LGBT rights activists are gearing up to counter an upcoming visit to Georgia by Exodus International, which brings its “Love Won Out” conference to Villa Rica today.
The Queer Justice League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, GetEqual and Truth Wins Out came together to educate the public at a community discussion at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer on Feb. 16 and also planning a protest at the “Love Won Out” conference at Midway Church in Villa Ricca today..
The organization at the center of their ire is Exodus International, a 35 year old “ministry committed to encouraging, educating and equipping the Body of Christ to address the issue of homosexuality with grace and truth” according to its website.
Exodus is holding the “Love Won Out” conference which, according to Exodus President Alan Chambers, “is a one day event centered on the issue of homosexuality from the standpoint of living life through the filter of faith and not through the filter of sexuality.”
The event website has a slightly different description that states that the conference is to “help men and women dissatisfied with living homosexually understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome.”
The word “overcome” is what outrages people like GetEqual state coordinator Paul Schappaugh.
“When fighting for equality, one of the things we have to do is put truth out and fight those that put misleading facts out there,” Schappaugh says. “Groups like Exodus go around preaching as fact that you can be converted from an LGBT person into a heterosexual person and that’s just not true.”
Atlantan Alan Peebles had firsthand experience with Exodus when he was a resident at one of their residential programs called “Love in Action” in 1990.
“When I got there, I saw a lot of sickness,” says Peebles, who now works with homeless LGBT youth through Saint Lost and Found. “They didn’t have anyone who was associated with the program who was a psychiatrist, psychologist, a social worker of any type, nothing. Everyone on staff was a peer counselor. In other words, they came up through the program. They were only armed with whatever they taught themselves.”
Peebles agrees with the organizers of the event that groups like Exodus are harmful. He believes that the people who attend the conferences are being sold false hope.
“They think thousands and thousands of gay people have been set free,” he says.
The director of Exodus at the time of Peebles’ stay was John Smid. In 2010, Smid released a statement apologizing for his part in making people feel that they can overcome their orientation when they cannot.
Current president Chambers is quick to admit past mistakes.
“I think that in the past, we’ve been guilty of saying things or seemingly promoting things that are hard for people to understand. Sometimes, it has appeared that we were an organization that promotes heterosexuality or that we promote marriage as a cure for homosexuality,” Chambers tells GA Voice.
“What we’re about is helping people who are in conflict with their feelings to live out a life that respects their faith and their Biblical convictions first,” Chambers says.
Sam Wolfe, attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, echoes concerns about Exodus.
“We know that they have a political agenda. We see them in court cases. Taking on ex-gay therapy is a critical part of working for a better environment and society where LGBT folks are not demonized and seen as in need of repairing,” Wolfe says.
“Their messaging is all over the map sometimes. Their claim is that change is possible.” he says.
But what is “change”? To LGBT people, it infers that you can change your sexuality. To groups like Exodus, it means that you can change your priorities.
“There’s been a change in tone for the last couple of years — a shift from where they’ve been blatant about saying that you can change and pray the gay away,” GetEqual’s Schappaugh observes. “If you go into their treatment, there still is this pervasive belief that there are people who have (changed orientation) and that you can pray the gay away.”
For this reason, Schappaugh encourages Atlantans to attend a community meeting to be held at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 16.
“Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out will give a presentation. He’s been following the ex-gay movement and the Exodus group.” Schappaugh says.
“We’ll also have people who have gone through these groups and have first-hand knowledge about what it was like. Then, SPLC will be giving a presentation about ex-gay therapists. We’ll have local clergy and the mother of a gay son speaking of her crisis of faith.”
Christianity and sexuality
Schappaugh says he is worried about the impact of groups like Exodus on LGBT youth.
“We have so many queer youth that are committing suicide,” he says. “They’re being told that they’re broken, that God doesn’t love them and that being who they are is in and of itself is sin. Kids take that to heart.”
Still, Chambers distances his organization from these descriptions.
“Our focus isn’t on a therapy or counseling with regards to the specific issue of same sex attraction. Our mission and emphasis is on helping people who are conflicted between their faith and their sexuality to be faithful in their relationship with Christ,” Chambers says.
“So often, we’re picketed and protested at these events. For the most part, I agree with most of the things that I read on these protest signs. We believe that Jesus is an equal opportunity lover. He loves people unconditionally and regardless of the opinions that the Bible may hold on sexual expression, our message is really to help people move further in this discussion in their relationships with one another,” he continues.
Art Izzard, QJL organizer, reminds potential protesters that the Feb.18 gathering is not actually a protest, per se.
“We want to be seen by the folks attending the conference and let them know that we’re the side that represents inclusion and love. The attendees aren’t our enemies.
They have genuine questions about their sexuality or their relatives and why they’re gay and what they can do about them being gay,” Izzard says.
“We’d like for them to know that there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Top photo: ‘Our mission and emphasis is on helping people who are conflicted between their faith and their sexuality to be faithful in their relationship with Christ.’ — Exodus International President Alan Chambers. (Photo courtesy Exodus International)