What's the Opposite of Homosexuality? "Holysexuality," Says "Pray the Gay Away" Group
Outside of the Sugar Creek Baptist Church on Saturday afternoon, about 70 protesters lined the service road waving rainbow signs. Cars honked along with their chants of "We are holy, we are queer!" A dozen protesters were students from the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts -- one of whom almost attended a similar convention, but instead decided to accept himself and come out. The rest of the crowd came with their churches or partners or spouses. They all waited for young Christians to file out of the church on their lunch break from the nine-hour, anti-gay "Love Won Out" seminar.
Photo by Mandy Oaklander Protesters say you can't pray gay away.
"Love Won Out" is an event hosted four times a year across the country by Exodus International, an organization founded in 1976 that claims to heal homosexuality through Christ. Sessions are taught by "ex-gays" -- men and women who were once homosexuals but who were able to change their sexual orientation through the power of Jesus Christ. Attendees chose from workshops like "Understanding Female Homosexuality and "Reaching IN to the Gay Community: What Would Jesus Do?" At $75 bucks a ticket, about 450 people attended the conference in Houston this year. According to Exodus, 40 percent of them are married.
Wayne Besen, who coordinated Saturday's protest, is the founder of Truth Wins Out, an organization that fights anti-gay religious extremism. He's been investigating Exodus International for years, and even photographed Exodus's chairman John Paulk at a gay bar in D.C., which led to Paulk's removal.
"That's something you won't have in the brochure, I'll tell you that," he said. Recently, Besen led the petition drive that caused Apple to remove Exodus's iPhone app. "It's a whole history of folly and failure that's not being told to the people here."
Research has proven ex-gay programs to be dangerous. According to a study released in 2009, the American Psychological Association found that ex-gay therapy could be destructive. When people try to change their sexual orientation and fail, they encounter depression, negative self-image and thoughts of suicide, the study says. "Acceptance is critical to the health and well-being of our LGBT youth," Besen said. "They've got it backwards."
One Christian couple, who declined to give their names, wanders out from the church among the protesters. They're both 19. Through tears, the girl says she struggles with homosexual feelings. She's engaged to the boy standing next to her, who's debating with the protesters.
Photo by Mandy Oaklander This young couple is engaged to each other, despite the wife-to-be's gay thoughts.
"We just want you to know it's okay to be who you are," says a protester from the crowd. "God loves you as you are. He doesn't expect you to change."
"Yes, God loves us as we are," responds the boy. "No more, no less. But that doesn't mean he is not expecting us to change to have a relationship with us."
Besen jumps in. "They tell you you're on a journey, they tell you you're going somewhere, but you're really on a stationary bicycle," he says. "We're here to tell you that you can love God just the way you are. It's okay to be who you are, and not who they want you to be."
The boy challenges Besen to cite a supporting scripture, and it devolves into Biblical cherry picking. Still sobbing, the girl and her fiancé retreat back into the church for the afternoon session.
Inside, Exodus has transformed the church into a homophobic book fair. Men and women in their twenties browse selections like My Daddy's Secret and 101 Frequently Asked Questions about Homosexuality. No one looks overjoyed to be here.