Pray the Gay Away
“Open the door. Open the fuckin’ door, Jimmy.” We kept begging for him to unlock the car door, roll down the window, something, anything, just so we could help. He was in tears, trembling with a gun in his hand. “Should we call the cops?” someone asked. “No, it’ll only push him over the edge.”
“I’m not going. I don’t wanna go. But I don’t want them to hate me either.” Jimmy was a 19 year old gay friend of mine, part of my small inner circle of East Texas gay male friends. He was old enough to live on his own, but Jimmy loved his parents, and was still trying to get them to love him back. They had given him an ultimatum, go to camp or move out and never speak to them again. His parents had given him a pamphlet for one of those “pray the gay away” camps, the kind which work so hard to brand their own bigotry upon the identity of people like us. Jimmy put the gun in his mouth and we began to scream.
One of my earliest memories took place around about the time I was 6 years old, deep in the bible belt of East Texas. We were all hanging out down at Chris's house. His parents were outside with some of the other parents. We were all hanging out; me, my sister Kristan, Chris and his sister Latoya, Michael, Harold and his sister Michelle, Lisa and her brother Scotty, Shelly and her sister Shannon.
I don't remember how it started, but at some point I began running around trying to kiss the other boys. First Scotty and then Michael and then Chris. They were running away, but that was how they responded when the girls tried to kiss them too so it wasn't immediately obvious there was anything unusually wrong. Then my mother grabbed me by my arm and dragged me away. I was crying for her to stop because she was hurting me. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU DON'T KISS BOYS!"
"BECAUSE IT'S NASTY. IT'S FILTHY. IT'S DISGUSTING." I couldn't for the life of me figure out what she was so upset about. And then I looked past her and saw all the other kids and all the other parents staring at me like I was an alien. It was at that very moment I knew I was different. I wasn’t quite sure how or why, but I was something different. Something nasty. Something filthy. Something disgusting.
A Coward Dies a Thousand Deaths
I had my first boyfriend when I was 13. Me and Matt were inseparable at school, and every day after I got home I would do my chores and ride my bike over to Matt’s house just as quick as I could. We spent all day, every day together.
But that summer between the 8th and 9th grade I went to visit my dad. My father was the son of a Pentecostal preacher, and his side of the family was very religious. He was also quite fond of “fag” jokes.
I called back home that summer to tell my sister I was staying, because my mother and stepfather were terribly abusive and I didn’t want to endure their violence any longer. The way I saw it, I was choosing the lesser of two evils. But she begged me to return, to stay and protect her only until she graduated high school that year, and so I did.
When I got back home, I told my mother I didn’t want to talk to Matt. I told her to say I was busy if he called. I avoided him at school. I loved him, but was horrified by the possibility we might get caught, and that my mother would tell my dad. I knew if he found out, he wouldn’t want me anymore and I would be trapped in that abusive hellhole. I was 14 then, and I continued to drown myself in alcohol for the next decade while trying to train myself to be straight, attempting to reconcile my family’s hatred for who I am.
I met Martin when I was 24. We dated for several months before he told me he loved me. I was too afraid to say it back. I broke his heart because I knew my family would be furious with me for coming out if I tried. The closet door was still locked, secured by the little black book my family followed fanatically.
Despite our differences, me and my sister Kristan had always been close. It was a bond born out of the horrors we endured together as children. When I was 28, I called her from Seattle to tell her I had met the love of my life. I told her Brad and I were crazy about each other. I told her she should come up and visit sometime, or maybe we could come down to Texas. “I am not coming up there to see you and your boyfriend, and he will never be welcome in my house.” I was crushed. A week later I broke up with Brad, still unwilling to abandon my relationship with my hateful Christian family.
A Patron of Evil
One of the largest “pray the gay away” organizations over the past several decades has been Exodus International. Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, recently sat down to offer what he calls an apology to some of those who have suffered from his teachings of bigotry. This confrontation was recorded as part of Lisa Ling’s “Our America: God and Gays.”
One of the other participants in the discussion was a woman named Catherine, who had been a counselor for Exodus. “I am not only sorry but, I’ve watched the news and these kids, they’re killing themselves because of things that I’ve said and that is continued to be said to them, that they’re not good enough, and that they’re not beautiful as they are, and I am not okay with that and I can’t be silent no longer.” Alan Chambers’ apology was less heartfelt.
Alan began his “apology” by reciting a car accident, during which he inadvertently caused a four car pile up. He said he did not intend to hurt anyone, but did, and then compared this accident to his intentional actions against innumerable gays for over a decade as president of Exodus International. He then ironically referenced how he had hurt many by failing to acknowledge the pain he had caused. He then went on to apologize for his actions over the years, while simultaneously stating he could not apologize for supporting “the boundaries I see in scripture.” He ended by saying that Exodus International will continue to promote “Biblical conviction” but will no longer be “an ex-gay organization.” Suffice to say, the “apology” did not go over well.
I should say that not all Christians are as hateful as the ones I have known. I have met some theists online—Christians, Muslims and others—who didn’t care at all. Unfortunately, I have yet to meet any in real life. And it is that way for far too many of us.
Like many gays, I have endured hatred my entire life thanks to the teachings of ancient bigotry. I have to endure the fact that I will never be able to bring a boyfriend home. I have to endure the fact that my fundamentalist older sister has chosen her religion over me. I have to endure the fact that my younger sister is so ashamed that she won’t even tell her boyfriends or teach her son not to be a bigot. I have to endure the fact that whenever he says the word “faggot” while I’m around, someone kneels down and whispers “We don’t use that word around uncle Lee.” Not that we don’t use that word, we just don’t use it around uncle Lee.
As gays, we have to endure that in most states and in most nations, we are not considered equals. It was illegal to even be gay in Texas up until 2003 when The Supreme Court finally decided we had the right to exist. It remains to be seen if they will decide we have the right to marry.
We have to endure people like Bryan Fischer endorsing the idea of Christians kidnapping our children, to raise them in a “Godly home.” Janet Jenkins has had to endure her ex partner turned fundamentalist Christian running away to Nicaragua with their child, thanks to the help of Jerry Falwell’s former ministry.
We finally managed to talk Jimmy down that night, but there are so many of us now gone because there was no one there. Or because some college kid filmed a gay roommate having sex and posted it online. Or because someone considered us less than human, and worthy of death.
We have to endure hateful Christians mocking us with bumper stickers and online posts about having “straight pride,” because they just don’t get it. When we use the word “pride,” it is not in any way comparable to a straight person claiming pride. No, it has nothing to do with minorities being able to have pride while the majority can't. It has everything to do with an oppressed people attempting to overcome years of being told we are subhuman. I doubt any straight person was ever told they were nasty, filthy or disgusting by their own mother.
Perhaps one day the world will overcome its centuries old hatred for us. But until then, we will endure the hate, and strive for pride.