Howl of the KweerWolf

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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

'Ex-gay' programs: A modest proposal

Going back over my original blog on Zach and the follow-up, it occurred to me that one element is missing in the story.

Zach shares his fears of being sent to the "ex-gay" program, Love in Action, in his blog that I quoted. The allegedly "ex-gay" director of the program tells his side in a press conference. The state of Tennessee makes its comments through the officials that are quoted about the investigation into the program.

But perhaps the most crucial element - the one that's missing - is the element that set this entire story in motion to begin with: Zach's parents.

Oh, sure, Zach's blog mentions them and tell of how they informed him he'd be sent to the program. But his parents don't get the chance to speak for themselves.

It would be easy to call Zach's parents heartless monsters for sending Zach away. In their minds I'm sure they feel justified in their actions because of how some preacher interprets scripture written two millennia ago. They have closed their minds to current understanding of sexual orientation that explains it as an entirely natural part of one's basic identity - and not a "sin" to be beaten, prayed or brainwashed out of someone.

That brings me to a modest proposal for parents who want to send their youngsters to such programs: In return for being allowed to send off a child to be "cured" of being gay, parents should be required to spend time equal to the time their children spend in such programs in a pro-gay program to confront their beliefs.

Make Zach's parents attend a few PFLAG meetings where they'll meet parents who probably held the same views as they do. Let them listen to discussions from these parents about how they came to accept their gay and lesbian children.

Make them work on a suicide hotline for a few nights so they can see first-hand the kinds of pain they can inflict with their rejection.

Let them sit in on support groups where gay men and women come to terms - often years after the fact - with their complicated feelings about being rejected by parents who were supposed to love them unconditionally.

Take them to a gay-affirming church or synagogue where they can see gays and lesbians where the same hymns are sang to the same God - but where the sermon emphasizes God's love, not the hatred of some who claim to be His followers.

Hand them a stack of news clips from around the country so that they understand that Matthew Shepard was not the only gay man who died because of who he was. Maybe they will understand that while it may be a young street punk who pulled the trigger, it's the hatred preached in many organized religions that loads the gun.

Let them live for a while with a gay or lesbian couple and discover that, far from the non-stop partying and orgies painted by the religious right, same-sex couples deal with budgets and bills and housecleaning and trips to the grocery store and every other issue that their heterosexual counterparts deal with ... in addition to living in a world that's hostile to them.

Hell, taken them to a pride festival. Just make a deal with them that you'll pay them $1 for each person they see in leather or drag if they'll pay you a dime for each person they see who's normally dressed. Then see who owes who money at the end of the day.

Parents who send they kids to "ex-gay" programs know nothing about gays and lesbians beyond the "gay lifestyle" painted in lurid colors by the religious right. It seems only fair that if parents are going to use those images to send their kids off to such programs, they should be willing to put their own beliefs at stake to see if they match up to reality.


Update on Zach: Tennessee investigates 'ex-gay' program

For those of you who have read about Zach, the Tennessee teenager sent by his parents against his wishes to a religious-based ex-gay center, there is an update and a glimmer of hope.

Tennessee has begun an investigation into the facility, according to an article that appeared in The New York Blade. According to the article:

The state of Tennessee has begun an investigation in response to allegations of child abuse at Love in Action, a Memphis facility that advertises homosexual conversion therapy for adolescents, according to the state department of health.

K. Daniele Edwards, a spokesperson for Child Services at the Tennessee Department of Health, confirmed an investigation is underway but declined to comment on the details. She noted that she presumes the Love in Action program would require licensing by the state.

Love in Action is not licensed by the Tennessee Departments of Health, Mental Health, Human Services, Child Services or Education, according to Rachel Lassiter of Gov. Phil Bredesen's communications office.

That's a good start, but the article goes on to add:

"Emotional abuse is difficult to prove in the state of Tennessee," said Pamela Dickey, director of the advocacy center for Childhelp USA in Knoxville. "You have to document that the child is undergoing depression or suicidal ideation, that he can't sleep, or can't eat."

Ummmmm ... seems to me that "depression and suicidal ideation" would be fairly common responses for teenagers whose parents had them locked away in one of these ex-gay gulags.

But the most outrageous comment by far in the article is the one in which John Smid, the allegedly ex-gay director of the Love in Action program pleads for "tolerance" at a news conference.

Perhaps Mr. Smid was way too busy trying not to think about boys in the gym showers, their bodies all naked, wet and lathered up with soap, on the day when the teacher explained the meaning of irony. If ever there was a posterboy for irony, it's Smid who pleads for tolerance for an organization dedicated to promoting intolerance.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

Zach: In the Jaws of an American Gulag

Sixteen-year-old Zach of Bartlett, Tenn., a suburb of Memphis, could easily pass for one of the squeaky-clean teens on those family-oriented television dramas like "Seventh Heaven" or "Everwood." He doesn't smoke. He'd rather read a book than watch television. After he graduates from White Station High School in 2007 he'd like to study aerospace research. He sings with a youth choral group in Memphis. Like most teenagers, Zach loves music. His favorite group, according to his profile on his blog is The Killers and he professes to love band member Brandon Flowers.

Therein lies the rub. For when Zach says he loves Brandon Flowers, it not like when a teenager claims to love pizza or his CD collection or hanging out with friends. Zach means he loves Brandon Flowers.

Zach is gay.

A while back Zach came out to his parents. They didn't love the fact that he was gay. In fact, they hated it so much that they couldn't see all the things Zach is - good student, smart, friendly, attractive, talented. Instead they focused on one thing that Zach is not: straight.

They decided that Zach should go to one of those "ex-gay" programs designed to show young gays and lesbians the error of their ways and teach them that letting Jesus in their hearts will have them dating the opposite sex and producing grandkids for the doting grandparents in no time.

Suddenly Zach's blog went from the typical teen entries featuring those cutesy surveys of how many MP3s are on your computer hard drive and what kinds of clothes are your favorites to deadly serious posts in which Zach's world falls in around him.

Here is what Zach's blog had to say on May 29:

Somewhat recently, as many of you know, I told my parents I was gay. This didn't go over very well, and it ended with my dad crying, my mom tearing, and me not knowing what I'd done - or what to do. It kind of.. went away for about a week or two I think. They claim it's beause they didn't want to interfere with my last week or two of school. ...

Well today, my mother, father, and I had a very long "talk" in my room where they let me know I am to apply for a fundamentalist christian program for gays. They tell me that there is something psychologically wrong with me, and they "raised me wrong." I'm a big screw up to them, who isn't on the path God wants me to be on. So I'm sitting here in tears, joining the rest of those kids who complain about their parents on blogs - and I can't help it.

I wish I had never told them. I wish I just fought the urge two more years... I had done it for three before then, right? If I could take it all back.. I would, to where I never told my parents things and they always were mad at me-- It's better than them crying and depressed cause they will have no granchildren from me. It's better than them telling me that there's something wrong with me. It's better than them explaining to me that they "raised me wrong."

Zach was wrong about one thing. He's not like "the rest of those kids who complain about their parents on blogs." Most of those kids complain about curfews and being grounded and the fact that "my parents just don't understand!" in their blogs. Few have had to deal with parents who want to eradicate a central part of who they are.

The program Zach's parents chose for him is called Refuge. What a nice, safe, innocuous name. The program is affiliated with Love In Action, International. Refuge is under the direction of the Rev. John Smid. According to the organization's website, Smid's "personal walk with Jesus Christ" drew him to "leave the homosexual lifestyle and its entanglements." Smid has also been quoted as saying, "I would rather you commit suicide than have you leave Love In Action wanting to return to the gay lifestyle."

Now there's some compassionate Christianity!

On June 3 - three days before he was to leave for Refuge - Zach made the following entry on his blog late at night after his parents were in bed:

I'm not sure if I'm even supposed to be on. I ran away for a short while. I came back and they took everything from me, they don't want me to have outside influences-- i dont know how long im going to be on, because if they wake up, i'm screwed. The program starts June 6 and is until either the 17th or the 20th. I'm sorry I don't have time to write back to all of the comments and messages. I'm just here to let everyone know I am still alive, I'm sure you've left messages on my cellphone, they took that.. and my keys... and the computer.. and I've been homebound. -=sigh=- I just need this to be over. Don't worry. I'll get through this.

There are no entries after June 3. Three days later Zach was to enter Refuge. If he didn't run away. If he didn't decide that suicide was the alternative.

When Zach returns - IF he returns - what will he make of the almost 800 messages of support his blog has received? That number is still growing as more people hear about Zach's plight through the internet. Will he know that his friends have staged protests that have been covered by WMC-TV Channel 5 in Memphis or that the Daily Kos blog has featured his story?

It's heartening to see supporters rally around Zach. But what about the hundreds of other young people who are in other such programs right now? What about the thousands who have already been through "ex-gay" programs? What about the ones who will be sent to programs such as Refuge next week or next month or next year?

For lesbian and gay youth, such programs are nothing short than an American gulag. The techniques used to shame them into struggling to try to change their sexual orientation are mental and spiritual abuse.

The bottom line is that "conversion therapy" in which all it takes to change from gay to straight is enough religious zeal and an unwaivering faith in Jesus is bogus. So, too, is conversion therapy's secular counterpart, reparative therapy.

The reality is that sexual orientation is not a choice and such programs have been denounced by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association (among others) as harmful and dangerous. Yet ex-gay groups continue to claim gays can change their orientation. They claim astonishing success rates for their programs. But what they don't tell you is that their only follow-up with clients consist of phone calls after they complete the program. There is no long-term follow-up. There are no in-depth interviews. The truth is that they don't know how many clients "revert" a year after the program. Or a month. Or even a week.

At the beginning of the 20th century, missionaries and teachers forced young Native Americans to learn English and punished then for speaking their own language. They were forced to abandon their religion, their native dress and their identities to become an approximation of the white Christian folks who had vanquished them and drove them to scattered reservations.

We can look back on that era now and understand that it was genocide. We didn't kill the remaining Native Americans off ... at least not physically. But we killed their spirit and their identities.

A century from now will we look back and see the shame and humiliation heaped on Zach and other gay and lesbian youth as another form of genecide?

I have begun an online petition asking that Congress open investigations into ex-gay ministries and the abuse of young people. The petition makes four demands of Congress:

1. That Congress open investigations into the practices of the so-called "conversion" programs and their secular counterparts, "reparative therapy," that claim to change sexual orientation.

2. That minors, like Zach and countless others compelled to endure such abuse, be given the right not to be forced into these harmful and damaging programs against their will.

3. That stringent supervision of young people in such programs be required by outside agencies and that these agencies be required to conduct follow-up interviews and studies with the young people so that an accurate measurement of such programs' success - or lack thereof - be documented independently of the claims of success rates made by ex-gay groups.

4. That minors who are sent to such programs against their will have the right to sue their parents for emancipation.

I encourage all you who might read this to read the petition and, if you are moved by the plight of Zach and others, to sign it.

(Extensive information on "ex-gay" programs is available here.)


Monday, June 06, 2005

The opposite of love ...

This time it was different. I didn't get that tingle I felt the first time we met and, after conversation and handing me his phone number, his finger tips brushed gently the hairs on my arm. Nor did I experience the feeling I had the second time we met - a year and a half later - when it seemed the rest of the world faded away the first time we made love.

He was my ... what? What word to describe it? The slightly clandestine sounding "lover"? The legalistic sounding "partner"? The clinical sounding "significant other"? The phrase "boyfriend" with it's echoes of high school puppy love? All those words and phrases seem inadequate now.

Regardless of whatever lable I could attach to what he was, he is now my ex. He became my ex almost six years ago when whatever we had been for almost six months ended with the sounds of dresser drawers opening and closing and hastily packed boxes thudding into the bed of a pickup truck. With the exception of two phone conversations and one face-to-face conversation during the first few weeks of our uncoupling, I had not seen him since.

Until Saturday.

Despite the different circles in which we move - he with his gay softball leagues and drinking buddies and I with my gay politics and internet chat buddies - Kansas City is not such a large town that we could expect never to run into each other again. Still, I wanted to be ready for that moment when we came face to face ... to have just the right withering reparte or devastating bon mot that would be my exit cue and the blade that would forever sever whatever tenuous connection might still exist between us.

But when I saw him, I felt ... nothing. There was no desire to deliver a belated coup de gras, of the verbal (or any other) variety. Instead I walked on, not caring if he noticed me, neither trying to escape notice nor attract it.

Was this the same man about who I scribbled for months in my journal, first trying to figure out what was wrong with him, then what was wrong with me, and finally what was wrong with us? Was this the same man who inspired me to weave fantasies in which I extracted a measure of revenge by adding Tobasco sauce to his lube? Was this the same man whose truck I kept watching for during morning rush-hour traffic helicopter shots in the hope that I'd one day see it flattened between two huge tractor-trailer rigs?

There was a time I hated him with a white-hot passion. There was a time that not a day went by without me wishing him terrible suffering in a never-ending variety of ways. There was a time when I wasted my time hating him for so many different reasons. But hate is not the opposite of love. They are the same coin, simply opposite sides. To hate someone and to love someone both require passion and that passion binds you to the object of hate or love.

There's a reason passion is described as a flame or a fire. Like a fire, passion must be fueled. If you don't feed the fire, it burns itself out and fades to cold ashes. An old Native American story puts it best: Inside every man is a black dog of anger and hatred and a white dog of love and compassion. Which dog becomes the dominant of the two depends on which one you feed.

Much later Saturday I reflected on the lack of emotion I felt seeing my ex. A quote came to mind (which I later discovered is from Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, author and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize): "The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference."


Sunday, June 05, 2005

That's why they call is a 'pride' festival

With its long tradition of supporting Democrats, I like to think of Kansas City as an island of blue in an ocean of red. With the exception of the Ward Parkway strip of mansions, a Republican would have to flee to the 'burbs to find safety in numbers.

Not surprisingly, the LGBT community here in Kansas City plays a large part in keeping the city blue. We have two LGBT Democratic clubs and a host of other organizations that, while official nonpartisan, are definitely progressive.

Now, apparently, we also have a chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, too.

To be fair, there was a chapter that tried to form several years back. It was hampered by a lack of membership. (I'd heard through the grapevine that membership in the group numbered somewhere between three and seven.)

This weekend marked the annual pride festival. Along with the drag queens, the vendors selling drinks at exorbitant prices, and the ubiquitous free condoms and lube passed out by the free health clinic, the festival is a chance for local organizations to set up booths and let the community know about their services.

Having to set up the booth for KC PRIDE Democratic Club, I didn't have time to peruse the other booths early in the festival. But as the day wore on more and more people stopped by the booth to ask "Did you see the Log Cabin Republicans' booth?" Some were clearly upset that Kansas City had a Log Cabin chapter. Others said they felt the LCRs were being "deceptive."

One festival goer told of how the folks in the Log Cabin booth handed him a petition to sign in favor of doing away with the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. As he handed the clipboard back to the volunteer he thought to inquire: "What group are you with?" When he was told he had just signed a petition for the Log Cabin Republicans, he demanded his name be taken off the petition. "I'm not going to put my name on anything for the Republicans," he said he told them.

Later in the afternoon I took advantage of having other volunteers in the Democratic club booth to make the rounds of the festival grounds. Sure enough, on the opposite side of the festival from our booth were the Log Cabin Republicans. But you wouldn't know it from first glance. The banner across the LCR booth was emblazoned with the words "Inclusion wins" in letters at least a foot tall. Beneath those words - and down in the very bottom right corner in letters perhaps two inches tall - was the logo for the Log Cabin Republicans.

Such was the inauspicious debut of Kansas City's chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans.

Granted, the folks who stopped by our booth to complain about the Log Cabinites may not have been the most nonpartisan of observers, but judging by their reactions, the LCR's message of "working for change from within the Republican Party" didn't set well. Neither did their camouflaged logo.

I do have to give my Lob Cabin brethren credit for one thing, however. I think they helped fill our collection jar for donations. As one guy said as he pointed to our banner, dropped a $10 bill in the jar and signed up for our e-mail newsletter: "At least you all aren't ashamed about who you are."

I guess that's why they call it a "pride" festival and not a "not-too-ashamed" festival.