Once in a while, the Exodus media blog posts something that might conceivably be true — at first glance.
“I don’t think the gay movement understands the extent to which the next generation just wants to be normal kids,” says Michael Glatze, the editor of YGA magazine (a lifestyle magazine for teen and twentysomething gays). “The people who are getting that are the Christian right.” — Michael J. West, Oct. 4, 2005
The full story, however, is much more complex — and less political — than Exodus would like for readers to believe.
The quote comes from blogcritics.org, quoting in turn from the Oct. 10 Time magazine article, The Battle over Gay Teens.
The quoted youths, Blogcritics, Time, and Exodus all overlook the 25 percent of gays who voted for George Bush. Instead of acknowledging the political diversity of gay people and encouraging more of it, they join the left and pretend that at least one-quarter of the “movement” does not exist at all.
The Blogcritics writer, Michael J. West, only quotes from passages of the Time article that portray gay teens as emancipated and successfully assimilated into school culture. But the Time article did not portray teen life quite so idyllically.
Let’s look at key points that Time and Blogcritics both underemphasized:
- Time reports that “nearly 1 in 10 high schools” has a gay-straight alliance club. This is a big improvement over high school life before the 1990s, to be sure, but more than 90 percent of high schools still offer little or no refuge for gay youths at risk of harassment from peers and faculty.
- Time quotes “social conservatives” at the Liberty Counsel and PFOX who view public schools as a key battleground in their efforts to promote antigay sentiment and discrimination.
- Time quotes GLSEN founder Kevin Jennings saying “4 out of 5” students have been harassed. But Time ignores the severity of some physical harassment and dismisses the statistic simply because 1) namecalling is on the decline, according to a GLSEN survey, and 2) as often as gays are beaten up, women are supposedly called sexist names.
To its credit, Time acknowledges social conservatives’ leading weapon against the emergence of gay youth: exgays.
- Time cites Focus on the Family’s bizarre warning to parents of 5-year-old boys to watch out for signs of “gender confusion” and to seek out “professional help” — a Christian “reparative therapist” — at the first sign of variation from Dobson’s gender stereotypes.
- Time counters James Dobson’s advice with professionals’ warnings that efforts to alter one’s sexual and romantic attractions can often be “fruitless and depressing.” Time reports on Tennessee’s effort to regulate the Exodus-affiliated, unlicensed mental-health facility Love In Action in Memphis, Tenn. Time gives LIA equal time with the organization’s claim to be a “faith-based institution” and therefore, somehow, exempt from state laws.
- Time notes that, contrary to exgay political claims, gay teens already have “unprecedented resources” if they prefer to become heterosexual — and that “just 13 percent of young people would prefer to become straight.”
- Exodus president Alan Chambers tells Time that the national umbrella group spends about $250,000 per year on Exodus Youth, and most Exodus-affiliated “ministries” offer exgay aid to youth. (Exodus does not point out to Time, and Time does not report, that Exodus lobbies against antiharassment policies in public schools.)
- Chambers says more than 1,000 youths from 45 countries have visited livehope.org to post messages and read antigay propaganda and strawman arguments, featuring such titles as “Homosexual Myths.” Myth No. 2, Time notes, is “People are born gay.”
- Exodus Youth director Scott Davis portrays himself as a defender of gays against older evangelicals who offer denunciation with no message of “healing.” Davis makes a particularly wise observation on how Exodus can succeed against school-based gay-straight alliances: While there may be 3,000 GSAs, there are far more student ministries and Bible clubs. Davis says, “And my hope is that they [not the GSAs] will be the ones who care for these kids.”
- Time notes that exgay and antigay organizations such as Inqueery and PFOX adopt “rhetorical mimicry” patterned after pro-tolerance and pro-diversity groups. While criticizing “a sordid history” of antigay language from Christian churches, Chad Thompson alleges that anti-exgay bigotry has emerged generally among gays — but no substantiation is offered for Thompson’s claim. He says exgays are “often misunderstood and sometimes even ridiculed” — but Thompson does not acknowledge exgays’ deliberate redefinition of key words, nor does he distinguish between ridicule and legitimate criticism. (Or if he does, Time does not print his statements.) As for his own sexual attraction to men, Thompson says, “My attractions are probably about one percent of what they used to be.”
- Time notes that exgays’ claim, that unnamed “liberals and gay activists are attacking Christian strugglers,” has won the exgays the politically charged attention of Jerry Falwell and the Liberty Council (which is based at Falwell’s Liberty University).
- Time quotes PFOX calling itself “an organization that says if you’re happy being a homosexual…that’s your right” — but fails to note that PFOX’s Regina Griggs and Estella Salvatierra have spoken out against antibullying programs and antidiscrimination laws, and in favor of sodomy laws.
- Time observes anecdotally that youth attending Exodus Youth events may be more stereotypically femme or butch than average gay teen-agers.
- Time finds both gay-tolerant and exgay adults out of touch with the youths that both sides seek to protect. At their best, both sides’ emphases on politics, religious correctness, and sex are ill-suited to youths who simply want to skate or go boating. At their worst, one side gives youths R-rated movies and booklets; the other side sends kids to a Mexican boot camp for harsh physical punishment and behavior modification. (Time says Mexican health officials shut the boot camp, noting it was not equipped with responsible staff to run a pharmacy; the Utah-based camp operator blames the kids for any punishment, and says reports of abuse are “probably” exaggerated.)
Based on a reading of Ritch Savin-Williams’ new book, The New Gay Teenager, the Time article attempts to conclude, in part: “The point here is not that gay kids don’t have to cope with bigotry and bleakness. … Yet, according to Savin-Williams, most gay kids are fairly ordinary.”
Yet even that conclusion is disputed by Dr. Gary Remafedi, director of the Youth and AIDS Projects at the University of Minnesota. Remafedi says that most of Savin-Williams’ interview subjects were wealthy, high-functioning Cornell University students; Savin-Williams counters that past studies were weighted toward teens found in crisis centers.
Savin-Williams opposes exgay programs, but Time says he has won admiration from some ex-gay advocates by writing that sexuality and sexual identity develop gradually over the course of childhood.
Savin-Williams says “straight kids don’t define themselves by sexuality” — they want to have sex, but they don’t say, ‘It is what I am’ — and he believes young gays are moving toward a “postgay” identity. Savin-Williams and other interviewees in the Time article seem to have bought into the leftist/religious-rightist notion that “gay” relates to an identity of politics, parades, and circuit parties, rather than a simple acknowledgment and/or affirmation that one is attracted to the same gender.
Like older moderate, independent and conservative gays, young gays may look at politically correct progressives, fashionistas, and party animals, and decide, “If that’s gay, I want no part of it.” But “that” isn’t gay.
Yet when faith-oriented, same-sex-attracted youths look below the surface of Exodus-affiliated groups, they may discover a variable mix of reactionary political correctness, conformity, unsafe binges of compulsive sex and confession, bigotry and resentment toward gay couples, and group leaders who breed fear and political animosity toward outsiders who might be qualified to help the exgay individual honor his or her spiritual values. In reaction to Exodus-style tactics, Time almost acknowledges, young same-sex-attracted youths may decide: “If that’s exgay, then I want no part of that, either.”
Exodus does not define “exgay” — though it certainly wants to. Time cites one exgay, Michael Wilson, 22, of Michigan, who has tentatively found calm and peace with “freedom in Christ” — without a need to wage wars of defamation against gay people.
What others say: Some Guys Are Normal links to three reactions and a spare copy of the Time magazine article.
Rick Sincere discusses efforts by students to start a GSA club amid political misinformation and legislation in Virginia.
Patrick Yaeger responds at length to BlogCritics.org.