By Lisa Keen
There’s a new “wave” of anti-gay activism underway, and it’s targeting sexual minority youth in an effort to undermine support among youth in general for LGBT equality.
That’s the conclusion of a 92-page report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force this month.
“Youth in the Crosshairs: The Third Wave of Ex-Gay Activism” says that efforts to recruit sexual minority youth into “ex-gay” programs is on the increase and is politically motivated.
“The third wave of ex-gay activism exploded in response to the legal momentum building behind same-sex marriage in general and two judicial decisions in particular,” says the report. Both of those decisions were landmark opinions issued in 2003 -Lawrence v. Texas from the U.S. Supreme Court, which found laws prohibiting consensual sex between consenting same-sex adults to be unconstitutional, and Goodridge v. Department of Public Health from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which said that the state constitution required the state issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples the same as it does to heterosexual ones.
The first wave of ex-gay activism, says the report, began in 1973, with the development of the first gay-to-straight “conversion” program – Love in Action in San Francisco. It was developed, said the report, shortly after the American Psychiatric Association de-classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. A second wave emerged in 1998, when ex-gay ministries bought full-page ads in major newspaper outlets, claiming success in converting gays to straight.
The third wave, says the report, is different because it is focused on converting youth.
“This third wave is even more pernicious than past waves,” said NGLTF Executive Director Matt Foreman, during a teleconference with reporters March 2 to release the report. “By targeting young people,” he said, ex-gay activists are “reformulating their snake oil about curing homosexuality. It’s a disgrace.”
Participating in the teleconference with NGLTF, Wayne Besen, author of “Anything But Straight,” a 2003 book about ex-gay ministries, said the third wave targets youth because youth today are more supportive of equal rights for gays.
“The good news is we’re seeing a third wave because of the success of the gay movement,” said Besen. “They see in polls that youth are more supportive.” Youth are also a “captive market,” said Besen, when parents are desperate to do something to prevent them from being gay.
This is NGLTF’s second major report on the ex-gay ministries. Its first report was “Calculated Compassion: How the Ex-Gay Movement Serves the Right’s Attack on Democracy,” released in 1998.
The lead author of the report is Jason Cianciotto, research director of NGLTF’s Policy Institute. During the teleconference, Cianciotto said his evangelical Christian parents sent him to an individual therapist when he was young, hoping to ensure he would become “what they viewed as a healthy Christian male.”
Cianciotto said NGLTF was prompted to take another look at the ex-gay ministries – specifically its activities for youth – after hearing a news report last year about a 16-year-old boy who was forced by his parents to participate in a Love in Action conversion program in Tennessee after he told them he was gay.
The youth, Zachary Stark, wrote about the difficulty of his experience in a blog on MySpace.com, a website popular with young people. The blog gained widespread media attention and prompted an investigation of alleged child abuse last year by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.
Although that investigation turned up no evidence of child abuse, an investigation by the state Department of Mental Health and Development Disabilities said the program was dispensing medication and forcing clients to stay on site without proper licensing. According to a Memphis Flyer news report last month, the state at first ordered Love in Action to stop its unauthorized activities but backed down from enforcing the order after the organization filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit, said the Flyer, argued that because Love in Action is a “faith-based organization,” the state’s order was a violation of its First Amendment rights.
The NGLTF report also sees a link between ex-gay conferences and anti-gay ballot measures. It issued a map showing that ex-gay conferences took place in five states in 2003 where anti-gay marriage initiatives were on the ballot in 2004. It also shows 11 states and the District of Columbia as being the site of recent or upcoming ex-gay conferences, noting that anti-gay ballot measures are anticipated in those states between now and 2008.