A small but impassioned group of gay-rights supporters convened in Irvine on Saturday in response to the upcoming Exodus International Freedom Conference. Exodus' notoriety for “praying the gay away” has effectively prayed these gays away from Christian fundamentalists like Exodus and into the arms of organizations like Equality California, California Faith for Equality, the Orange County Equality Coalition and Team Courage OC.
These groups and others sponsored the day-long “It's Not a ChOiCe” event at Irvine United Congregational Church to counter the approaching Exodus gathering. Over the past three and a half decades, Exodus has been the subject of both international controversy and acclaim for their belief that homosexuality can be willed away through faith in Jesus Christ.
“How can our society tolerate this foolishness?” asked keynote speaker Dr. Daniel Helminiak, a Catholic priest and University of West Georgia professor.
Bussee is one of the fallen angels of the ex-gay movement. The marriage and family therapist co-founded Exodus in Anaheim in 1976 but within three years came to reject the notion of leading young people from rainbows to rapture.
“They were sincere,” he said of Exodus's members. “Just sincerely wrong.”
Bussee said Exodus' rhetoric has transformed over the decades to become “deliberately deceptive.” They've been trying to repackage their old message–“use fear to steer queers” as Bussee put it–to something… gentler. In the process, they've cycled through the terms they use to describe their adherents, from “ex-gay” to “former homosexual” to “post-gay” to “SSA” (same-sex attraction) and back again. All the buzzwords mean one thing, though, said Bussee: “You're still gay.”
The counter-conference saw Exodus International being labeled as everything from slightly misguided to “the heart of evil and sin.” Progressive church leaders, activists, scientists, therapists, authors and students all shared their personal takes on the ex-gay debate. Even a comedian and an aspiring pop vocalist contributed. Their speeches, punchlines and songs all rang against the innumerable wall panels of the geometric interior of the church, which vaguely resembles Spaceship Earth at Disney World's Epcot.
Less academic and pedantic than most presenters, Joshua Romero provided a moving personal testimony about attending Love Won Out, an Exodus-sponsored ex-gay conference in St. Louis. Romero grew up in a loving, Christian home and attended Point Loma Nazarene University. He told his parents that he was gay one Thanksgiving break and, at their urging, attended Love Won Out that February. Romero said that psychological trauma, health problems, religious doubt and personal shame have afflicted him and his family ever since. But the fallout from the experience also led Romero to renew his faith and start Solace, a peer support ministry for Christians in the coming-out process.
Bussee explained to the crowd that Exodus was intended to be a small, hotline-based support service for struggling homosexuals who still wanted to maintain a relationship with God. But at some point, politics got in the way and Exodus jumped into the culture wars–even sending one of its board members to the conference in Uganda that is believed to have birthed the country's draconian, “kill-the-gays” bill.
On the next page: the top 10 quotes from the conference.
10) "I think they should [become] an ex-con artists' ministry.” — Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, about Exodus International and some of their leaders' propensity for fraud.
9) “This is the first time I've done comedy in the middle of the day in a church where everyone's sober.” — Comedian Cate Gary.
8) “Heck no, it was just fun.” — Exodus co-founder Michael Bussee, about playing doctor with his best friend growing up.
7) “All I can say is party on, Exodus.” — Wayne Besen
6) “Leave my visitors alone; rape my virgin daughters instead.” — Animated stick-figure illustrating the Bible's Sodom and Gomorrah story, from the short film Fish Out of Water.
5) “Well, sister, you've got a demon.” — Statement recalled by Michael Bussee; a telephone operator at Melodyland (Exodus' headquarters in the '70s) to a lesbian on the 24-hour hotline.
4) “Celibacy just isn't sexy.” — Wayne Besen, about Exodus pushing celibacy to individuals “struggling with same-sex attractions.”
3) “I haven't seen a movie trailer for The Lion Queen, Fan-gay-sia, Beast and the Beast or Pinocchio 2: Geppetto Finds a Real Boy.” — Cate Cary, about gays' supposed domination of children's media and education.
2) “This is the type of person needed to run a gas chamber.” — Scott Lively talking about homosexuals to a crowd of Ugandans, in a video presented by Jim Burroway. Lively is the author of The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party and one of the instigators of the anti-LGBT legislation in Uganda.
1) “Everybody loves lesbians… lesbians are magical. Like unicorns, but without the horns.” — Cate Gary.