Monday, November 8, 2010

Soulforce Symposium in Philadelphia, Part II

(UPDATED 11/10/10)

After lunch, I returned to the Soulforce Symposium and caught the tail end of William S. Meyer's workshop, "On the Diagnosis and Treatment of Homosexuality: When Prejudice Masquerades as Science." Meyer is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and OB/GYN at Duke University Medical Center.

Meyer discussed how homosexuality was seen as a mental disorder until a few decades ago, charting the process by which homosexuality was removed as a pathological condition from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). His handout listed dates and statements from major medical entities, such as the American Psychiatric Association, de-pathologizing homosexuality and condemning reparative therapy as harmful. The workshop was a reminder of how much LGBTQ people suffered in the past due to ignorance, and how far society has come in accepting them.

Next, the symposium hosted an invigorating panel discussion about intersectional justice in the LGBTQ movement. Panel speakers included Kevin Trimell Jones (behavioral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania HIV/AIDS Prevention Research Division and founder of the Black LGBT Archivists Society), Melanie Martinez (from the Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Program), Vincent Cervantes (public speaker and ex-gay survivor), J. Mason (education specialist for the Bryson Institute of the Attic Youth Center), Cathy Renna (managing partner of Renna Communications), Rev. Jeffrey H. Jordan-Pickett (pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia), and Amanda Lee Genaro (a 2010 Soulforce Equality Rider).

* * * UPDATE: Vincent Cervantes' panel presentation, "Critical Witnessing and Multilingualism: Building the Counter Movement", is now available for download from the Soulforce website.

Panel participants talked about infighting they've seen in the LGBTQ movement, the need for attention to diversity, and the challenges facing various groups within the movement. The discussion was a reminder that the LGBTQ movement is not monolithic, and that LGBTQ identity overlaps with other racial, ethnic, socio-economic, religious, and gender identities that cannot be encompassed by narrow labels.

The panel discussion also brought important questions from the audience. One young man admitted that, as a gay atheist, he often felt stigmatized by LGBTQ people of faith. In response, Cathy Renna said that she had observed the opposite -- a scorning of religious LGBTQ people within the LGBTQ community -- because many LGBTQ people had been hurt by religious homophobia and transphobia. Another man in the audience felt that the panel had been unfair to white, middle class gay men, who have contributed much to the LGBTQ movement. While none of these intra-movement tensions will be resolved overnight, I was pleased that people were at least talking about them.

When attendees dispersed for the second workshop set, I was immediately drawn to a presentation by Christine Robinson entitled, "Genocidal Intentions: Public Policy and the Ex-Gay Movement." Robinson is an Associate Professor of Justice Studies at James Madison University, and she has studied the ex-gay movement in depth for seven years. She and Sue E. Spivey have collaborated on several scholarly articles on the ex-gay movement, including "Genocidal Intentions: Social Death and the Ex-Gay Movement" in Genocide Studies and Prevention, and "The Politics of Masculinity and the Ex-Gay Movement" in Gender & Society.

Her workshop, based on her 2010 study Spivey, examined the ex-gay movement's interpretive framework, characterized by us-versus-them thinking, moral disengagement from victims, and victim blaming. For instance, the ex-gay movement often divides people into Christians and non-Christians, reinforcing its us-versus-them attitudes by seeing itself as doing "God's will" as "God's people". In doing so, leaders of the movement justify their actions as virtuous. Furthermore, the movement distances itself from its victims by denying that there are any homosexual people, referring instead to homosexuality as an illness, sin, or agenda. Homosexuality is objectified, erasing the people who consider themselves homosexual or bisexual. Thus, ex-gay movement leaders can see themselves as "healers" while denying the intrinsic personhood of LGBTQ people. Moreover, the ex-gay movement justifies its actions through divine mandate, thereby absolving itself of responsibility and allowing its leaders to morally disengage from their actions. Finally, Robinson observed that the ex-gay movement blames homosexuality for a variety of social ills, while the Religious Right often dehumanizes and demonizes LGBTQ people as sexual predators. This allows the ex-gay movement to cast its actions as "necessary" in the face of a "threat" and construct itself as a victim of this supposed menace. Victim blaming and reversal of the victim-victimizer role, she noted, is a stock dehumanization tactic among human rights offenders.

Even more chilling were Robinson's observations about the ex-gay movement and genocide. Robinson argued that in supporting the ex-gay movement, the Religious Right has endorsed policies that fit the definition of genocide presented in the UN Convention on Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Ex-gay programs have been shown to cause psychological harm to participants, she demonstrated, fitting the UN convention definition of genocide as "causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group." Ex-gay programs seek to eradicate homosexuality, fitting the definition of genocide as "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction." Religious Right organizations directly affiliated with ex-gay programs seek to deny reproductive technologies and adoption rights to LGBTQ people, fitting the definition of genocide as "imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group." Finally, Religious Right groups directly affiliated with ex-gay programs have advocated for the removal of children from LGBTQ parents in custody cases, fitting the definition of genocide as "forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

To boot, human rights violations have occurred as a direct result of ex-gay advocacy, with Uganda as a glaring example. The ex-gay movement's public policy advocacy, she argued, affected all LGBT people and thus poses significant harm to society.

Robinson concluded her workshop by urging compassion for people who have been harmed by or are still entangled in ex-gay programs. She offered a moving account of her seven years of research on the movement, which has included attendance at ex-gay conferences and copious consumption of ex-gay materials. Despite constant exposure to these poisonous messages, she perseveres because of the courage that just people have given her.

And we persevere because of people like you, I thought, full of admiration.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Additional presenters were on the evening itinerary, including a cabaret performance by comedian and ex-gay survivor Peter Toscano. Sadly, I had to leave because I needed to be on the road before nightfall.

I left the Soulforce Symposium with a heart full of hope, envigorated by so many voices for justice. I also left with greater awareness of the ex-gay movement and the harm it inflicts on LGBTQ people, both in ex-gay programs and society at large. It is my hope that as more people learn about reparative therapy's bogus claims and accept their sexuality, the ex-gay movement will fade into oblivion.

To listen to a Queer and Queerer podcast featuring Jallen Rix and Christine Robinson, click here. For more commentary on the Soulforce Symposium and the NARTH conference, visit the following links:

Zack Ford Blogs: A weekend Response to NARTH (Lifting Luggage and the Soulforce Symposium)

Soulforce Blog: Live from the 2010 Soulforce Symposium!

Lez Get Real: NARTH: Homosexuality is a ‘choice’???

To learn about Ted Cox' infiltration of a men's reparative therapy retreat, read his expose, My Journey into Manhood: Undercover at a Gay Conversion Camp.

If you or someone you know has been traumatized by reparative therapy, resources such as Beyond Ex-Gay and Evangelicals Concerned may be helpful.

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