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The Latest Anti-Gay Propaganda Is the Myth of 'Conversion'

Politics: The religious right is really targeting the GOP with its tales of 'healed' ex-gays.

July 29, 1998|CHRISTOPHER CALHOUN | Christopher Calhoun is a public policy advocate with the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

The religious right has been trying to shop around a story to the media for a few years now. It's the story of "ex-gays" who are "healed" through new, ground-breaking Christian "therapies." They've found few takers. Why? Even in today's media environment of fake sources and spotty fact-checking, journalists who spent any time on it recognized that the story was a flimflam.

Anti-gay activists and the religious right's spin-thugs have grown so frustrated in their effort to promote their dubious ex-gay theories and fishy "conversion" stories that they've finally decided to pay for what they couldn't pitch.

Their full-page ads debuted this month in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today.

The idea is to use formerly gay people's typically very troubling and conflicted life histories to "prove" that gay men and lesbians aren't "born that way" and therefore should not be afforded equal rights.

This leap of illogic misses the point.

The fundamental message of the gay civil rights movement isn't that gay men and lesbians "can't help" their behavior, it's that loving someone of the same sex shouldn't be punished by random violence, harassment, job and housing discrimination or unequal treatment of our families and relationships.

Such treatment is not just unfair; it is inhumane and immoral.

Unfortunately, the ex-gay controversy isn't just a debate between two strongly opinionated camps. The publicity campaign is kicking into overdrive, and it targets two groups extremely vulnerable to misinformation: individuals, particularly young people, with internal conflict about their sexual orientation and Republican politicians.

Those in the first category are the heartbreakers: They typically have grown up in environments so poisonous and hate-filled that they can think of almost nothing worse than being a lesbian or gay man. They struggle to suppress their feelings, an exhausting and never-ending wrestling match. A few "succeed," usually temporarily and at great psychic cost. Former ex-gays tell of intense psychological difficulties, nervous breakdowns and frequent "lapses" occurring between members of their "recovery" organizations--hardly the "healing" promised in the splashy ad campaign.

The second category of vulnerable individuals is probably the real target of this campaign. Here we move from personal to political tragedy, albeit one that occasionally borders on farce. If this ad campaign is anything, it's a challenge to the Republican Party: "We mean business, with our anti-gay agenda," it says, "and we're not going to let you equivocate."

The religious right has called the tune this summer ("Scapegoat Polka"), and Republican politicians have readily filled the dance floor. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's anti-gay comments. House Majority Leader Dick Armey's clamor to agree. And who could forget that notorious scapegoat James Hormel, whose stalled ambassadorial appointment is itself an example of employment discrimination.

All of this may seem like bad news for lesbians and gay men, but it isn't. While it's never a pleasure to have your dignity become the subject of heated, contentious public debate, such debates have ultimately yielded civil rights advances. This long hot summer of anti-gay rhetoric will be no exception.

Lesbian and gay civil rights advocates believe in the fundamental fairness of the American public. Let the Republicans dance their jig of appeasement to the far right wing of their party. We'll see who has a hangover come November.

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