GAYDAR: Sarah, You CANNOT ‘Pray Away The Gay’

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AaronAvatar_1.jpgBY AARON STELLA GAYDAR EDITOR Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, an organization fighting right wing lies and the “ex-gay” fraud, recently urged Sarah Palin to “come out” about her church’s beliefs about ex-gay ministries. Palin’s church supported an ex-gay conference that was held in Anchorage on September 10th, 2008. According to TWO, Palin agrees that homosexuality can be cured through prayer—so every god-fearing Christian needs to join the crusade. What Palin’s church and other religious sects affiliated with ex-gay ministries withhold from the public is how few homosexuals have been “cured” and how many have run screaming from these ministries, with their sanity and sexual orientation intact. Besen was out in California at the time the interview took place. Lo and behold, just the morning prior, a raucous band of pro-lifers wielding pickets with mutilated fetuses were protesting outside the hotel in which he was staying. Quite the appropriate happenstance that the very right-wingers Besen is combating would turn up on his doorstep.

 

Phawker: Tell me a little about the history of Truth Wins Out: how it all got started, how a mission plan sort of came together, and where you wanted to go with it.

 

Besen: Well, you know it’s interesting. I was working in the Human Rights Campaign in 1988; and at that time, right wing groups around the country launched a million dollar campaign to tell America that you can “pray away the gay”. And they headed it up with an ad in the New York Times.

 

Phawker: What?

 

Besen: Yeah. I started working in HRC right then in Washington D.C.; and so I started to go to these religious GAY.jpgconferences for “pray away the gay”. I started noticing that there wasn’t a lot of information available on the topic—nothing to protect homosexuals. I thought to myself, ‘you know, there has to be some more information’. So I started researching the subject; and eventually, I decided to write a book on the issue. Sure enough, the day I started outlining the book, my colleague from HRC gives me a call and tells me that he’s getting hit on at the gay bar by the poster boy of the ex-gay ministry, John Paul. So I run over there, photograph him, and that became the cover of my book, and the first chapter. So I went ahead and wrote the book and decided to get out of the HRC business and more on to other things. And then I here that George W. Bush has invited Alan Camers of Exodus International [another ex-gay ministry] over to the White House—and that was just too much for me. So I decided to launch Truth Wins Out since nobody was doing anything about the harm these groups were doing. And, you know, one thing led to another, and sure enough, here I am. It’s been a real wonderful ride and I’ve helped a lot of people; put more pressure on Focus for the Family [another ex-gay ministry] and Exodus International.

 

Phawker: Have you had any success disbanding these prayers groups, these “pray away the gay” groups? I’m somewhat familiar with them. I’m from the South. I lived in a cult for a while with my family.

 

Besen: Oh, which cult?

 

Phawker: Are you familiar with the Allelulia Community? They’re based in Augusta, Georgia.

 

Besen: Are they still there?

 

Phawker: They are. You can go to their web site at www.yeslord.com.

 

Besen: Oh my god. I’m impressed. “Yes Lord”, I really can’t believe it.

 

Phawker: Yeah, but I’m sure there’s worse. So, tell me, were any of your advocacy efforts successful in disbanding or destabilizing those prayer groups?

 

godhatesfags2_1.jpgBesen: Well I talk to people across the country, and they thank me for helping them get out of this mess. So from an individual perspective, yeah, I have made headway. I had people tell me that they’ve been able to keep their families together from the information they’ve gotten from my book, or from TWO. And that’s very satisfying. Now, the problem with putting these types out of business is that it’s kind of like an assembly line of liar and failures—frauds really—that you have to take on. We’ve already knocked out two of the top leaders. There was another one—we got him kicked out the American Counseling Association, Richard Kellogg. And you know, that’s what happens: you knock out these bigwig frauds, and there’s always some sucker, some failure, who’s waiting to replace him. What I’m trying to do is build a systematic case of why these groups are harmful, by calling people out and exposing their leaders. Another front we’re looking at is filing lawsuits against these horrible groups. We’re going to be launching a legal brochure soon that we hope will alert people that they can take legal action if they are ever harmed. But, I think for the real headway to be made is to make such an embarrassment of these groups, such as Focus on the Family, that they start losing money. And when that happens, they start becoming these fringe groups, like they were before 1988, and begin to vanish off the face of the earth.

 

Phawker: They’re like wandering peddlers selling a cure-all, these groups.

 

Besen: Yeah, that’s it: they’re like snake oil salesmen. And so, we’re trying to expose them—as far as that goes. But you know, even at this point, it’s going to take something spectacular to really put them under. At the same time, we’re only really about one or two scandals away from that happening. I mean, they’re at the point now that they’re so radioactive and ridiculous: we cut them back when I photographed John Paul, and when I exposed Michael Johnson for having bareback orgies. So those things set them back; and they stay quiet for a few years. But you know, if we had the infrastructure that we have now—like Internet blogs, and things of the like—back then, these people wouldn’t be around anymore. But we just didn’t have that kind of stuff. Before, we had to rely on mainstream media to spread the word—but not anymore. And before, the religious right-wingers used the media as an echo chamber; but now, we’ve been able to counteract their efforts with the Internet. Now, a person can get their message out with a lot less money. On the other hand, before, you could get yourself on a network and have your message broadcasted to the world; now, it’s a process of constantly getting updated information out there. And now it’s better, especially for smaller audiences, in the way that information can reach them quickly.

 

Phawker: So then, what type of information do you use to combat the dogma of religious doctrine, particularly that which constitutes the hocus-pocus, or the methods of curing gayness employed by these groups?

 

Besen: The first thing I wanted to do was close the gap on the emotional advantage: in that, they, these groups, have homophobia_1.JPGbeen putting out false testimonials for decades. And so, what we’ve done is videotape the survivors from these groups; their stories are very emotional. You know, so many people have been hurt by these groups. I show these tapes at the opening of talks, because, “pray away the gay” groups spread the word of these miraculous changes in people; but in fact, all of them are prefabricated with lies. There are so many stories of people who have been hurt. And you know, to supplement the testimonies, we integrate scientific information, as well as humanistic information; biological; however, the science isn’t perfect, but there is a wellspring of information that shows that homosexuality is not a chosen aspect which someone takes one voluntarily. And then, I think the most important thing we talk about the techniques used by “pray away the gay” groups. They employ some really bizarre techniques. Even conservatives have to laugh, in my opinion. If you’re a serious person, you’re going to laugh at what’s being used to cure people of their homosexuality.

 

Phawker: What are some of those techniques? Electro-shock therapy? Anointing with oil?

 

Besen: They’ll time you in the bathroom, making sure your not doing anything impure. They’ll tell you to shop at a grocery store late a night because it’s less likely your going to run into somebody attractive or whatever. They’ll encourage you to drink Gatorade and call your friends “man” and “dude” and to be more masculine. I mean absolutely crazy stuff. We’re talking about playing only touch football with your buddies, not full-on tackle; not reading newspapers to make sure you don’t come across anything titillating.

 

Phawker: That is absolutely wild. But you know, no doubt these groups seek out impressionable sorts, people who are going to buy in to all the nonsense. I remember, living in the cult, how so many people were deceived with the ornaments of religious artifice. All kinds of people were deceived.

 

surrender_faggots.jpgBesen: The religious have made a complete mess of these peoples lives. You know, and these people could be anything from drug addicts, prostitutes, or people like you and me; and at some point, they all find their sexuality. And then these religious types swoop in and say, “See? It was your sexuality that screwed you up. We can cure you and give you a community that loves and supports you.” And you know, I always say that people aren’t looking for a religion, they’re looking for a regimen. And who’s better at providing a regimen other than cults, right? And it’s true: some people don’t do well on their own: they need that regimen. I think that pretty much describes the appeal of ex-gay ministries. So, is it like that in cults, these types of people who are drawn in?

 

Phawker: Absolutely. If you’re insecure, impressionable, or socially outcast, you’re vulnerable to the advances of these dogmatic bible-thumpers. I think that’s the best way to put it, the way you put it, that people aren’t looking for religion, that they’re looking for a regimen. People are: they’re looking for structure, for order.

 

Besen: Exactly. I mean, these people who are looking for a regimen aren’t very comfortable in their skin: they’re looking for an identity. They do feel lost to some degree. And a lot of time these people jump around from one cult to another till they find the right one that suits them. But nevertheless, they remain susceptible to the false promise that the religious can change your sexual identity.

 

Phawker: Let me ask you: what are your feelings about homosexuality? I mean, do you…

 

Besen: I like it.

 

Phawker: You like it (Laughter). Fair enough (Laughter). I mean to ask you the age-old question. Obviously you don’t think that homosexuality is a choice. That’s the whole point of your campaign. But, does that necessarily mean that genetics are completely responsible for the onset and perpetuation of homosexuality, or is there more to it?

 

Besen: Well, I mean, I can’t genetically engineer a homosexual. Then again, we don’t have the science to prove that. gaybotown.jpgBut it certainly isn’t a choice, or a psychological dysfunction. Many religious groups advocate that a broken family provokes homosexual tendencies; or a family, when gender roles are reversed or lapse into vagueness. But we have proof that there are many gay individuals who come from loving, accepting families that are a far cry healthier in my opinion than those oppressive religious families who cause who know how much harm to their family’s psyche. But, I am curious to see what science is able to find for us in the future; however, what I’m concerned with at the moment is making sure people are no longer getting hurt by these religious groups, and that they can live comfortably in their identity and find accepting and loving people after the fact; you know, that they don’t have to be religious to find a community of good people.

 

Phawker: I completely agree. I think the discussion is interesting; however, I don’t appreciate some of the endeavors some homosexuals embark on. I think that heterosexuality has been put on a pedestal since god knows when. And so, homosexuals have started to comb the annals of history and make anthropological claims that homosexuality is just natural and part of the order of things as heterosexuality. I my opinion, I think it’s just a wild goose chase. I think orientation should be considered as insignificant as eye-color and skin color. Like you said, I think we need to focus on helping people now, the way they are now. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Homosexuals aren’t broken humans, so stop trying to fix them.

 

Besen: Absolutely.

 

Phawker: Now, tell me your thoughts on Sarah Palin.

 

Besen: I think she’s out of her mind and that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I think she’s scared to let her true feelings be known because she knows that, even the American public won’t be so receptive to her beliefs on “pray away the gay”. I tell you, she’s a George W. Bush. She’s not well-read in any sense of the word. She hasn’t been anywhere. She’s only got a visa last year. She’s been cramming with training wheels on. I think everyone should be greatly concerned that she might be president one day. People should book an airline ticket to Canada just in case. (Unanimous laughter) And I am not joking. I think she’ll destroy this country; we’re already eight years in the hole because of Bush. I think people should be terrified of the prospect of her being anything but a dogcatcher. And even then I feel bad for the dogs. I mean, she’s not an idiot; but she’s not ready. I mean she needs to buy a newspaper subscription before she becomes president or vice president.

 

Phawker: Sure, but she’s a fool for trying to run when she isn’t ready. McCain was her ticket to political stardom: before, no one had even heard of her. I think this election is going to really hit home on what Americans are, at least in there majority. Cause it seems like we are the “team spirit” country who can be won over by a bunch of bells and whistles and sensationalistic hubbub.

 

Besen: Sarah Pain has absolutely no idea what’s going on in other countries. She knows nothing of China’s economic superiority, or about Russia, even though she claims she can see it from her house. You know, and our organization doesn’t really endorse anybody. We really aren’t so much concerned with politics. We are concerned with changing minds and helping people to live better, happier lives.

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