Survivors Believe Programs Do More Harm Than Good
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: April 2, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Media Director
Peterson Toscano, BeyondExGay.com
(Austin, TX) — Survivors of ex-gay programs can take advantage of two new resources this week. BeyondExGay.com, an online community for those who are healing from ex-gay experiences, will go live today. Simultaneously, online registration will begin for The Survivor’s Conference: Beyond Ex-gay, a face-to-face event scheduled for June 29-July 1, and sponsored by beyondexgay.com and Soulforce.
Recent events have brought national attention to the existence of programs intended to modify same-sex desires. While much of that attention has focused on whether sexual orientation is subject to change, BeyondExGay.com and The Survivor’s Conference are the first efforts to move beyond that debate in order to focus on the community of "survivors" — people who feel they have experienced more harm than benefits from ex-gay programs.
"We use the term ‘survivor’ because we want to emphasize the very real psychological trauma that these programs can cause, and also because we want to highlight the strength of the men and women who, in spite of enormous pressures, come to accept themselves as they are," says Jeff Lutes, a practicing psychotherapist and Executive Director of Soulforce.
The creators of BeyondExGay.com, Peterson Toscano and Christine Bakke, talked to hundreds of fellow ex-gay survivors. What they heard, again and again, was that ex-gay experiences brought inner turmoil, confusion and shame.
Many survivors acknowledge that some good came of their ex-gay journey. "We grew to understand our sexuality better and in some cases even overcame life-controlling problems," says Toscano, but he is quick to point out that the harm most survivors experience far outweighs the help they receive. The consensus of the major medical and mental health organizations is that homosexuality is not a disorder and, therefore, does not need to be cured. The American Psychological Association identifies "depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior" among the possible risks associated with ex-gay therapies.
Toscano spent 17 years and over $30,000 on three continents attempting to change or at least contain his unwanted same-sex attractions. He ultimately endured two years at the Love in Action residential ex-gay program in Memphis, TN.
"In the end I was still very gay, but also depressed, isolated and nearly faithless," he says.
Toscano, now a Christian Quaker, has since created a one-person comedy about his ex-gay experiences and has presented Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House and his other work throughout North America, Europe, West Africa and the Caribbean. In spring 2005, Bakke contacted Toscano after attending one of his performances.
Bakke herself spent more than 4 years trying to change her orientation. She moved to Denver in 1998 to become ex-gay and participated in a program affiliated with Exodus International, the largest network of ex-gay ministries. In 2003 she realized that while she had changed in many areas, her sexual orientation remained the same. Bakke’s story will be featured in the May issue of Glamour, which hits newsstands April 10. Toscano will be a guest on the Tyra Banks show April 12.
Bakke and Toscano continued to dialogue, and last spring they decided it was time to reach out to more ex-gay survivors through the Internet. Together with assistance from their friend, Steve Boese, they form the perfect team: Bakke — a graphic designer, Toscano — a writer, and Boese — a web guru and founder of MyOrgHost.
BeyondExGay.com currently features diverse narratives from ex-gay survivors. It also provides an array of resources, including original articles and art by survivors, as well as links to other sites. Soon survivors will have the option to join the community and create a profile. Through an on-line form, they will document and share their own ex-gay experiences. Their responses will then be added to a database that will track the variety and scope of ex-gay experiences endured by survivors.
"The ex-gay experience is unique in many ways. No one understands it better than those of us who have been through it. Creating a communal space for ex-gay survivors to tell their stories allows us to share what led us into an ex-gay lifestyle and ways we have been able to recover from it," says Bakke.
Creating a space for survivors to come together and share their stories was also the impetus behind The Survivor’s Conference: Beyond Ex-Gay. The conference, which will take place June 29-July 1 at the University of California-Irvine, is co-sponsored by the LGBT Resource Center at UC Irvine.
"We chose Irvine because the annual Exodus Freedom Conference is coming to Irvine that week," says Lutes. "For Soulforce, BeyondExGay.com, and the LGBT Resource Center at UC Irvine, it is very important to provide a positive response to the Exodus message that our community is sinful and disordered."
Registration for the conference, which will feature workshops led by ex-gay survivors, is available online at www.soulforce.org/article/1226. The conference registration fee is $40, and some scholarships are available. A Friday night performance of Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House and a Saturday night concert by the musical duo Jason and deMarco are free and open to the public.
Conference organizers hope to attract a broad audience to the conference. According to the Soulforce web site, "If you want to stand in peaceful solidarity to lovingly confront the damaging consequences of the ex-gay movement – this conference is for you. If you have ever been through an ex-gay experience or been damaged by the message that God does not love and affirm you – this conference is for you. If you are confused about the Bible and homosexuality, currently in an ex-gay program, or thinking about trying to change who you are – this conference is for you."
Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.