We here at exgaywatch have been recently criticized for not applying the same standards to those that oppose the ex-gay ministries as we do to those who support them. Specifically, we have been called hypocrites for not condemning a website put up by the Michigan Quakers called exgaymichigan.org.
I think that I can speak for all authors here when I say that we strive for intellectual integrity and consistency. If the Quaker church is making claims about ex-gay ministries that are unfounded, unfair, unsubstantiated, or as bizarre as those made by Exodus or others, we have an obligation to hold them to the same standards. We are not a propaganda machine; rather we simply seek that the various debates surrounding sexual orientation are argued with truth and not lies, myths, stereotypes, and bigotry.
In that spirit, I will endeavor to analyze the Quakers’ site. While some authors at XGW may have been familiar with the site, I was not so I have looked it over. There may be parts of it I didn’t see but I think that I have a fairly decent feel for the content.
Most of the content on the website was couched in the terminology of “we believe” or “we suspect”. This does shield the site some criticism. There did not appear to be many statement of an absolutist nature which – considering that it is a Quaker site – is not surprising. One strong statement is made immediately upon entry into the site:
It is easier to wring blood from a stone than to change sexual orientation.
This statement is clearly to attract attention and is supported by the following:
That’s a pretty powerful statement! But it’s true: there’s no evidence that anyone has ever changed their sexual orientation. It’s possible to modify one’s sexual behavior, but sexual orientation appears to be fixed.
This is a very strongly worded position. But yet, there is no evidence – other than anecdotal claims without any of the rigors of scientific analysis – that sexual orientation has ever been changed. The closest that comes to meeting that criteria would be the Spitzer study and that, as has been discussed at length, was conducted by telephone and had no follow-up nor did it take into consideration the financial and emotional incentives for the participants to answer as they did.
There are those who could argue “but my life is evidence”. Unfortunately, most of those making a claim to have actually changed their sexual orientation from strictly homosexual to strictly heterosexual are not very credible. At XGW there are many many discussions of exactly this, and the Quaker site makes very clear the efforts made to seek evidence of change that will withstand scrutiny.
The site does make a number of suppositions. While they may or may not be correct, the only one in which I think that the Quakers may have made too far of a leap is:
Some homosexuals have completed therapy in a temporary euphoria… Some are even able to engage in sexual intercourse with members of the opposite gender, by closing their eyes and fantasizing that they are actually making love to a person of the same sex.
I find that to be too speculative. But yet, even in their supposition, the Quakers were careful to note:
Unfortunately, these suspicions are based on inadequate evidence. Certainty awaits a meaningful, credible study by mental health professionals. Unfortunately, the studies that have been made to date are seriously flawed.
I did not find much to be harshly critical of in this site. It states its position and bias up-front. Rather than demonize ex-gay ministries, it tries to warn of the dangers and counter them with what it believes to be truth. It does not appear to list any bogus medical, psychological, or mental claims about those with which it disagrees. It admits where its conclusions are not as clearly supported as it would like. In summary, without our integrity having been challenged, I would have not found much need for a critique of the Quaker site.
As to the specific areas where we have been accused of hypocrisy:
If a Christian or exgay backpeddled like that, or created a site that clearly uses deceptive keywords to attract visitors, you could guarantee a site like Exgaywatch would be all over it. But since this guy is a kindred spirit, I’m guessing they’ll just turn a blind eye to it.
First let me comment on the irony of having a Quaker being contrasted with a “Christian”. I don’t think that simply because the Quakers do not subscribe to an anti-gay agenda that they are all excluded from the Body of Christ.
Now to the accusations:
1. That the creator of the site, Michael Gibson-Faith, has backpedaled in his approach to ex-gay ministries and we haven’t called him on it
The primary basis for this claim is an article in which Gibson-Faith argued that ex-gay ministries should not be confronted with protesters or pickets. He said:
I used to be someone who thought we needed to protest every time they had a conference and every time they came to any church or campus… My experience over the past few years convinces me that we need to just let their events go and commit to our own agenda.
However, the creation of this site does not appear to be in response to ex-gay conferences. There does seem to be some reporting of people who went to conferences, but the site itself seems to be focused on presenting a position rather than responding to an event. This seems to be to be consistent with what Gibson-Faith said in the same article:
We have a long way to go. We have to frame our issues as an effective alternative to the right’s messages; we have to repeat our new frames often and in ways that folks can hear it. If we want change, we need to shape our agenda and stop reacting to the events and actions of the right.
If there was any change of tune about how to respond the ex-gay ministries, I can’t detect it. As to charge #1 of hypocrisy against XGW, it is unsupported.
2. The website uses deceptive keywords and we didn’t call them on it
On Google, the site comes up as follows:
Exgay Michigan Ministries
Don’t Change your sexual orientation, live for christ, find hope,
www.exgaymichigan.org/ – 2k – Cached – Similar pages
Perhaps there could be some criticism of the title tag in that at first glance it reads as though it were for an ex-gay ministry. However there are two reasons why I would be disinclined to assault the Quaker site over this:
First, the words that immediately follow the tag line make it clear that this is not a site that favors changing sexual orientation. If the person wishing to find ex-gay ministries in Michigan were to read the description before selection, he’d realize that this site does not champion changing one’s sexual orientation.
Second, the Quaker site does actually list the ex-gay ministries in the Michigan area. The person wishing to find ex-gay ministries in Michigan could do so by clicking the site. Since this, however, is not the primary purpose of the site, this is just incidental and may be immaterial.
I would recommend, if asked, that perhaps another primary tag be selected. But it is hard to base a serious criticism on this for a site that tells you “don’t change your sexual orientation…” before you select it and it immediately lets you know what it’s about when you do. It certainly wouldn’t rise to the standard of requiring a harsh critique. As to charge #2 of hypocrisy against XGW, it is unsupported.
So since there was no hypocrisy on the part of exgaywatch, it makes me question why the cheap shot?
Was it a genuine analysis and belief that we are biased and hypocritical? With such a weak case for the hypocrisy charge, it seems unlikely.
Perhaps it reflects an obsession? After all, there is a tendency on the part of some sites to find objection to exgaywatch whenever possible. But I doubt that is it either.
I suspect that the accusation of hypocrisy reflects something else. I think that it is a reaction to what is perceived to be hostility on our part. I suspect that there are people who are seeking to live an ex-gay life that feel that we at XGW are unkind to them or are unsympathetic to where they are in life.
Speaking solely for myself, I think this has some justification. I have not always been careful to distinguish between anti-gay activists and ex-gay persons and have been quick to offer my suspicions about the motives, honesty, or feelings about ex-gay individuals.
At this time of year it is traditional to reflect on the past year and resolve to be better. I think that now is a good time for me to look forward to 2006 and resolve:
* to fight the lies of anti-gay activists
* to expose when ex-gay ministries behave as anti-gay activists
* to show love, compassion, and support for those persons who – for purposes of their own – choose to live as ex-gay