A Weekend Response to NARTH (Lifting Luggage and the Soulforce Symposium)

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Well, I just got home from Philadelphia, where I participated in both the “Lift Your Luggage” protest as well as some of the Soulforce Symposium. Click on the image at left to open my photo gallery from the protest, then tune in to tomorrow’s Queer and Queerer (Ep. 30) to hear two wonderful interviews from the symposium.

I feel good about the protest, where we had about 40 people with a number of great speakers. I was also glad to see Equality Pennsylvania and my fellow bloggers Joe Jervis and Jeremy Hooper there. As I’ve written before, I think it’s important to create visible responses to groups who actively work against equality and that perpetuate harm against our community. I think this is especially true of groups like NARTH who are not always visible nationally, but whose work has not diminished and who continue to rope young people into their narrow fold.

You may recall that over the past year, there were two separate court cases regarding graduate psychology students who refused to serve LGBT clients (I wrote about them back in July here and here). In both cases they were not able to complete their degrees, and both sued and lost. They may sound like exceptions, but the contingent of anti-gay “professional” psychologists continue to recruit. In fact, this NARTH conference had a whole contingent of graduate students (with workshops specifically targeting recruiting them). There were also a number of young people at the NARTH conference who are undergoing therapy and wanted to learn more and touch base with others.

I hope that those young people saw us out there. I hope they haven’t become so enmeshed in the dogma of anti-gay junk science that they can still think—can still question. I hope they don’t waste decades of their life like some NARTHers have, reinforcing ideas that are condemned and denounced by the scientific community at large. I hope that through their weekend of lectures about shame and suppressing psychoanalysis, with plenary pseudo-science sessions led by religion leaders, that they doubt, at least a little bit. Once they stop doubting, they could be lost for good.

I don’t have as much to say about the Soulforce Symposium, as I was only able to attend a couple of sessions. (Check out Soulforce’s YouTube channel to see a lot of great footage from the symposium.) The leaders of Soulforce informed me that they are making efforts to be less religious (particularly in the wake of Foundation Beyond Belief’s decision not to support them), but from my afternoon and evening there, it was evident that there is still an extremely strong Christian influence and undercurrent. I knew that going in; I knew that it was not a space where I would feel totally included. One religious leader on a panel kept speaking of things we must “lift up,” while others spoke out “Amen,” in agreement of various points made.

For better or worse, that is the culture of that group. People seek it out to reconcile their faith, and still see it as a safe place to exercise that faith. I struggle with this, because I am very much about discouraging faith. I see not having faith as a good thing, so I am very triggered by messages of reinforcement. Perhaps to vent a bit of it, I once heard myself snarkily say, “So say we all” after a comment I heard others Amen-ing. I understand that a conference to support ex-gay survivors has to be welcoming of religion, as many of those folks have/had dedicated themselves quite deeply to their faith and still might be figuring out how they make meaning. Still, I struggle when the alternative is not equally promoted—when no one is willing to reach out and say that being an atheist can also be a good thing (a topic I plan to explore a bit in a supplemental post).

What I think concerns me most is how little the rest of the LGBT movement is concerned with the ex-gay movement. There seems to be a sense that only those who seek out ex-gay therapy are the ones hurt and thus the impact of the ex-gay movement is minimal. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as it is groups like NARTH, Exodus International, and Focus on the Family, who not only are quite vocal against all queer equality efforts, but who also provide the most ammunition to our other opponents through their lies and myths. (Comments made this weekend by Marine General James Amos against DADT repeal reek of the age-old myth that homosexuality is contagious.) In addition, the sense that their ministries are shrinking is oblivious to the fact that they are growing immensely on an international scale, and are almost solely responsible for Uganda’s proposed bill to implement the death penalty for homosexuality (as just one example of the threat they pose).

Until the day the greater equality movement acknowledges that these groups truly are our arch-nemeses and takes a more universal approach to debunking them, they will continue to be a scourge on our families and communities. I hope you’ll listen to my interview with Christine Robinson on this week’s Queer and Queerer (Ep. 30) where we discuss this further.

More than anything, I applaud those ex-gay survivors who exercise the courage to speak out on a regular basis and make their story heard. This weekend, a young man stepped out named Chaim Levin, and his story will soon be heard on Nightline. He joins the ranks of folks like Peterson Toscano, Christine Bakke, Jallen Rix, Jacob Wilson, Jason Conner, Daniel Gonzalez, and the many others who have committed their lives to supporting those who survive these wicked “therapies.”

Many might think that one or the other of these events wasn’t important, and certainly the overlap of the two was minimal. I think both are. There need to be folks who protest, who speak out, who are aggressive, and who challenge those who persecute us. There also need to be folks who educate, who create structures of support for those hurt by these causes. While some might only feel they belong at one or the other, I applaud all those who support either and see the need to resist lies and fallacies that continue to destroys lives and families. Kudos to all who made this weekend possible.

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There are 4 Comments to "A Weekend Response to NARTH (Lifting Luggage and the Soulforce Symposium)"

  • Jeffrey H Jordan says:

    Thans for the coverage of the response to NARTH. What you left out however, is the little known fact that members of Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia rented a room in the hotel where the NARTH conference was held. The members spent all day Friday and Saturday morning in the hotel lobby dressed in pro-gay shirts and confronting NARTH conference participants

    • ZackFord says:

      Reverend Jordan, you are right! I did leave that out and I apologize! I’ve really appreciated your activism both this weekend and when I first met you at the Harrisburg NOM counterprotest. I’d love if you could write some more here in the comments about that experience and the interactions you had!

  • Fantasia T. says:

    I was there as well. Great pics and coverage!

  • Seida Bacon says:

    That’s my nephew with the Ex-Gay No Way! sign… I woulda been there myself, but I have a hard time restraining myself with these people to a “non-violent” level! Thanks for all your hard work, Zack!

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