Some exgay political activists like Prof. Warren Throckmorton accuse the nation’s schools of promoting “homosexuality.” They imply, usually without evidence, that pro-tolerance advocacy in education comes from political activists, not from the struggling students, their parents, and a few concerned faculty. (Here are past examples at XGW of the exgay battle against tolerance in schools.)
A Sept. 25 article in The Washington Post challenges the religious-right claims, promoted further by Exodus and its media blog, that same-sex-attracted students are tolerated in middle America; that violence is virtually nonexistent; and that antigay students are oppressed.
A Post reporter followed gay Oklahoma youth Michael Shackelford for the past year through a gantlet of bullies in school and church, and to some degree in his own home. The article notes that an estimated one-third of same-sex-attracted youths are forced to drop out of high school due to harassment — and it turns out that Shackleford is one of those youths.
An Oklahoma exgay ministry, Restoration by Grace, claims to offer hope to struggling youths like Shackleford. But judging by the Post article, the ministry’s web page, and its leader’s personal testimony, Restoration does not offer realistic guidance (a.k.a. celibacy), nor does it take any apparent action to discourage bullying. And it favors discrimination against gay people who seek to live ordinary “domestic” lifestyles. From the Washington Post article:
Restoration by Grace is one of the first places that [Michael’s mother] Janice Shackelford called after she learned Michael was gay. She was told that Michael had to be ready and willing to change. He wasn’t.
Others are, and they drive from as far away as Arkansas and Missouri to get here. Chuck McConkey has run the ministry since 1995. He is the antithesis of the fire-breathing evangelical. Hands folded on his desk, he sits quietly in his book-lined office and shares the story of a young man who recently came to him in tears. “He asked me: ‘Will I stop having these thoughts when I see a guy with his shirt off? I want to believe you so bad.'”
McConkey says he can answer that question with confidence because he was once gay. He spent “15-plus years in the homosexual lifestyle.” Now 54, he has a wife and two adopted sons. Impulses that used to trigger him are gone. “No buzzing, no burning, no stimulation,” he says. “I’m telling you, it can go away.”
Though he is not a licensed counselor, McConkey’s philosophy is similar to the approach known as “reparative therapy,” which contends that homosexual behavior is learned or chosen. McConkey says homosexuality is a compensation for a bad relationship with a parent or the result of childhood trauma. “Make the gay person have a stronger relationship with God — rediscover God as parent and God as able to heal childhood wounds — and the need to be in a relationship that pleases God will happen naturally,” he says.
But these are tough times for McConkey’s mission. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws, decriminalizing homosexuality for consenting adults, and then the Massachusetts courts legalized same-sex marriage in that state. Just as insidious, McConkey says, are the shifts in American culture that portray gay life as domestic — wedding bands, two-car garages, dad and dad vacationing with the kids.
McConkey’s job is to dispel young people of such notions.
“The next sweetie that comes along and you are yesterday’s news,” he says. “It’s all about vanity and bodies.”
It appears that McConkey steers struggling gay people away from domestic living toward either-or extremes: Gay people are advised to either accept McConkey’s antigay ideology, or drift aimlessly amid loneliness, anonymous sex, and substance abuse. The article does not explain where McConkey derives his stereotypes. Are they rooted in his own addictive/compulsive past? Or are they selected anecdotally from worst-case scenarios and applied to all same-sex attracted people?
As quoted in the article, McConkey says gay people can become completely and naturally heterosexual, but his testimony page indicates his own journey has not been as simple as the cheery success story that he offered to the Post.
Exgay reaction: At least one exgay applauds the Post article:
I wonder why there are so many immature, spiritually ignorant Christians running around who lack an understanding of grace, the very grace that’s carrying them out of the depths of hell.
Ben’s advice for the mother, Janice, is well-grounded in the Bible. Something about the plank in one’s own eye….
Part Two of the Washington Post article finds Janice Shackelford in a prison of her own making.
The family struggle is a poorly kept secret. Janice’s pastor sermonizes against her son, but the pastor is too cowardly to name the real people whose lives and wellbeing he is threatening. Janice is left wondering how “secret” her secret is, and how safe her son is. Janice refuses to seek help from tolerant parents; instead, she counts on religious music for comfort and escape. At work, Janice nods as her co-workers and “the president” attack her son’s access to marriage and family stability. Janice repeats the religious-right mantra for federal interference in the family: “We need to keep the family unit as intended,” But her own family is in tatters.
In Oklahoma City, a rally is held by religious-right advocates — many from broken families — seeking to break up other people’s families. Of people much like Michael, a rally leader says:
“They’re coming out,” he mocks. “And we are smack dab in the middle of America! We are on the doorstep of hedonism and it must be turned back!”
But the highfalutin’ debate over marriage is far beyond Michael Shackelford’s imagination; he’s just worried about being a teen-ager in Oklahoma — struggling to separate the real Michael from stereotypes of masculinity and same-sex attraction.
At a gay pride parade in Tulsa, it is the ordinariness and vulnerability of a gay youth group that Bible-Belt antigay protesters find most threatening — and ripe for harassment:
“WHY DOES THE GROUP WITH THE HIGHEST SUICIDE RATE CALL ITSELF GAY?”
“GOT AIDS YET?”
“There’s less of you queers this year. Are you dyin’ off? You can’t reproduce. You can’t reproduce.”
Though he’s a participant in the group, Michael doesn’t attend the parade. He’s still being stalked by some bullies; the terror drives him again into counseling.
His mother Janice’s reaction? Blame the victim, defend the values of the bullies:
“I want to say this lifestyle he’s chosen, in one aspect, he’s asked for it,” Janice Shackelford says while Michael is at the hospital for counseling. “I know that sounds harsh. I guess there is something to be said about staying in the closet.” She begins to cry.
Instead of helping Janice find constructive ways to love her son, Oklahoma exgay and antigay activists have steered her in inhumane and violence-affirming directions. She seems to accept bullying as a natural tool to force her son into the closet, or into the superficial pretense of an exgay “identity.”
Not safe or secure in his own home, and adapting to new antidepressants, Michael plans to move away from Oklahoma.