Elder said he tried to deny his sexual orientation through prayer himself. But after a pastor told him that God loves him “no matter what,” Elder accepted himself and realized he was only hurting himself by not embracing his identity.

“I knew God wouldn’t have put me here to fail. No matter what you are, God loves you. Just to say you can pray something away is impossible,” he said.  “You can’t pray something away. God made you who you are.”

Rick Cantrell of Marietta said he came to the protest because he wanted to counter the message of “bigotry and lies these people [Exodus International] are perpetrating.”

“I hope they see people here who feel good about themselves and are empowered and tell the truth. Just acknowledge the truth, we are OK,” he said.

Members from the Get Equal GA, Get Equal Ohio, Queer Justice League, Georgia Equality, Act Out Savannah, PFLAG Atlanta, PFLAG Macon, the Church Without Walls, South Georgia Pride (Valdosta), and the Atlanta Chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were among those who participated in today’s protest. Also participating were Truth Wins Out and the Souther Poverty Law Center.

At one point, representatives from Exodus International brought out a case of water bottles to give the protesters. The organization also provided a port-a-potty for the protesters who were standing at the entrance of the church, chanting and waving signs as participants entered and exited.

At least four Carroll County Sheriff’s officers were on the scene to watch the protesters.

Art Izzard, a founder of the Queer Justice League, said at about 7:30 a.m. he was told by an Exodus International official that he and others could come to the church to introduce themselves. When Izzard and eight other activist went to the church entrance at about noon, they were greeted by officials that did not let them in and said any offer made was rescinded.

Rev. Paul Turner of Gentle Christian Church asked one of the Exodus officials how many people were in attendance and he was told the conference had a “good crowd.”

A woman attending the conference and exiting the church to go to lunch did not want to comment to the GA Voice about the conference.

“I’m glad the community showed up to stand up for ourselves and show everyone you can’t pray the gay away,” Izzard said. “Exodus is the sham. It doesn’t work.”

Izzard hoped that by being outside the church, those attending would see people who would accept them as they are and not want them to change who they are.

“[T]here is an active alternative to what is being presented inside. There’s a loving and caring community that accepts them or their children for who they are as opposed to asking them to change and be something they’re not,” he said.

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