Perhaps taking his cue from Exodus’s increasing involvement in US politics, British ex-gay James Parker has weighed in on the UK’s new Sexual Orientation Regulations. The SORs are an attempt to apply the same anti-discrimination laws to gays and lesbians that already apply to race and gender because of the Equality Act 2006. Under these rules, a hotel, say, cannot refuse a room to a couple simply because they are gay; businesses and services must be equally open to straights and gays. By the same token, of course, a gay bar cannot refuse service to straight people. After failing a challenge in the House of Lords, the regulations became UK law on Wednesday last week.
The most discussed consequence of the regulations has been the demand that Catholic adoption agencies no longer refuse to place children with gay parents. After much controversy, the Labour Government announced that there would be no exemptions.
Self-described “post-gay” Rev Peter Ould has rightly supported rules outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, and has condemned Christians who would deny gays and lesbians equal rights to services. He has been outspoken in criticizing the regulations for threatening freedom of speech, however, arguing that there is no protection against Christians who preach the “biblical” message of condemnation for homosexual acts. Acknowledging that priests and ordained leaders are specifically exempt, he is worried that lay Christians will find themselves being criminalized for condemning homosexuality.
And, of course, there have been the outright extremists, such as the group who made the outrageous claim that the new regulations would force schools to use graphic sexual images to teach 6-year-olds how to experiment sexually with each other’s bodies. (You can read a full transcript here.)
Into the fray stepped James Parker, of People Can Change, who appeared twice on BBC radio last week, arguing the familiar line that homosexual desire is “ultimately a cry to have some of our deepest unmet needs for healthy masculine connection fulfilled.” According to Anglican Mainstream, this was the first time an ex-gay has been interviewed on a British news programme. This is probably accurate, possibly due to the relative invisibility of ex-gay organizations in the UK.
In fairness, it is not clear whether Parker volunteered himself for the interviews as a way of entering the political debate over the SORs, or the BBC sought him out. He did not address the SORs directly, although it is worth noting that he has expressed his opinions on the Catholic adoption controversy elsewhere:
As a man who was adopted as a child and who used to be gay and fully lived the gay lifestyle, I have to wholeheartedly disagree with Ben Summerskill’s [of Stonewall] angle on lesbians and gays adopting children.
For a child to be taken away from its biological father and mother, from whom it is created, can often be traumatic enough. For lawmakers and society at large to then hoodwink the same child into believing that two men or two women can provide the necessary maternal and paternal love and care needed for it to mature into a balanced identity is at best deeply delusional and at worst further destructive to the child’s well-being.
The primary need of an adopted child, and the most suitable environment, is a healthy experience of family where commitment and balanced parenting can be received. This place is the marriage of a man and woman.
Speaking to Radio Two’s Jeremy Vine on Thursday, Parker reiterated the view that homosexuality is the product of a dysfunctional childhood. Echoing a popular claim of the ex-gay movement, Parker claimed homosexuality is at root about masculinity; it is a gender issue:
I realized this wasn’t just about sexuality; this was about the very way that I saw myself as a man; this was about the very way I interacted with friends, with family, with those around me; even my own sense of self-esteem needed to be addressed … So there’s a number of different issues, adapted behaviours, if you like, that when they gather together, I believe, we believe, bring about an attraction towards one’s own sex, which manifests itself homosexually.
In a tellingly patronizing comment, Parker responded to the question “Does your wife struggle with your background at all?” thus:
Not at all. She knows I’m a real man.
There were one or two other “telltale” points made that I would like to pick up on. First, Vine asked, “Do you still feel attracted to men?”, and Parker replied,
Do I – well, let’s put it this way: I can put my hand on my heart and say, “He’s an attractive man.” But I’ve no desire to have sex with him. And that’s the big difference.
I have no wish to speculate on whether individual ex-gays have “really changed,” but I find the tone of the response indicative of the ex-gay movement’s continual sidestepping of the issue of whether orientation really changes. If I ask a straight male friend, “Are you attracted to men?”, they would have no problem answering with a direct “No.” Why, when the same question is asked of an ex-gay, is there so much prevarication? When there is so much confusion as to the relationship between reality and rhetoric in the ex-gay movement, why don’t ex-gay leaders end the confusion and just speak plainly? Jeremy Vine asked Parker a very clear question and received a very unclear answer.
Second, when asked about his faith, Parker endorsed secular ex-gay therapy as a route to heterosexuality, as opposed to “ministry”:
I’ve met a number of people who [aren’t] Christians, but who purely through scientific methods, through clinical therapy, have also come through homosexuality into a fuller heterosexual identity.
Third, I was surprised by this statement:
What we today term as “gay” is, say, a gathering-together of different adapted behaviours, often that relate back to some of our earliest childhood, many of the memories that we just don’t have a recollection of. And what happens is we seek in some way, because we’ve adapted these behaviours, it means that those behaviours, if they’re changed, means that change within the very make-up of who we are is possible.
Did Parker just say that if behaviour is changed, change of orientation may follow? This sounded like an outside-in approach to change, and I would be interested in hearing this clarified. Of course, this was in an unscripted radio interview, and none of us ends up saying precisely what he means in such a context.
On another note, Parker’s segment was preceded by an interview with an anonymous participant in the Living Waters programme. The subtext of his comments struck me as an indictment of how Christians, including ex-gays, tend to portray the gay “lifestyle” in a way that ignores the fact that the exact same behaviours take place in the heterosexual lifestyle:
Instead of me having just a normal, um, teenage life, instead of just playing around, kicking a ball with the other lads, I was probably in some toilets with some stranger that I had never met and I was really living, like, a double life.
This is a telling contrast between gay and “normal” (ie straight): anonymous sex in a toilet versus an innocent game of soccer with friends. Did he not realize that straight teenagers also lead “double lives” full of secrecy and promiscuous sex? Lest this be construed as a personal attack on the interviewee, I do not doubt that the way he related his story simply reflects the same conditioning experienced by other ex-gay Christians who have been exposed to a particularly blinkered view of homosexuality.
The first (and briefest) of James Parker’s BBC interviews can be heard at Peter Ould’s site. The longer interview, with Jeremy Vine, can only be heard via the BBC website until some time on Thursday March 29.[Thanks to Peterson for his help in preparing this story.]