Creating Change Conference gathers LGBT luminaries against hate
Late last month, Baltimore hosted the Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s 24th National conference on LGBT equality, “Creating Change.”1 There, I had the opportunity to speak with John Becker, the Director of Communications and Development for Truth Wins Out (TWO)2, a nonprofit organization that seeks to document and fight against anti-LGBT extremism. Merike Andre-Barrett reports from Baltimore…
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2011 often appeared to be a year of “fringe” politics in which homophobic nut jobs like Herman Cain and Rick Santorum spoke about gay being a choice and gay marriage being akin to polygamy. It was also the year that we watched in disgust as Michele Bachmann’s husband, Marcus, was outed “praying the gay away” through so-called “reparative” therapies performed by his employees at Bachmann & Associates. However, as we turned the corner into 2012 and the Republican presidential primaries heated up the “fringe” appeared to start to fall away, the homophobic diatribe continued with Newt Gingrich comparing gay marriage to paganism, explaining to allow it would be a “fundamental violation of our civilization.”
Late last month, Baltimore hosted the Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s 24th National conference on LGBT equality, “Creating Change.” There, I had the opportunity to speak with John Becker, the Director of Communications and Development for Truth Wins Out (TWO), a nonprofit organization that seeks to document and fight against anti-LGBT extremism. Becker is also the man who went undercover as a client at Bachmann & Associates in order to expose its ‘ex-gay’ therapy practices. He described his experiences as “surreal,” detailing the therapist’s “fishing expedition” into his past on the assumption that something must have happened to him to cause him to be gay. (Possible culprits included his lack of opportunities to develop his masculinity, his tenor voice training as well as his stumbling upon gay porn at an early age.) Becker was also encouraged to find a heterosexual man to act as an AA-type sponsor and referred to Outpost Ministries, an ex-gay ministry whose mandate is “to help the sexually and relationally broken find healing and restoration through relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The ideological power behind the ex-gay industry is upsetting enough. What is important to acknowledge, however, is the money that stands behind such ideology, propelling it forward with the necessary media and person power to advance corresponding policy. Digging up some information on Gingrich’s candidacy, for example, reveals his endorsement by Don Wildmon, the founder of the American Family Association (AFA) which prides itself on standing up against the proponents of the “gay agenda” in the name of protecting marriage and the family.Mitt Romney, who has tried to position himself as more moderate than Santorum or Gingrich, has demonstrated his support of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in tax-exempt donations – donations that in some part were connected to the LDS’s backing of Prop 8 in California. Additionally, as the Human Rights Campaign reported, Romney donated $10,000 to the Massachusetts Family Institute in 2006. The Institute is a proponent of the perspective that sexual orientation is a choice and advocates the “healing of individuals who wish to change their choice of lifestyle.” Becker agreed that what TWO’s work has demonstrated is that these anti-LGBT extremist groups are not necessarily as “fringe” as we would like to believe and that they are linked both financially and ideologically to some seemingly more “mainstream” politics.
And, while Michele Bachmann dropped out of race for Republican nomination in this year’s presidential election, she is by no means powerless. Her leadership PAC is well-funded, she tours the country spreading anti-gay messages shared by her Tea Party supporters and continues to reference her husband, Marcus, as one of her biggest political advisors. While he initially denied the claim that his Christian counseling practice provides conversion therapy, he later spoke about the treatment in the following way: “Is it a remedy form that I would typically use? It is at the client’s discretion.” It should be noted that Bachmann’s counseling center has received Minnesota Medicaid payments over $137,000 for the treatment of clients since 2005 and over $24,000 in state grants to train its employees.
Sadly, beyond the larger political sphere, are the personal effects of the anti-gay industry. As Becker thought to himself after going through the undercover operation at Bachmann & Associates “I am an out, proud, happily married gay man, very secure in who I am, and I kept thinking…my God, what if 16-year-old me had found a place like this?” And close to the host location for the “Creating Change” conference this year, it was discovered that earlier last week a public high school in Montgomery County, Maryland, was distributing pamphlets from the group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, one of the major groups advocating reparative therapy. Sometimes the “fringe” doesn’t feel marginal enough.