The controversy surrounding Orlando city council member Vicki Vargo’s proclamation of Exodus International Day on July 21 was noted in an earlier Ex-Gay Watch item by Mike.

He mentions that activists have challenged the proclamation, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel. It is worth noting that voices of protest include one of Vargo’s city council colleagues, as described by Orlando Weekly (OW):

Commissioner Patty Sheehan … wrote the mayor an e-mail expressing disgust at Vargo’s proclamation. “As an openly gay public official, I am personally and professionally offended by this action,” Sheehan wrote.

Protester Royce Mathew has created a satire page promoting a fictional group called Exodu Sin Ternational which professes to be ex-gay but mixes Nazi-like goals with its outreach. More importantly, he has posted the actual wording of the proclamation. He compares his pseudo-group to Exodus and has asked the mayor and city council to rescind Vargo’s proclamation because of the purported similarities between the two.

Mathew’s logic for naming Exodus as a hate group starts here:

Based on their religious beliefs as it’s operating doctrine, Exodus International is a self proclaimed “freedom from homosexuality” operation presenting homosexuals as mentally ill, perverted, disease carriers, hurting and sinful individuals who will perish if they don’t conform to their religious imposed views of society.

From there he makes a giant leap:

Vicki Vargo’s proclamation honors discrimination and the self proclaimed religious aspects, views and beliefs of Exodus International, an organization whose ultimate goal, like the Nazi Party, is to eliminate a group of individuals, homosexuals, who themselves were supposed to be protected from discrimination by the city’s own statues.

Exodus attempts to walk, however irrationally, the fine line of reaching out only to “unhappy” gay people while assuming that it’s not possible to be healthy, Christian, and gay. Mathew discredits himself when he leaps from that sort of illogic to equating Exodus and Nazi goals.

But, council member Vargo and Exodus leader Alan Chambers discredit themselves as well. (Vargo told OW that she issued the proclamation after Exodus sought it “several times”.) It’s not unusual for cities to make proclamations noting the contributions of its citizens, welcoming visitors, or celebrating church centennials. Vargo and Chambers missed a valid opportunity to:

  • Salute contributions by Orlando ex-gays to the betterment of the city (instead of demeaning gays vaguely as being “hurting people in our community”).
  • Cite specific examples of Exodus’ contributions to the well-being of the people of Orlando (instead of unsubstantiated claims that it is “honorable and worthy of recognition”).
  • Thank Exodus for the benefits Orlando has received based on their substance and merit (instead of using scripture to imply that the city council was conferring a spiritual blessing).

And that highlights a common gap in ex-gay outreach: Where are the ex-gays? Why must they live primarily in the shadows of their leaders?

As a gay man, I fully understand the complexity of coming-out issues. It is not easy to begin standing up to shame by identifying ourselves. There are ways to do so without putting our faces on the front pages of newspapers, though.

But that is precisely where the Orlando proclamation fell flat. Vicki Vargo apparently she didn’t hear from or get to know any vibrant, contented, healthy ex-gays, and based on that she assumed Alan Chambers was some sort of exalted, compassionate leader ministering to sad and lonely folks. (And he didn’t redirect her.)

Exodus International can earn the respect of people in Orlando to the extent its members begin speaking publicly for themselves, taking small steps out of the shadows, letting folks understand the ordinariness of their lives. It could take lessons from the many gay folks who are familiar with earning respect from people with whom they disagree by doing exactly that, as well as by showing respect for others.

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