Debunking the "Ex-Gay" Myths
|by Joan M. Garry|
Theres a reason why station managers have given pause before airing a series of ads touting "conversion" for lesbians and gay men. Yes, theyre controversial. Yes, theyre advocacy ads. But at its core, the so-called "Truth in Love" campaign isnt about either of the principles it purports to represent. Its deceptive, its morally bankrupt and it espouses beliefs that are anything but loving.
People struggling to accept either their own sexual orientation or that of their friends and relatives are likely to be even more confused by this campaign, which paints lesbians and gay men as diseased and doomed to both unhappiness and ungodlinessa picture that is clearly inaccurate.
Certainly, television executives must scrutinize carefully their reasons for rejecting advertisements. But it is equally important that they recognize the dangers of spreading misinformation and perpetuating damaging mythologies. As two cable outfits in Orlando put it, this campaign holds the potential for "subjecting the gay and lesbian community to discrimination."
Sponsors claim that rejections by network affiliates in Washington, DC, and Orlando, Fla., were unfair, since their networks have lesbian, gay and bisexual characters represented in their prime time shows, and that those stations silenced one side of a cultural debate. Theyve called this censorship. But it isnt: its about the basic need for truth in advertising, and their allegations are easily discredited when you look at the facts.
Try to break it down. On the one hand, this campaign is based on supposed "truths" that have been denounced by the nations leading voices on mental health and physical well-being. On the other, its being co-sponsored by groups claiming to be compassionate and loving, when they have no qualms about meanspirited campaigning in their private discourse. The American Family Association (AFA) said in its January newsletter: "If we maintain that homosexuality is a sin, we must not only defend that position but develop a strategy where we pursue homosexuals and urge them to repent." You dont pursue people compassionately.
Here is the real truth: The American Psychiatric Association says that "[t]here is no evidence that any treatment can change
a homosexual persons deep-seated sexual feelings for others
of the same sex," and reparative therapy poses risks "including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior."
And what of the "love" these groups claim to be spreading? The websites and publications of the co-sponsors show a different message. Here are examples:
Exodus International compared lesbians and gay men to lepers, saying: "[w]e want to see gays changed but we dont want them to get too close."
The AFA similarly likened us to serial killers, saying: "If we discovered that being a serial killer or a sociopath was genetic, though we might not blame the serial killer or sociopath for being so, we certainly would not allow him to act on his serial killing or sociopathological disposition."
Anthony Falzarano of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays has said: "Satan uses homosexuals as pawns. Theyre in, as you know, key positions in the media, theyre in the White House, theyre in everything... unfortunately, after he uses them, he infects them with AIDS and they die."
In the ad that ran on Washington, DCs UPN affiliate last month, Frances Johnston says: "My son Michael found out the truth: He could walk away from homosexuality. But he found out too late. He has AIDS." The headline on last summers print version reads: "From Innocence to AIDS: One Mothers Plea to the Parents of Homosexuals." These ads smartly play on persistent fears about AIDS and gay men, fears which we know are based in navet and ignorance. AIDS has touched untold millions, but for the campaigns sponsors, such truths are of little consequence. Its far easier to place blame.
Michael Johnston tells viewers, "[a] decade ago, I walked away from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ," revisiting the even older myth that religion and homosexuality are inherently at odds. Look at Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, and Christian denominations including the Unitarian and Universalist churches, the United Church of Christ and many Episcopalian dioceses. They ordain openly lesbian and gay clergy.
At different stages of the campaigns launch, its sponsors have gone back and forth on their motives: Some have freely admitted their highly politicized nature; others have flatly denied any political motivations behind the campaign. The DC spot first ran on Mothers Day, to signal its supposedly benign intent. But the more compelling reason the ad was targeted for release on that day was that Congress was preparing to begin hearings on a proposed Hate Crimes bill just two days later. As the Center for Reclaiming Americas Bob Carter put it, the ads were placed in Washington because "thats where the policy makers are."
This campaign is about neither truth nor love: Its a well-financed political campaign designed to denigrate lesbians and gay men everywhere. Its damaging effects cannot be overemphasized and it is imperative that our media maintain a sense of integrity and uphold the principles of fairness and accuracy that are at the heart of the industrys heritage.
Joan Garry is Executive Director of GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the nations lesbian and gay media advocacy organization. GLAAD promotes fair, accurate and inclusive representation of individuals and events in media as a means of combating homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 8, July 2, 1999