Earlier this week, Boyd K. Packer, president of the Mormon Church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles, gave a sermon that endorsed discrimination against gay people and claimed that they could be converted into heterosexuals.
Conveniently, Packer failed to point out that the keynote speaker at the Mormon “ex-gay” group Evergreen’s September conference was John Paulk – the supposedly cured family man that I photographed in a Washington, DC gay bar in 2000.
No matter how many millions of dollars religious organizations squander on this fatal fantasy, or how loudly they preach this destructive lie – there is no evidence that one can pray away the gay. The idea that millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people will abandon rich, satisfying lives to become “ex-gay” is equal parts propaganda and pipedream.
Given the fact that LGBT people exist and are not going anywhere, the Religious Right has two choices:
1) It can accept that LGBT people are on a trajectory to be embraced by mainstream society
2) Or, it can suppress this rapidly growing trend through intimidation and violence
In the past year, I believe, the LGBT movement has reached a tipping point, where there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. Polls are in favor of equal rights and widespread acceptance is seeping into nearly every sphere of society.
Anti-gay activists see the writing on the wall and are reacting rabidly by spewing unprecedented amounts of biblical bile. The attitude of these extremists can be summed up by The Call’s Lou Engle, who said at an anti-gay seminar in Lynchburg, Va., earlier this year, that without a Godly intercession, the LGBT movement would win.
Of course, there will be no Godly intercession, anymore than there will ever be a mass exodus into the silly “ex-gay” ministries. And, this is precisely why organizations like Focus on the Family, The Minnesota Family Council, and Exodus International fight tooth and nail against programs that would stop anti-gay bullying.
The horrible truth is that the Religious Right needs the threat of violence and selective use of terror to keep young people from living openly and honestly. They even have entire websites, such as TrueTolerance.org, and annual events, like the “Day of Truth”, to ensure bullying remains a bloody right of passage for many gay students.
Indeed, Focus on the Family’s True Tolerance website smarmily states, “Concerned about homosexual advocacy in your child’s school? You’ve come to the right place.”
Our foes would deny that violence is their intention, and no doubt many of them would prefer a neat and clean conversion, before a messy reversion to brute force. But, Dr. Joseph Berger revealed how the right genuinely believes gender norms should be enforced.
“…let the other children ridicule the (gay or transgender) child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world,” wrote Berger, a “Scientific” Advisory Committee member of the “ex-gay” therapy group NARTH. “Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary.”
How do such “academic” ideas play out in the real world?
Ask 11-year old Tyler Wilson, a victim of such boundary enforcement. Last month bullies broke his arm because he joined his school’s cheering team. Also last month, at least six gay youth committed suicide, by way of bridge jumping, hanging, and gunshot wound.
The closet is also enforced for adults by roaming thugs who use violence to let LGBT people know their place. In the heavily gay neighborhood of Chelsea, a group of friends were attacked this weekend with fists and a metal garbage can, while the assailants yelled, “Go home faggots. This is our neighborhood.”
Actually, this is my neighborhood, with my apartment only one block away from where this gay bashing incident occurred.
I have also had drinks at the historic Stonewall Inn – birthplace of the modern LGBT movement and the scene of an equally horrific anti-gay hate crime this past weekend.
On a street corner where I have held hands with my partner, I now must look over my shoulder. In a bar where I once imbibed carefree, I must now be on guard. Even if the perpetrators are caught and jailed, the damage to all LGBT people is done.
Breeding such insecurity, at root, is why the Religious Right vehemently opposes efforts in schools to stop bullying. As long as no place feels completely safe, the church-inspired closet will maintain the illusion of a safe haven.
The unholy marriage of the bully and the pulpit really is all anti-gay activists have left in their arsenal to defeat the LGBT movement. No matter how many youth commit suicide or adults are gay-bashed, don’t expect our foes to give up their trump card of violence anytime soon.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”