Close to 300 community members braved the cold Thursday night to peacefully protest an “Unashamed Identity Workshop” at the Metro City Church Riverview Campus, a class many are calling a form of conversion therapy.
Organized by the Metro-Detroit Political Action Network, the protest saw a strong turnout with enthusiastic support. LGBTQ allies protested on the church’s sidewalk as passing cars honked in support, waving signs reading “Love is Love,” “God Never Makes Mistakes” and “Self Hatred Is Not Therapy,” among many others.
View BTL’s Slideshow of the Protests
“Conversion therapy is what it is, and Metro City Church is trying to repackage it as conversation therapy,” Brianna Dee Kingsley, an organizer of the protest, said. “But the basic premise is you are broken and you need to be fixed and that something is wrong, and we stand against that – we are here to show support for the LGBTQIA community.”
Public backlash against Metro City Church erupted after leadership advertised an “Unashamed Identity Workshop” for girls (by birth) ages 12 – 16 struggling with thoughts that they are “Trans – Bi – Gay or other.” The post was met with thousands of comments on social media condemning the church as anti-LGBTQ.
Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow of the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit attended Thursday night’s protest from Port Huron. He told BTL that he is concerned over how Metro City Church will conduct such “conversations.”
“I understand their purposes and goals through their religious lens, but we have to consider if there’s a motive,” Stringfellow said. “Are they focusing on something they think is a problem, or are they legitimately helping someone who’s struggling with their identity.”
“I’m completely against forcing someone to conform to a culture,” he added.
The workshop, which is scheduled to take place every Thursday night at 6 p.m. from Feb. 8 – April 18, is advertised to cost $200.
“If it’s so vital, why not make it free,” Stringfellow argued. “To profit off a change is always something I’ve wrestled with.”
Transgender advocate and Oakland University professor Char Davenport spoke to protestors through a megaphone, emphasizing that the fight for justice doesn’t end at Metro City Church.
“This protest, yes it’s about this church, and it’s about these kids – but let me tell you that this is a much bigger issue than this street corner,” Davenport said. “Only nine states and the District of Columbia have banned this practice. We can make a difference here in Michigan, and we’re going to make a difference here in Michigan. So pay attention, and you’re going to be a part of it.”
The fight against conversion therapy hit close to home for Bakri Newton and Liam Vella, two protesters who waved one of the night’s biggest signs reading “We Are Here Because We Love You.”
“I was threatened by conversion therapy when I was 18 when I came out to my mom,” Newton told BTL. “That was basically the start of a snowball effect of mental illness issues – depression, anxiety, dysphoria. All of it was precipitated by the fact that I thought I was wrong for existing and that people were going to try and hurt me for who I was, so I couldn’t stand by and let that happen to other kids.”
Vella, who identifies as a queer non-binary trans person, also has a personal experience with conversion therapy.
“I went through conversion therapy at a local church when I was 15,” Vella said. “I wanted to come out and basically make sure these kids know that there are people out there outside of your parents’ house and outside of your parents’ religion who will be there for you.”
Vella, owner and creator of Support the T, continued: “I want them to know that they don’t have to give in to what their parents say – they can make it through this even though it’s probably hard right now going through all this.”
Schossau told BTL that there are no plans to stop workshops so long as people continue to sign up. As a traditionally-minded Christian, he stands by his belief that homosexuality is a sin and a choice.
Schossau insists that no one in the workshop is being forced to attend.
“These are folks who are seeking us out,” Schossau explained to BTL in an email. “These are folks who are questioning their sexual identity or are maybe in the gay or lesbian community and they are just not comfortable there. They think that maybe they don’t want to be there, and they are seeking out conversation and potentially help and guidance.”
State Reps Introduce Bill to Outlaw Conversion Therapy
Amid the controversy surrounding Metro City Church’s conversion therapy classes, State Reps. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) and Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstone Township) have spoken out about the church’s practices.
House Bill 5550 was introduced on Feb. 8, which would prohibit mental health professionals from engaging in efforts to change the sexual orientation and gender identity of a minor. This marks Zemke’s third attempt to pass legislation prohibiting conversion therapy. If passed, Michigan would be the 10th state with the District of Columbia to have similar statutes. There are currently only nine states with similar statutes – California, Nevada, Oregon, New Mexico, Illinois, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.
“It is wildly inappropriate to offer conversion therapy classes in our communities, and doing so is misrepresentative of our values as a welcoming state,” Zemke said. “I am proud to sponsor a bill to prohibit these practices in Michigan. Not only has scientific evidence overwhelmingly found that these approaches fail to accomplish their purported task, but they are also profoundly destructive and painful for the participating individual and his or her loved ones. It’s time to put an end to this terrible practice once and for all.”
Zemke said HB 5550 would only have power to govern mental health professionals, not places of worship like Metro City Church. However, he explained to BTL that the church could still be investigated by Attorney General Bill Schuette for violating the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.
“Metro City Church is advertising a service that is not able to be produced,” Zemke said. “Conversion therapy is a fake science. Selling a course in a pseudoscience violates consumer protection issues.”
Metro City Church advertised the classes as an “Unashamed Identity Workshop” for girls ages 12-16 (by birth) struggling with thoughts that they are “Trans – Bi – Gay or other.” Zemke explained that the Michigan Consumer Protection Act applies to the workshops as participants are charged $200 to attend.
Zemke and Camilleri with Reps. Tim Sneller (D-Burton), Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), and Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo), penned a letter to the attorney general’s office urging that he open an investigation into Metro City Church and FORGE Ministries, the organization supplying the service.
The letter aims to discredit the validity of the workshops. It reads: “There is a long-standing consensus among our nation’s leading mental health experts, including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Association of Social Workers, that these practices are extremely dangerous and often lead to depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, and even suicide.”
Co-signer Hoadley told BTL that conversion therapy should not be a partisan issue.
“Seeing conversion therapy being advertised toward children reminds us that there’s a sense of urgency here,” he said. “It’s time to move forward, and the question now is who in legislature will be willing to put the interests of children and the LGBTQ community first.”
Moss echoed similar feelings, and said Michigan is “backwards” in terms of laws that embrace and protect the LGBTQ community.
“This is a wake up call to all Michigan representatives that fight for equality,” Moss said. “The fight didn’t end in June 2015 with marriage equality. People can change this if they vote for LGBTQ interests in 2018 based on what candidates support our community.”
The next peaceful protest is scheduled to take place during the hours of the second “Unashamed Identity Workshop” on Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. For more details, please visit the protest’s official Facebook page.