Senate Foreign Relations Chair Denounces Uganda Genocide

Last month, some members of Sen. John Kerry’s staff held office hours in Northampton, and I spoke with staffer Cheri Rolfes about the anti-gay genocidal legislation pending in Uganda. Today she forwarded me this press release:

United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

December 14, 2009
Contact: Frederick Jones, Communications Director

Chairman Kerry Statement On The Draft Anti-Homosexuality Bill In The Ugandan Parliament

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) released the following statement today on the draft anti-homosexuality legislation in the Ugandan Parliament:

“I join many voices in the United States, Uganda and around the world in condemning Uganda’s draft legislation imposing new and harsher penalties against homosexuality. Discrimination in any form is wrong, and the United States must say so unequivocally. Many Ugandans are voicing concern that such a law will create witch-hunts against homosexuals, and hinder the fight against HIV/AIDS. Over the years the United States government, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has worked closely with Ugandans to combat HIV/AIDS and other public health issues; we value our relationship with Uganda’s people. Given the pressing HIV/AIDS crisis Uganda is facing, this bill is extremely counterproductive.”

Please take a moment to thank Sen. Kerry and urge him to
keep up the pressure on the Ugandan government. If you’re not from Massachusetts, contact your members of Congress and ask them what they’re doing to stop this assault on human rights.

In related news, Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper Dec. 12 published a rare interview with a lesbian rights activist who is alarmed by the rising intolerance in her country:

…On the afternoon I met Ms Kalende, 27, she had just returned from attending service. The television in her living room was tuned to a station named Top, a Christian broadcaster, and a pastor was wedding heterosexual couples as elated witnesses chanted loudly in the background.

As she readied herself for a new conversation, Ms Kalende grabbed the remote control to reduce the volume, creating artificial silence that would be broken by the occasional sound of cutlery dropped in a kitchen sink.

A teenage girl, a relative of Ms Kalende, was doing the dishes as some children lazed around the house. Then Ms Kalende headed for the door, leading the way to her veranda, away from the children she considered too young to know she was gay, for the sake of children she wanted to protect.

In a narration of the kinds of people she was not too comfortable around, Ms Kalende’s account would include inquisitive children, illiterate motorcyclists, gossipy parishioners, bigoted employers and, most recently, a lawmaker named David Bahati. “My first reaction was, ‘Who is Bahati?’ He is the last person I knew,” Ms Kalende said, launching into a decidedly personal explanation for why, “for the first time, I am very scared”.

In October, Ndorwa West MP Bahati brought an anti-gay law to the House, proposing in his document a new felony called “aggravated homosexuality”, committed when the offender has sex with a person who is disabled or underage, or when there is HIV transmission. The crime should attract the death penalty, he proposed, while consenting homosexuals should be imprisoned for life.

The proposed law, which has the tacit approval of President Museveni, would also penalise a third party for failing to report homosexual activity, as well as criminalise the actions of a reporter who, for example, interviews a gay couple.

Although Mr Bahati said he was not in a hate campaign, he could not explain the lack of facts to back his case — the proposed law seeks to improve on the penalties prescribed in the Penal Code, which already criminalises homosexuality — or provide evidence to back claims that European gays were recruiting in Uganda.

In a country where homosexuality is still taboo, the bill had excited the homophobic sentiments of many Ugandans, and it also looked set to shrug off human rights concerns. As the Canadian government called the law “vile and hateful”, and as the Swedish government threatened to cut aid over a law a minister described as “appalling”, the authorities in Kampala were saying they would push for the introduction of legislation that would make Uganda one of the most dangerous places for gay people.

Ms Kalende has been openly gay since 2002, several years before she became a rights activist with the group Freedom and Roam-Uganda, six years before she met the woman she calls the love of her life….

Read the whole article here.

Saturday Advent Song: Johnny Cash, “The Man Comes Around”

Apocalyptic readings from the Book of Revelation and the Hebrew Prophets feature prominently in the lectionary for this season of Advent, which looks forward not only to our commemoration of Christ’s birth, but to his second coming. Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around”, the title song from his last (and perhaps greatest) album, weaves these Biblical images into a compelling ballad. The end times are a favorite subject in popular Southern Gospel music, but often handled with a peppy eagerness that I find unnerving even while I sing along to the catchy tunes. Not Cash’s version. It’s rough-hewn, grim, and thrilling.

And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder: One of the four beasts saying: “Come and see.” And I saw. And behold, a white horse.

There’s a man goin’ ’round takin’ names.
An’ he decides who to free and who to blame.
Everybody won’t be treated all the same.
There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down.
When the man comes around.

The hairs on your arm will stand up.
At the terror in each sip and in each sup.
For you partake of that last offered cup,
Or disappear into the potter’s ground.
When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers.
One hundred million angels singin’.
Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum.
Voices callin’, voices cryin’.
Some are born an’ some are dyin’.
It’s Alpha’s and Omega’s Kingdom come.

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree.
The virgins are all trimming their wicks.
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree.
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

Till Armageddon, no Shalam, no Shalom.
Then the father hen will call his chickens home.
The wise men will bow down before the throne.
And at his feet they’ll cast their golden crown.
When the man comes around.

Whoever is unjust, let him be unjust still.
Whoever is righteous, let him be righteous still.
Whoever is filthy, let him be filthy still.
Listen to the words long written down,
When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers.
One hundred million angels singin’.
Multitudes are marchin’ to the big kettle drum.
Voices callin’, voices cryin’.
Some are born an’ some are dyin’.
It’s Alpha’s and Omega’s Kingdom come.

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree.
The virgins are all trimming their wicks.
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree.
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

In measured hundredweight and penny pound.
When the man comes around.

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, And I looked and behold: a pale horse. And his name, that sat on him, was Death. And Hell followed with him.

(Lyrics courtesy of

Controlled Life, Uncontrolled Writing

Put that heading in Latin and it would be my motto. At least one writer feels the same. Scottish physicist and novelist Andrew Crumey reflects on his open-ended creative process at the Fine Line Editorial Consultancy blog:

I know two kinds of writer: there are the ones who like to plan everything very carefully, maybe even writing little personality profiles for their characters on postcards and sticking flow-chart plot diagrams on their wall; and then there are those who reckon the whole point of writing is making it up as you go along.

I’m the second kind. I don’t knock planning, I just find that it doesn’t work for me. Which is odd, really, because in most other respects I’m the think ahead type. I’d never dream of going on holiday without a guidebook – I’ve even been known to take a compass with me when going on a picnic (which is, I know, simply stupid). But writing is different. It’s the one corner of my life where the usual rules no longer apply – and that’s why I like doing it. Writing, in other words, is a matter of split personality or, as they call it nowadays, ‘second life’.

Robert Louis Stevenson had it sussed long before the internet, though it was Borges who really understood the Jekyll and Hyde plight of the author: one of his stories begins, ‘The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to.’ I know that feeling. The other Crumey – the one whose name is on the book covers – is, I suspect, the interesting one. Me, I’m just the guy who makes sure he shows up for work. I give him plenty of coffee to start the day. The school walk (more eco-friendly than ‘run’) is a further wake-up, so that by 9.30 he has no excuse not to be writing. Except that I decide to peek at my inbox first and before I know it I’m reading somebody’s damn blog. But eventually he gets going, the writer inside me, and then there’s no stopping him.

Read the whole essay here.

Small Actions Change Lives at Partners In Health

I wanted to share this appeal from Ophelia Dahl and Paul Farmer of Partners In Health, one of my favorite charities, which provides health care to the world’s poorest communities. The letter eloquently addresses the “compassion fatigue” we may feel when contemplating global poverty and injustice. Consider making a donation today.

“When a child steps out in front of a moving car, someone will snatch the child back to the sidewalk. It’s not only a kind person who’d do that, not only the kind of person they honor with statues and memorial plaques. Anyone would pull a child out of the path of the car. But here, many people have been run down, and many pass by, doing nothing. Is that because there are so many suffering people? Shouldn’t there be more help when there’s more suffering? There’s less help. Even kind people walk past, doing nothing, and they’re just as kind as they were before.”

– from The World’s One Hope, a poem by Bertolt Brecht translated by Tony Kushner

Dear Friends,

The feeling of being overwhelmed by the seemingly limitless suffering that is present in our world does not go away with greater exposure. It might seem as if such vast and unjust misery were inevitable if we didn’t know of so many heroes among us who have literally and metaphorically pulled children out of danger. We are often reminded of the painful truth Brecht describes as it seems to be innately human to feel powerless and paralyzed in the face of incomprehensible numbers like nine million children dying before the age of five each year or half a million women dying in childbirth annually.

In those dark moments, however, we find the inspiration to act by reminding ourselves of the individual people whose lives have been transformed through our work and of how their personal stories, amplified for the world through partnerships with a renowned university, a leading teaching hospital, and ministries of health, have changed policies and realigned priorities on a national and even global scale. Not one of us, at Partners In Health or elsewhere, has to look long or far for stories that will inspire action. In fact, the stories frequently come looking for us.

On a recent trip to Haiti, we spotted a group of people carrying a woman—pregnant, enervated, and in great pain—along the road. We stopped and learned that she, Rosette, had been in distressed labor for over twenty hours. Members of her family, themselves undernourished and barefoot, were carrying her to the nearest health center. But with Rosette’s exhausted state and the distance before them, it was clear that mother and baby’s lives were at risk. After a quick roadside exam and an urgent phone call, we were able to connect Rosette and her family to a complete system of health care that we have been strengthening for almost twenty-five years. An ambulance arrived to take her to a facility where she received comprehensive obstetrical care, regardless of her ability to pay, and where she had access to surgical services if she needed an emergency cesarean section.

We at PIH, and you as our supporters, have the privilege of being able to use compassion strategically, not only to save individual lives like Rosette’s and her son’s, but also to make those same services available on a far wider scale. For instance, two years ago—buoyed by our success providing maternal health services—Dr. Raôul Raphaël, the head of the Ministry of Health for Haiti’s Central Department, proclaimed, “As Health Commissioner of this region, it is my pledge that all pregnant women will have free access to prenatal care. And we will work to increase access to free Cesarean sections, as it is a life-saving operation that cannot be sold as you would sell a side of beef or a goat.” This is a statement that has since led the Haitian national government, with support from the World Health Organization and the Canadian government, to launch a program to improve access to comprehensive maternal health care, including pre- and post-natal care, labor and delivery, and family planning services.

We are proud to share this story with you as evidence that your investment in Partners In Health presents the rare opportunity to not only pull a child to the curb, but also to build a sidewalk and a pedestrian crossing and to employ a crossing guard so that hundreds of children won’t be run down in the future. This year, more than ever, we ask that you stop yourself from assuming that your contribution—large or small—won’t make a difference in reducing the world’s poverty and disease. As Brecht suggests, each and every one of us would stop to do whatever we could to help save Rosette’s life, but if any one of us decides not to act because of the enormity of the problems we are trying to address, we risk losing all of the progress we have made to date.

Please help us sustain and grow our work by making a gift to Partners In Health this holiday season. Your action allows us to fulfill the commitment that is the heart and soul of our mission: to do “whatever it takes to make our patients well—just as we would do if a member of our family or we ourselves were ill.” For that, you have our profound gratitude.


Ophelia Dahl and Paul Farmer

Email Comes for the Archbishop

As of this writing, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has not spoken out against the anti-gay genocide that’s about to be approved by the Ugandan legislature. US-based conservative Christian groups have been instrumental in bringing this legislation to the floor. Use this web form to send him a message. Here’s my letter:

Your Grace,

I am writing to ask you to speak out against the anti-gay genocidal legislation pending in Uganda. People of good faith can disagree about what the Bible says about homosexuality, but persecution is clearly not the gospel way. Jesus invited people to transform their lives by offering them love, not violence. Nothing could be further from “family values” than coercing family members to turn in their gay relatives to the police. Nothing could be less in keeping with the spirit of Jesus, the great healer, than interfering with HIV/AIDS care and education. The world is looking to us to show that Christianity is about love, not hate. For every misled Christian we appease in Uganda, we lose thousands in the West who see the church keeping silent before another holocaust. I pray that you will do the right thing.

Jendi Reiter
Member of the Episcopal Church USA

The word is that the ABC pays more attention to snail-mail than email, so consider following up with a letter. First-class mail from the US to the UK is 98 cents. The address:

Lambeth Palace
Lambeth Palace Road




Meanwhile, evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren has issued a statement condemning the legislation. Watch it on YouTube. It’s somewhat self-justifying and not exactly gay-friendly, but hopefully it will influence the right people.

Rachel Maddow on Ex-Gay Leaders’ Role in Uganda Persecution

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow ran a segment Dec. 7 on “ex-gay therapist” Richard Cohen and how his ideas, largely discredited in the US, have found new life as the inspiration for the genocidal legislation pending in Uganda. Be prepared for a Norman Bates moment when Cohen, demonstrating a “healthy” release of the childhood emotions that lead to homosexuality, takes a tennis racket to a pillow representing his mother. Darn it, Mrs. C., none of this would’ve happened if you’d signed him up for peewee football like a normal boy.

“I’m not gay. God doesn’t make gay people,” says a woman in the indie film “Chasing the Devil: Inside the Ex-Gay Movement”, which Maddow mentioned in her news segment. Watch the trailer here. The film is available for purchase on their website as a DVD or download.

In a longer follow-up report today (Dec. 8) Maddow interviewed’s Mark Benjamin about his 2005 undercover investigation of the ex-gay movement:

Maddow then put Richard Cohen himself in the hot seat. In this intense 18-minute interview, she slices right through his rhetoric of “compassion” by tripping him up with hateful quotes from his own writings:

Meanwhile, has also picked up the Uganda story. In an article today, correspondent Saeed Ahmed writes:

…The Anti-Homosexuality Bill features several provisions that human rights groups say would spur a witch hunt of homosexuals in the country:

• Gays and lesbians convicted of having gay sex would be sentenced, at minimum, to life in prison

• People who test positive for HIV may be executed

• Homosexuals who have sex with a minor, or engage in homosexual sex more than once, may also receive the death penalty

• The bill forbids the “promotion of homosexuality,” which in effect bans organizations working in HIV and AIDS prevention

• Anyone who knows of homosexual activity taking place but does not report it would risk up to three years in prison

“Who will go to HIV testing if he knows that he will suffer the death sentence?” Elizabeth Mataka, the U.N. Special Envoy on AIDS in Africa, told reporters last week. “The law will drive them away from seeking counseling and testing services.”

Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda under colonial-era laws. But the bill, introduced in October, is intended to put more teeth into prosecuting violators.

It applies even to Ugandans participating in same-sex acts in countries where such behavior is legal.

“They are supposed to be brought back to Uganda and convicted here. The government is putting homosexuality on the level of treason,” Mugisha said.

Lawmakers have indicated that they will pass the bill before year’s end.

It has the blessing of many religious leaders — Muslim and Christian — in a country where a July poll found 95 percent opposed to legalizing homosexuality.

The Rev. Esau Omara, a senior church leader, said over the weekend that any lawmaker opposing the bill will pay for it during the next election, according to local newspaper reports.

And a leading Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ramathan Shaban Mubajje, has called for gays to be rounded up and banished to an island until they die.

Several media outlets also have inflamed sentiments in recent months by publicly pointing out gays and lesbians.

In April, the Observer newspaper published tips to help readers spot homosexuals. And over the summer, the Red Pepper tabloid outed 45 gays and lesbians.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has not publicly stated his position on the bill, but last month blamed foreign influence in promoting and funding homosexuality.

Museveni’s nativist sentiment is ironic since foreign influence, in the person of US evangelicals and their well-funded missionary organizations, has actually been instrumental in stirring up Ugandans’ homophobia. Our own Archbishop of Canterbury has thus far been silent on the legislation, though he did take time out from ironing his purple dress to slam the Diocese of L.A. for electing Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool, a (gasp!) out lesbian, as Suffragan Bishop.


Report from the Soulforce Anti-Heterosexism Conference, Part 4 (and the Last)

Decisions, decisions…

We return to our regularly scheduled programming today with the final installment of notes from the Soulforce Anti-Heterosexism Conference, which took place Nov. 20-22 in West Palm Beach. Previous entries are available here, here, and here.

Sunday morning’s rousing keynote speech, “Debunking the Myth of Gender Polarity”, by Rev. Deborah L. Johnson of Inner Light Ministries, had the flavor of a gospel worship service, combined with a radical call to envision the liberation of all human beings from false gender stereotypes. We began with Jackie Merritt and Risa Gibbs, two-thirds of the blues trio MSG, performing their satirical song “Mean Church People”. (Watch this clip on YouTube.)

Rev. Deborah’s main message was that our civil rights struggle is never just for ourselves alone. Members of the dominant group also suffer when their identity is built on lies and constricting stereotypes. To succeed, we must articulate a positive vision that shows how life will be better for all people when GLBT people have full equality. She also called for the GLBT rights movement to put the spirituality back into their dialogue. Dignity comes from God, not the state. “You’re not equal when you get the civil rights. You get the civil rights because you declare your equality beforehand…because you are equal under the eyes of God!”

She felt that the GLBT community gets sidetracked by infighting or reaction against oppressive measures, because people in oppressed groups will take out their internalized pain on one another. Instead, they need to spend more time creating a picture of their ideal world. The burden of proof is on the people who want change. Right-wingers are very good at painting a picture of the so-called horrors that would ensue if gays were equal.

No movement for minority rights can prevail without allies from the majority group. The majority has built its identity on a hierarchy that we’re trying to overturn. We have to understand their fear that there’s no good place for them in our new world. “Equality displaces the oppressor.” In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the revolutionary part was his positive vision of what black equality would mean for white people–a little white child and a little black child walking hand in hand. Feminism had to help men understand how they could continue to play a valuable role in the family and society without being patriarchal.

Every “-ism” (racism, sexism, heterosexism) is rooted in the idea of an immutable, unequal binary. Example: look how many people still see Obama as a “black man” first, and only secondarily as a brilliant lawyer, politician, president, etc. A prejudice doesn’t become a full-blown “-ism” till it’s institutionalized. It becomes constantly interwoven into social institutions and attitudes till it’s invisible to members of the dominant group. The world is so much designed for them that they don’t even notice their privileges. Straights don’t feel defined by straightness whereas gays have to think about their sexual orientation all the time. White people don’t think they have a race.

The beginning of liberation is to show that these organizing binaries are fake and based on political inequalities, not immutable natural laws. How did Obama get to be a “black man” when he’s half white? It’s because of how race was constructed in the 1600’s to justify slavery. Any time something is mixed in, you stop being white. Similarly, heterosexuality becomes the “pure” category and then “queer” becomes like “black”, a catch-all of anything tainted by less than pure straightness. Like race, sexual orientation and gender are really a spectrum, not a binary.

When Genesis says humanity was “created male and female”, we can read this to mean that each person contains both genders. The characteristics that make up racial differences represent less than 1/1000 of 1% of our DNA. Gender differences are just as tiny. Our job is to redefine what it means to be man or woman so we are not two halves looking for the whole, but can be balanced within ourselves and draw on the best of each gender within ourselves instead of looking for the other to complete us.

Homophobia is so powerful because people are heavily invested in traditional gender roles and women’s inferiority. The one thing GLBT people have in common is their challenge to gender nonconformity. Rev. Deborah won’t settle for gay marriage–she wants “gender revolution!”

Watch a video of Rev. Deborah speaking out against California’s Proposition 8 last year:

During our last round of workshops, I attended Candace Chellew-Hodge’s discussion based on her book Bulletproof Faith, while my husband sat in on Timothy Palmer’s workshop on integrating sexuality and spirituality. Candace’s session ended earlier, so I dropped in at the end of this workshop, just in time to hear a few of the men debating whether sex in a committed relationship should be considered a higher spiritual path than casual sex. The group didn’t have the time, nor perhaps the willpower, to pursue this controversial issue further.

I’m currently reading Candace’s book, which I’ll be reviewing here at greater length, so these notes on her workshop will be brief. With modesty and wit, she shared ways to develop spiritual centeredness so that we don’t become wounded or provoked into unloving behavior by religion-based attacks. I appreciated her remarks on “the gift of the enemy”. Our opponents reveal the weak spots in our psychic armor. Responding to their attacks can hone our own arguments for our position. When we can be grateful for what they’ve taught us, we can begin to feel compassion for them. At the same time, this doesn’t mean that we them get away with abuse–only that we respect their dignity and don’t fight dirty. We should also give ourselves permission to retreat from pointless conflicts where the other person isn’t going to give our views a good-faith hearing. We don’t need to justify ourselves because we are justified by God’s infinite and universal love.

Finally, conference coordinators Drs. Marsha McDonough and Paul Dodd reconvened us for a wrap-up discussion about our impressions of the weekend and suggestions for the next event. As I recall, we spent awhile talking about whether the “anti-heterosexism” title was too negative, academic-sounding, or obscure, but didn’t come up with an alternative. The general mood was one of appreciation for the fellowship we’d developed and a desire to continue this work in our own communities. Along with Marsha and Paul, Soulforce conference manager and interim executive director Bill Carpenter deserves a shout-out for keeping us running smoothly. I looked forward to his cheery and energetic housekeeping announcements. Bill will be posting conferen
ce videos soon.

Thanks to all of you for a loving, inspiring, and spiritually nurturing weekend!

Friday Advent Song: “How Far From Home?”

Advent is an occasion to learn some lesser-known hymns that are as beautiful and haunting as any Christmas carol, and haven’t been ruined by Alvin and the Chipmunks piping them over the speakers at Wal-Mart. The Daily Office today featured one of my favorites (click here to sing along):

“How far from home?” I asked as on
I bent my steps – ­­the Watchman spake:
“The long, dark night is almost gone,
the morning soon will break.
Then, weep no more,but speed your flight,
with Hope’s bright star your guiding ray;
’til you shall reach the realms of light,
in everlasting day.”

I asked the travelers in the way,
this was their soul­-inspiring song:
“With courage bold,we’ll journey today;
the road won’t be too long.
Then, weep no more, but well endure,
the highway ’til your work is done.
For this we know, the prize is sure,
and victory will be won.”

I asked again; earth, sea, and sun
seemed with one voice to make reply:
“Time’s wasting sands are nearly run,
eternity is nigh.
Then, weep no more,with warning tones,
portentous sights are thickening round;
the whole creation waiting groans,
to hear the trumpet sound.”

Not far from home? O, blessed thought!
The traveler’s lonely heart to cheer;
which oft a healing balm has brought
and dried the mourner’s tear.
Then, weep no more since we shall meet
where weary footsteps never roam.
Our trials past, our joys complete,
safe in our Maker’s home.

Words: Annie Rebekah Smith (19th C)
Music: Tis Midnight Hour (anonymous)

Report from the Soulforce Anti-Heterosexism Conference, Part 3

The second day of the Soulforce conference began with a keynote speech from Dr. Sylvia Rhue, the director of religious affairs for the National Black Justice Coalition. NBJC is the only nationwide advocacy group for GLBT African-Americans. Their mission, she said, is to show that homophobia in the black church is an artifact of politics and should not be an article of faith. Dr. Rhue gave us an overview of ex-gay myths and their lack of scientific basis. She was largely unwilling to credit the religious right with a sincere desire to help gays. More likely, she said, offering to help gays “change” was a way to put a compassionate face on prejudice (while making big bucks off of gays’ self-hatred). It’s better PR than preaching fire and brimstone.

Dr. Rhue was one of several speakers to connect heterosexism to racism. The misinterpretation of the Sodom story is like the “curse of Ham” formerly used to justify slavery. (She mentioned a parody of an ex-gay ad at the Landover Baptist humor website: “We stand for the truth that Negroes can change: Example, Clarence Thomas!”) African-Americans have also tried to “change” in a racist society by passing for white.

Dr. Rhue called the ex-gay movement blasphemy because it makes people doubt that they are God’s children. “The ex-gay movement is the cult of the annihilation of the authentic self.” She would not let people hide their lack of empathy behind so-called Biblical dictates: “The Bible can justify whatever kindness or cruelty you already have in your heart.”

After the keynote speech, we broke up into smaller groups for different workshops. I attended Dr. Dominic Carbone’s presentation on the effects of childhood homophobic stress on adult gay men, because it was useful research for my novel. Dr. Carbone is a secular psychologist in New York City. He became interested in the topic because his patients often spoke about formative childhood experiences of peer ridicule, which caused them to experience depression, anxiety, and problems with intimacy as adults.

Being closeted prevents boys from developing a support network to explore new social skills and roles. Internalized homophobia is carried forward into adulthood because identity was formed from a powerless and stealth position, so the person feels defeated before he even begins. Dr. Carbone uses cognitive therapy to help such men replace their internalized unfriendly audience with awareness of their sources of support in the present. Interestingly, he mentioned one patient who was not gay but suffered the same after-effects from homophobic teasing because he wasn’t stereotypically masculine as a child. I think more stories like this could help us make the case that a world free of gender bias benefits people of all sexual orientations.

Jim Burroway
of Box Turtle Bulletin gave a sardonic and informative presentation titled “Heterosexual Interrupted: What the Ex-Gay Movement Really Means by ‘Change'”. Jim is an engineer who works for defense contractors. He analyzed the junk science in papers by ex-gay advocates like Paul Cameron and was able to figure out that they were misrepresenting the studies they cited.

Jim gave us a detailed breakdown of the manipulative psychology behind ex-gay outreach. For the struggling  closeted person who just wants to feel normal, ex-gay ministries offer an explanation of their feelings of alienation and suffering, and a promise of liberation. Unfortunately, once you’re inside the movement, you find out that there really is no way to become straight. The most you can hope for is a lifetime of self-denial, rewarded with salvation at the end.

Their so-called explanations of homosexuality–such as NARTH founder Joseph Nicolosi’s theory that gay men are looking to fill an unmet need for closeness with their father–are insidiously believable because they do reflect gay youths’ experience of personal shame, insecure identity, and troubled relationships with parents. However, in reality, these problems spring from bias, not from the same-sex attraction as such. The “therapy” compounds the shame and rejection.

Jim played sound clips from ex-gay ads and conferences. “We advise fathers, if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will,” Nicolosi says ominously. This scaremongering drives a wedge between gay sons and their embarrassed fathers, and also feeds the stereotype of gays as pedophiles. Similarly, Melissa Fryrear of Exodus and Focus on the Family argues that all lesbians are sexual abuse victims. Well, said Jim, the sad truth is that a large number of all women have been sexually abused. This theory causes grief to parents who had no reason to believe their daughters were molested. Existing tensions about homosexuality are exploited to control and divide families, and incidentally, take their money.

Jim got some laughs out of Love In Action director John Smid’s assertion that “My wife’s vagina is enough for me–God created it for my fit.” (No word on whether the feeling is reciprocal…paging Eve Ensler…) Jim’s serious point was that ex-gay ideology not only severs body from spirit in gay men, but also reduces women to sexual parts and objectifies them. It’s no coincidence that “heterosexism” contains the word “sexism”.

Next, Prof. Christine Robinson, a sociology professor at James Madison University in Virginia, presented an excellent paper on “Genocidal Intentions: Public Policy and the Ex-Gay Movement”. She convinced me that the word “genocide” was not hyperbole. According to the UN Convention on Genocide, the term applies to a variety of strategies intended to wipe out an identifiable social subgroup. In addition to outright killing, genocide includes:

*Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
*Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
*Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
*Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

It’s clear from conservative religious rhetoric that they do want to make gays disappear. Exodus board member Don Schmierer, one of the forces behind Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, has written a book on “preventing the homosexual condition” in youth. In 2007, Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler said he would support treatment to eliminate homosexual orientation prenatally if a mechanism were found. (Apparently anti-gay trumps pro-life.) Ex-gay ministries provide legal aid and supportive research in custody cases to take children away from gay parents. (Prof. Robinson cited the Lisa Miller case.) These religious groups have also worked to pass state laws that ban gay adoption and IVF. They filed amicus briefs opposing the decriminalization of sodomy by the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. Exodus Global Alliance recently sponsored a conference in Barbados, where gay sex is illegal, with the advertisement “Some say decriminalize homosexuality–we say let’s offer solutions.” Would those be…final solutions?

Prof. Robinson applied social psychologist James Waller’s framework for understanding how ordinary people become capable of genocide. Through propaganda, they learn to recharacterize members of the targeted group as inferior, and to redefine acts of cruelty as something less heinous. The target becomes constructed as “other” through us-them thinking, moral disengagement, and blaming the victim. Perpetrators engage in social distancing from the other group to define them as non-persons.

How do anti-gay religious leaders accomplish this? They divide the world into Christians and non-Christians, and gays can’t be Christian. It’s God who makes these distinctions, not us, they say. (Just following orders…) Social distancing occurs by redefining the object of their hostility. There are no gay people so there are no victims. We are only wiping out this thing called “homosexuality”, not homosexuals themselves. In fact, we’re offering them freedom from their sin! Exodus leader Alan Chambers likes to say “the opposite of homosexuality is holiness”. This is a euphemistic way of saying that homosexuality is evil, which he will say outright to more insider Christian audiences.

Victim-blaming kicks in when ex-gay ministries point to self-harming behavior in the gay community, such as unsafe sex, instead of acknowledging the traumatic effects of social stigma on this population. They even say that hate crimes are provoked by predatory sexual advances. When the federal hate crimes bill was being debated this spring, conservative opponents blamed Mathew Shepard for his own murder.

Prof. Robinson is currently researching how conservative Christian organizations export homophobia to the developing world. This issue has gotten more press lately with the release of Jeff Sharlet’s book on The Family, a conservative theocratic cabal that claims some top US politicians as members. Read more on Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

Saturday’s last presentation was given by Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist and widely published author, who surveyed the history of psychological theories on homosexuality and how it was finally removed from the DSM-IV’s list of mental disorders in 1973. NARTH was formed as a protest against that decision. Like “creation science” versus Darwinism, anti-gay ministries use junk science to create a false appearance of disagreement among scientific experts so they can demand equal time. But there are no accredited psychiatric programs where students are being taught how to change their patients’ sexual orientation. All the leading professional groups have rejected this therapy as ineffective at best, harmful at worst.

Drescher suggested that ex-gay therapy may violate the ethical directive to put patients’ best interests ahead of the counselor’s agenda. There is a conflict of interest because the counselor is an agent of a conservative political or religious organization. It’s a common practice for ex-gay therapists to coerce their clients to stay in the program, by threatening to “out” them to their family, school or church. If they give up on the goal of sexual orientation change, they are kicked out of therapy with no referral.

While ex-gay groups claim they are defending the patient’s right to choose reparative therapy, a doctor is not obliged to provide something harmful just because a patient requests it. Doctors are not allowed to prescribe snake oil. Plastic surgeons treat conditions that are not illnesses, but there’s a very complex scientific review process; patients can’t simply choose any surgery they want.

However, Drescher noted that former ex-gay patients rarely file ethics complaints. They blame themselves, believing that the therapist genuinely wanted to help them, or they are reluctant to relive the trauma. One resource he recommended was the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists.

After the dinner break, we were treated to “M.U.D. (Men Under Dirt)”, a memorable and heart-stirring multimedia performance by John Ollom and the members of Ollom Movement Art. Through interpretive dance, a short film, and poetry by Walt Whitman, the troupe told the story of a gay man’s struggle to love his true self and make peace with the masculine and feminine energies within him. Find out more, and see a trailer for the film, at their Prismatic Productions website. John will be leading a workshop on self-expression through poetry, drawing, film, and dance at Easton Mountain in upstate New York this coming June.

Coming in my next post: Sunday’s presentations by Rev. Deborah Johnson and Candace Chellew-Hodge, and thoughts for the future.