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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.