to share that publicly."Bostonians will have the opportunity firsthand to decide whether they believe the rhetoric of the ex-gay movement when the conference comes to town, although it will cost them $60 at the door to attend. In the meantime, Snyder said anyone hoping to protest the event is welcome to join QueerToday outside the Tremont Temple Baptist Church on Aug. 14."We think it's time to be on offense. We're sick of being attacked and being on defense, and we want to get our message out now," said Snyder.
Ethan Jacobs is a staff writer at Bay Windows. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.