Coming Out - of Homosexuality

by Nikhil Aziz

October 11th is National Coming Out Day, which for most lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (lgbt) people means coming out of the closet. But for some, coming out refers to the struggle of coming out of homosexuality!

Exodus International, one of the largest Ex-Gay groups in the country with operations around the world, held its annual conference in Asheville, NC, this past August. The convention offered a package deal of dogmatic religion and dubious psychotherapy to participants who were conflicted by their Christian beliefs and homosexual orientation. Discipline, prayer, and fellowship grounded in accepting Christ as their savior and God’s merciful love, together with heavy doses of widely discredited reparative therapy was the miraculous desire control pill on sale.

Exodus and the Ex-Gay movement is part of the larger Christian Right for whom homosexuality, as Frederick Clarkson argues, is a permanent and defining issue, to be opposed ideologically and politically. But unlike most of the Christian Right, including people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson who apparently knew something about homosexuals the rest of us didn’t (that we along with sundry others were responsible for 9/11), the Ex-Gay movement works in more insidious ways. It taps into a profound and burning need felt by thousands of people striving daily to resolve their sexual orientation with their faith.

What the Ex-Gay movement actually offers to such individuals is not a happy resolution of their conflict but the denial of a vital part of their humanity. Arguing that the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality but holiness, and saying that you need to reorient your identity in Christ, actually means that you reject your sexual orientation. Many of the speakers at the Exodus convention in fact did not claim that one could convert to heterosexuality. Rather they emphasized holiness—achievable through abstaining from the sin of homosexual behavior. Others presented workshops that implied conversion was in fact possible, including one on marriage (for men), that drew some of the largest crowds.

Unlike others in the Christian Right who frequently demonize gay people, convention speaker Dan Puumala cautioned against viewing lgbt people as the enemy, instead referring to them as “wheat ready for harvest.” While he was quick to point out that God is the harvester, Ex-Gay leaders believing that God works through them fan out across the world to minister to gay people and save their souls for Christ. Another plenary speaker, expressing approval of the significant numbers of women present, observed that outreach to lesbians was a major part of the work they aimed to do in future.

Mainstream as well as progressive religious groups and medical and psychiatric associations have variously condemned the religious and psychotherapeutic ingredients in the Ex-Gay prescription. Progressive faith groups such as Other Sheep work with lgbt Christians around the world to help them accept both their sexuality and their faith without having to suppress either. Much more needs to be done. The International Lesbian and Gay Association has instituted an ongoing dialogue on religion, homophobia, and ideology. This dialogue across faith traditions seeks to address homophobia within each—but what is even more crucial is ministering to those who very often have no place else to turn to but groups like Exodus.

On October 11th secular lgbt people and groups need to come out in acknowledging the genuine conflict many individuals undergo regarding their sexuality and their faith. Similarly, mainstream and progressive religious groups need to come out in reaching out to those individuals to enable them to resolve that tension within the fullness of their humanity.

Opinions by Nikhil Aziz

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