Orange County's ex-gay-dar rocketed off the charts this past week as roughly 600 people gathered to attend Exodus International's Freedom Conference at Concordia University, while about 60 demonstrated outside the gates of the fortress-like campus last Saturday.
The small Christian university, nestled in the arid hills of Irvine, was this year's designated home of the international ex-gay movement. While the organization's official rhetoric has a tendency to shift, Exodus tries to counteract "the homosexual lifestyle" and "same-sex attractions" through Christian ministry and prayer. Their website reads "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ."
I was denied access to every conference session except the kick-off "general session" last Wednesday night, in which Exodus head-honcho Alan Chambers spoke to the crowd. The emcee jokingly said that if you don't wear proper credentials at all times, "they will tackle you down." I didn't want to test this out.
Several days later, however, a very special package was delivered to the Orange County Equality Coalition's protest camp outside the gates: unwanted delegate credentials from a registered conference participant, and cookies.
OC Equality Coalition's Linda May approached both the ID and the sweets without trepidation.
"I was the only one willing to eat the cookies," she joked, "I don't think they were poisoned."
More importantly, May used her newly acquired fake-ID of sorts to gain access into various small group sessions, in order "to see what [the conference] was all about," she said.
"They're not telling you you're a bad person overtly," she commented. But "they assume that gay means compulsive... [is] me being in love with my partner is an addiction? No, it's just who we fall in love with."
Indeed, Exodus International is not an exceedingly militant or aggressive organization; they are not the Westboro Baptist Church--no "God Hates Fags" rhetoric. Exodus staffers and participants forge a community and (at least for the week) stand united, albeit through pain and guilt.
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