1 Arrival......a few thank you's helped
twelve months ago I was alone, weeping in a hotel room in West Hollywood.
I sobbed deeply,
as if grief had overcome me. It began while I was watching the DVD of the only session I
missed during the previous four days of the Exodus conference. I wasn't just
weeping over the devastating story told by Robert and Linda who had lost their
gay son Ryan. but for the endless stories I have been hearing now from LGBT
(lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people for nearly two decades. It had
happened numerous times as people shared with me the tragic outcomes, theirs,
and others' ignorance had created in their lives. There is nothing more tragic
than a suicide. A life lost, young or old, when it could have been so much
better for them.
I'd toughened up or become de-sensitized to the pain, but no, it was rising
overwhelmingly in me again, triggering memories of my own darkness and
struggle. Twenty years after I had left my time in one of the world's first
ex-gay programs, believing one day I
would be straight, I was facing a chilling reality. In 1991, in the darkness I
stood on the cliff edge, knowing what I had to face the following
day, wavering, should I walk back home or walk off the cliff? .
twenty years now after that bleak night I was questioning, was I a true
survivor a victim or casualty of the ex-gay "Change is Possible"
the Exodus Conference
To say it
felt weird, walking onto the Concordia University campus in Irvine CA to attend
the Exodus conference "True Stories" on the 20th of June, would be an
time I was in Irvine was 2007, as the only Australian, to attend the first Ex-gay Survivors Conference. The Survivors
conference was held at the Irvine University campus to coincide with the Exodus
"Freedom" Conference, only kilometres away, where 1,000 had gathered
to hear the message preached "Freedom from Homosexuality".
Now here I
was, exactly six years later, at the Exodus Freedom Conference; the 'enemy'
camp as it were. .
didn't seem right. Not many people around and poor signage made it difficult to
find the separate registration area. Too much about the next four days was
unknown to me so I'd chosen to stay in a nearby hotel to escape if I had to.
Attending the conference meetings and workshops was going to be challenging
enough without staying in that environment 24 hours a day.
I knew I
had limited time to get registration sorted out as preceding emails warned me
of tight security and without registration, no one, and I mean no one was
getting into the auditorium for the first crucial meeting. Where was the slick,
well-oiled, American razzmatazz of the big ex-gay machine and the 1,000's
attending I had read and heard so much about? Maybe it had been a clever
branding exercise and Exodus didn't have the millions of dollars people
claimed. The university campus was deserted for the summer break, adding to the
eerie feeling. Occasional passers-by smiled and said hello. No-one I saw seemed
very excited. Possibly the recent developments were already having an impact.
there would be one other person attending I knew. My friend Jim Burroway from Box Turtle Bulletin had also been granted permission to
attend. As far as I knew we were the only two gay advocates there. Everyone
else was from the "other side".
I was really waiting to finally meet face to face, was Alan Chambers: the
president of Exodus International.
But what was Anthony Venn-Brown doing
at the Exodus conference?
who has publicly stated his goal is to see all ex-gay programs close in Australia
and worked consistently to de-construct the ex-gay "Change is
Possible" myth frequently promoted by ex-gay/reparative/conversion leaders
Manning Chambers (AMC) and I began communicating three years earlier in 2010.
As the name
implies, Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International philosophy is to reach
out and build bridges where we can. Dialogue always creates better outcomes
than attacking. "It's better to have
a long conversation than a raging debate" to quote Alan Chambers tweet
of February 2013. I agreed and retweeted.
disclose all that is in the email communications over three years,. I learnt
very early, doing bridge building, about the need for confidentiality and
providing a safe space for those we are dialoguing with. It's not an option,
it's essential. I gave Alan my word I would not disclose the content of our
discussions without his consent. He often said go ahead.
journey began in October 2010.
time, Exodus withdrew its support from the Day of Truth, held the same day as
the Day of Silence. On the Day of Silence, founded in 1996, students take "a
vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and
harassment in their schools,". In 2005, a number of ultra conservative
groups, including Exodus International, banded together to create a counter
campaign called The Day of Truth. The Day of Truth “was established to counter the
promotion of homosexual behaviour and to express an opposing viewpoint from a
spate of well publicized gay youth suicides
in 2010, Exodus pulled out of the Day of Truth and Alan's statement on the
Exodus International website read. "All the recent attention to
bullying helped us realize that we need to equip kids to live out biblical
tolerance and grace while treating their neighbours as they'd like to be
treated, whether they agree with them or not."
I sent Alan
an email expressing my gratitude and re-enforcing why their new decision was
personal background introduction I wrote
"I’ve just read a report that Exodus is not supporting the Day of Truth to counteract the
Day of Silence…….in light of the recent revelations of gay youth suicide. Of
course what many of us know is that this is not a spike in suicides they have
been going on for decades. What is really sad is that it has taken so long to
mobilise people to change this tragedy.
I wanted to say thank you for that……and the
acknowledgement of the potential for further harm.
Whilst we may hold differing views there is a higher
purpose we are all called to……love.
Some have used Exodus and its message to justify and
promote hate……and reject those they should love.
So thanks for taking this recent step…….it will literally
I knew that
there would have been an avalanche of emails pouring into Exodus and wondered
if I would even get a response. It was refreshing to get a brief, but courteous
reply from Alan himself, considering other Christian leaders and organisations had chosen to
ignore several polite emails instead.
point, every time Alan or Exodus said or did something positive, I sent an
email expressing my appreciation. And there were several opportunities to do
Exodus quietly removed articles about homosexuality being demonic possession
and that exorcisms were one way of freeing a person from their
same-sex-attractions. (This is still believed by Exodus Global
Alliance. Exodus Global Alliance is a loose affiliation of ex-gay ministries
around the world that was separate to the much larger and more influential
North American Exodus International)
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© Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.
Labels: alan chambers, exodus, exodus global alliance