Love Won Out?
by Bob Werner - Rochester, Minnesota
What tactics and rhetoric are the Religious Right currently using in their anti-gay crusade? I decided to find out for myself first hand. On Saturday August 12, 2000 I attended the Focus on the Family "Love Won Out" Conference in the Twin Cities. The Program subtitle was "addressing, understanding, and preventing homosexuality in youth." Over 1000, almost all white, conservative Christians, many who had GLBT family members, attended the daylong event in a posh suburban church.
The program was clearly a slick, well-oiled propaganda machine. Focus on the Family lived up to their reputation of being obsessively organized--efficiently collecting names and addresses for their enormous data base, running the program with military precision, stationing uniformed guards strategically in every room, and skillfully marketed their plethora of glossy books, pamphlets, and videos which provide what they see as all the right-wing answers. Display tables were also present for P-FOX, Parents and Families of Ex-Gays, as well as Exodus and other so called "change" ministries.
Through the entire day, the often-stressed message was how gay people can change into straight people if only they want to. Charismatic men and women who identified as ex-gay ran most of the program. These paid staff members, to earn their salary, gave their very polished, power point testimony. They consistently spoke of their troubled childhood, their descent into the excesses of "the homosexual lifestyle," their transformation by giving their soul to Jesus, and how they are now are born again, married and have children. Each testimony was greeted with overwhelming applause from the approving audience. Although this "they can change" premise was the central tenant of the entire event, there was never any information presented about how this change process worked, what the success (or failure) rate was, and how they defined "changed."
It was clear by a show of hands that many people attended because they had a family member who was gay, and came to the conference looking for reliable and proven facts. Unfortunately Focus on the Family preyed upon their vulnerability and instead of providing them with sound psychological insights or advise on Jesus-like compassion, people were fed the dishonest and divisive idea that gay people can change to straight. They were also instructed in "tough love" and setting rigid boundaries. Clearly the message of the day sent to hopeful family members was that certainly their gay loved one, if given enough prayer, time, and "tough love," will "change," marry, and have children. All this blatant deceit and dishonesty, in the name of family values.
Another focus of the event was retooling the anti-gay message. They shared that the hostile anti-gay name calling and preaching of the past has not worked. They called for an end to the "God Hates Fags" approach. They held fast to their interpretation of the Bible that homosexuality is absolutely sinful, and continued to promote the premise that everyone should live by their Bible values. Homosexuality, they profess, is an unchosen emotional disorder, like alcoholism. They consistently referred to gay people as "people struggling with homosexuality." Gay people were implied to all be sinful, emotionally sick, promiscuous, lonely, isolated, suicidal, drug and alcohol addicted, intolerant, rich, organized, and powerful. Gay people were later blamed for remaining gay and not seeking to be changed. The new anti-gay strategy advocated, their kinder gentler type of bigotry, is to befriend someone gay, walk with them along life's journey, and when they are at a vulnerable time of personal crisis in their life - pounce! Near the conclusion of the program they prayed that gay people would have unhappy lives. The event included an altar call for gay people present to come forward to pray with Exodus staff and give their life to Jesus.
The real truth came out during the smaller break out sessions which provided time for questions. When members of the audience asked direct and pointed questions about so-called reparative therapy, speakers conceded that change can be a very long slow process and that the new life is never completely without challenge. They stated only some not-fully-gay people could change, marry and appear straight. In another response to questions, it was also shared that some people who have changed still have same gender attractions.
In conclusion, Focus on the Family is a well-funded, well-organized corporation that knows how to deliver a message. During the day gay people were stereotyped, stigmatized, and blamed for remaining gay. Unsubstantiated and unproven "change ministries" were endorsed. Families were mislead with implied promises of change. Parents were instructed in what they could do to help change sinful gay people in their lives. A new kinder gentler bigotry was taught to the faithful. I shudder to think of all pain and division brought to Minnesota families and to the Minnesota GLBT Community by this so-called "Love Won Out" conference.