By Anita Moyt, managing editor
Family & Friends magazine, July 2005
Reprinted with permission
Family & Friends asked two individuals knowledgeable about Love in Action what they would say to the protesters, to Zach and to Zach’s parents given the situation at hand.
Arnold Drake, M.D., of Memphis, the former national Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) president and the presiding president of the Memphis chapter of PFLAG, offered this advice:
To the protesters:
‘Right on!’ You are doing the right thing. Do not get discouraged. Only by speaking the truth, repeatedly, will we win. It may take several lifetimes, but we will win.
Do not be angry with your parents. They love you and want what they see as best for you. But they are ill-informed by society and probably their clergy, and they feel a lot of pressure. They think you will have an unhappy life as a gay person. And probably they think that their religion forbids loving same-gender relationships. They, or people advising them, do not want you to know that GLBT people may have long-standing happy relationships, and lead productive lives. My son is a doctor. His partner is a PhD in public health, and teaches in a medical school. They have been together 16 years, longer than most heterosexual marriages. They are both accepted and loved in both of our families.
Your parents do not know that so-called conversion therapy is a sham. They do not know, or do not care, that all respectable medical and scientific organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, The American Psychoanalytic Association, The American Medical Association, all the Pediatric societies, the counseling organizations and many, many more have stated that so-called conversion therapy does not work, and may well be harmful. Many psychologists have horror stories of trying to treat the victims of these shameful procedures. Many of these organizations feel that any medical person participating in these things is performing in an unethical manner.
The names they will throw at you (Nickolosi, Spitzer, etc.) are not respected or accepted in the broad scientific community. They have no scientific basis for what they tell you.
They will say a lot to you about faith and religion. Many of these people may honestly believe what they say. But they are only one side of the argument. Many religious people disagree with them.
Please remember that there is nothing wrong with you. Yo do not have a disease. You do not need to be ‘fixed.’ These people who try to ‘convert’ you, if they are honest, may tell you that they cannot change your sexual orientation. They will tell you that this is a lifelong process to try to live in a manner that is pleasing to your parents and society, but your basic feelings and sexual orientation will not change. There is no such thing as an ‘ex-gay.’ These people may trot some out for you, but those people did not change. They are just more or less successful, for a while, at living a lie.
Courts have held that parents may do something harmful to themselves, in the name of religion (refuse blood transfusions, refuse life-saving surgery, etc.) but they may not martyr their children. You should try to get a lawyer to help you. But our legal system in Tennessee may not be much help.
To the parents:
You really and truly do not understand the harm you are doing to your child. Please read Mel White’s excellent book Stranger at the Gate about his struggle for years to convert his sexual orientation. He is a minister, and he had a wonderful supportive wife. Or read Anything but Straight by Wayne Besen, which details his experiences when he infiltrated these groups, including Love in Action. Or go to the website of the ex-ex-gays to hear about some of their experiences. Or go to the PFLAG website (www.pflag.org) and read about conversion therapy.
Ask these people for proof that their methods work. Do not take their word for it. Ask for the peer-reviewed, objective, scientifically accepted data. There is none. They will tell you “thousands of people have been converted, but they want to put this behind them.”
That is a lie. There has never, NEVER EVER been one person who changed their sexual orientation. NOT ONE !! The only people who CLAIM to have changed are the professional conversion therapy workers. Their claims have never, never been proven. They will only try to persuade your child he should live an unhappy life, as a lie, because “that is G-d’s will.”
These people do not know what His will is. None of us do. Many of us are trying to do what is right, and what G-d expects of us. But there are many conflicts and uncertainties.
Jesus never said anything about being gay. No where in the Bible does it say to take your gay child to have conversion therapy.
I really feel sympathy for you. But you have been given a lot of wrong messages by certain fringe elements in our society. I know you love your child, just as I love my gay son. And I am sure you are religious, and you are trying to do what you think G-d wants you to do. But there are many honest ministers and scholars who disagree with these radical versions of the Bible. They believe, and I believe, that G-d made all of us in his image, and we are to accept and love the children that He sent to us.
Please re-consider your decision to do this to your child. If you wish to speak to me, please call me. I will have a lot more to tell you.
Dr. Drake can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The second person Family & Friends addressed these three questions to was former Memphian, writer, performer, and Love in Action graduate, Peterson Toscano. Toscano has performed his one-man show, Doin’ Time in The Homo No Mo Halfway House: How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement, based on his experiences as a client of Love in Action, several times in Memphis with his most recent performance at the Media Co-op June 25. He said:
To the protesters:
Know that the people who run these programs and the parents who force their children to attend, are blinded by society and the conservative church to believe they are doing the best thing for young people. If they truly understood the damage they caused, they would repent. They are trapped by a structure of beliefs and fears that routinely oppresses women, same-gender-loving people and non-Christians.
Trust your heart; you possess wisdom and courage inside that will carry you far. It may hurt to have the people who are supposed to care for you the most to hurt you the most, but time can change this, too. Know that there is nothing WRONG with you for being (gay).
To Zach’s parents:
I spent seven years and $30,000 trying to “straighten” myself out. I sought God with all my heart, and after all that, and after seeing people literally kill themselves over their inability to change their sexual identity, I finally stopped the madness. The greatest gift my parents ever gave me was accepting me for who I am, not who they felt I should become.
Peterson Toscano studied theater and English literature at City College of New York. In 1995, he moved to England then Zambia to work in radio production for a Christian mission. Because of the conflict between his Christian faith and his homosexual desires, Peterson left the mission field and moved to the Love in Action ex-gay program in Memphis. He graduated successfully from the program nearly two years later, but in January of 1999, he finally came OUT and fully accepted himself as a gay man.
Toscano can be contacted through his website at www.p2son.com or his blog at www.a_musing.blogspot.com.
Although Family & Friends didn’t contact comedian Margaret Cho ourselves, several concerned individuals did so via her website. She posted the following response to Zach, in part:
… Jesus doesn’t have a problem with homosexuality. It is just that some of the people who claim to represent him do. I grew up in the church. My grandfather was a Methodist minister and we had church right in our living room seven days a week, so I understand a little about where you might be coming from.
… And when you get out of there and get into the real world you will see how great it is, how gay it is, and all that pain and suffering will be a distant memory, which will only serve to remind you that you survived.
Your reward for surviving is living life without lies as God made you. You are going to live through this and tell us all about it.
Hang in there for us. –m
— Margaret Cho wrote to Zach on her website at www.margaretcho.com/blog/hangintherezach.htm.