Sunday, February 3, 2013

So-Called "Ex-Gay" Speaker at Illinois Faith Leader Gathering

On January 24th, the right-wing Illinois Family Institute hosted a same-sex marriage legislative forum for pastors in Tinley Park, Illinois. The forum, entitled "What the Church Must Do to Stop Same-Sex Marriage in Illinois", featured anti-LGBTQ speakers from different organizations and ministries. One of the speakers at the event was so-called "ex-lesbian" Linda Jernigan, who claimed that she was allegedly freed of her homosexuality after finding Christ. Excerpts of Jernigan's talk were captured in this YouTube video, where she promoted ugly stereotypes about the LGBTQ community.

Jernigan told the audience that her mother died when she was a baby, after which she was raised by her aunt and uncle. Her uncle sexually abused her when she was twelve, she said, and she was soon driven out of the house to live with a different uncle. The "enemy" had been trying to destroy her life from the beginning, she claimed, in an attempt to prevent her from realizing God's purpose for her.

Jernigan shared her experiences in the church of her youth, where she had a sexual encounter with a female church member. In retrospect, she believed that her attraction to members of the same sex was an outgrowth of living with her non-biological family, rather than her biological parents, as well as a deception from the Devil.

As an adult, Jernigan became romantically involved with another woman. She and Jernigan lived as a couple for nearly fifteen years, raising two boys together. Jernigan claimed that she visited her partner in the hospital when her partner was sick, picked up the boys' report cards from school, and performed many of the roles of a spouse. Because she never encountered any discrimination doing so, she argued that same-sex couples don't need the right to marry to enjoy the same privileges of opposite-sex married couples. At the 6:07 mark, she had this to say.
"I know for a fact that we don't need laws to make sure that homosexuals can do this, because they can do it anyway, 'cause I was doing it twenty years ago and it wasn't a law for me to do it. Nobody stopped me at the hospital and said I couldn't see her because I was a homosexual. That is homosexual propaganda that is playing on the emotions of people, trying to get you all to be sensitive to their deeds when there really is no need. There's no need to make a law. [The] only thing you need to go see someone in a hospital is a a visitor's pass. You don't need a law."
Uh, Linda? Just because you didn't experience discrimination doesn't mean that other LGBTQ persons have been as lucky. Discrimination against LGBTQ patients and same-sex couples in hospital settings is very real, necessitating federal regulations to address the problem. Unfortunately, homophobic discrimination is not limited to hospitals. According to one study published in 2009, one in ten gay, lesiban, or bisexual respondents reported experiencing housing or employment discrimination. In another study, 21.4% of gay, lesbian, or bisexual respondents reported experiencing some form of discrimination in the past year. Moreover, anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, medical care, or marriage is far from harmless. Not only is it unfair to LGBTQ persons, but it has detrimental effects to LGBTQ persons' well-being, as documented in these studies published in 2009. Contrary to Jernigan's claims, homophobic discrimination is real, pervasive, and destructive.

Jernigan told listeners that she abused alcohol, which damaged her relationship with her partner. At the 6:47 mark, she stereotyped LGBTQ persons as drug and alcohol abusers, arguing that substance abuse is a natural outgrowth of the "homosexual lifestyle".
"I was battling alcohol addiction and drug addiction, which comes with the homosexual lifestyle, and I'm telling you, most homosexuals that you see, they do have issues with substance abuse. Have you ever asked yourself why do they have so many problems with alcohol, with drugs? ... Because you need to be inebriated to do the things that the homosexual lifestyle calls for you to do. The average person in their right mind cannot do that in their right mind, so you need to go into another realm with all of these other substances that will take you into another spiritual realm, so that you can do the things that you needed to do."
First, not all LGBTQ persons abuse drugs or alcohol. Second, regarding those who do, has Jernigan considered that their substance abuse might result from, you know, the misery of experiencing constant homophobia throughout their lives? The relationship between experiencing homophobia and abusing alcohol and drugs is not a secret. One study found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual respondents who reported discrimination in the past year were far more likely to report substance use problems. Another study published in 2010 correlated violence and safety issues with drug and alcohol use among gay, lesbian, and bisexual college students. Moreover, in a study of 13,921 high school students, sexually questioning students who experienced homophobic teasing were more likely to use drugs and alcohol -- BUT, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and questioning youth were less likely to use drugs if they reported parental support and positive school climates. If Jernigan wants to explore the roots of substance use among some LGBTQ persons, pervasive homophobia is a good place to start.

Jernigan's partner started going to church, but Jernigan was reluctant to attend because of the hypocrisy and morally dubious behavior she'd witnessed at past churches. Eventually, Jernigan attended a service, where God allegedly touched her heart. At the 11:42 mark, she resorted to two common tropes used by "ex-gay" speakers: framing homosexuality and Christianity as mutually exclusive, and claiming that God lifted her out of homosexuality.
"One thing I knew that separated me from God was the fact that I felt like I was born a homosexual. And I knew regardless of how I wanted to be on the Lord's side and how I desired a relationship with him, that it would never work with me and him because I'd either have to be a hypocrite and pretend like I'm not a lesbian, or I'd have to find a church that's going to allow me to be an open lesbian, 'cause I felt that I couldn't change. Because I can't change if I was born this way. Don't you all hate the homosexuals saying that? Like you can't change if I was born this way. And so that was my issue ... I said, "God, there's no way that you and I can be together because I was born this way." And I  clearly heard the voice of the Lord. He did not tell me, "Linda, you wasn't born that way." He did not tell me, "Nah, I ain't created you that way." He said, "It doesn't even matter how you think you were born. I have the power to make you be born again!" And that is the issue that we need to be telling homosexuals today. We need to get out of this discussion and this debate, or we just want to win the argument. You don't need to win the argument. Jesus already won the argument!"
LGBTQ Christians and open-and-affirming congregations might disagree! The idea that someone can be both LGBTQ and Christian was never considered.

At the 13:05 mark, Jernigan urged listeners to rescue gays from the "hell" they're living in, instead of showering them with hateful rhetoric. She insisted that LGBTQ suicides are the result of disconnection from Christ, something that LGBTQ rights legislation supposedly cannot heal. Once again, the idea that LGBTQ persons can plausibly live happy and healthy lives, or that some LGBTQ persons might attempt suicide because of crushing homophobia, was never considered.
"It don't matter what you feel like you were born with, because you too can be born again. That's the argument that the homosexual needs to hear. They don't need to hear that they're going to hell. They don't need to hear that they're an abomination. They don't need to hear that they're wicked and God made Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve. They know all of that. They need to know how do I get out of this hell that I'm living in, and if you don't believe that they're living in hell, let me tell you how I know that. Because statistically, suicide among homosexual is at its highest peak ever, but they got so many laws now that's in their favor, so if the laws [are] going to make them feel better, why is the suicide rate steady escalating? Because the laws can't bring them the peace and the deliverance that they need. What they need is an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, and that responsibility falls upon us."
A few minutes later, however, Jernigan proceeded to speak ill of the very LGBTQ community she wanted to bring to Christ. At the 15:35 mark, she accused the LGBTQ community of pushing an agenda. Revealingly, she argued that calls for LGBTQ equality are invalid because LGBTQ status is supposedly changeable, unlike race. In doing so, she reveals the political impetus behind the "ex-gay" movement: to deny LGBTQ persons equality by insisting that they don't have to be LGBTQ in the first place.
"The homosexual community is pretty smart ... They're pushing their agenda, man, and it's flying and it's soaring. And we're sitting back, saying, "What can we do to stop this thing?" Because every answer that we give, they have a counter-answer that seems to be more intellectual--it's not right, but at least they know how to articulate it. But one thing they cannot explain is an ex-homosexual ... The homosexual community, they want to silence people like me, because it takes away their argument of this-is-a-civil-right, because I put it in perspective. Because you say that it is a civil right, so that means that this was something that was innate, it was congenital, that means something you were born with, just like I'm a black woman. There's nothing that I can do to change that ... I should not be discriminated against because I am a black woman. But there was a time I was a homosexual, but I'm not a homosexual no more. So that means that homosexuality, that it is transformable. So if something is transformable, that means it's not a civil right."
Actually, Linda, the LGBTQ community can explain the so-called "ex-gay" movement. Watchdog websites such as Truth Wins Out and Ex-Gay Watch, events such as the Soulforce Symposium, survivor stories, scholarly research, and investigations into sexual orientation change efforts all demonstrate that the so-called "ex-gay" movement is extremely dubious.

Finally, despite the outward appearance of compassion for LGBTQ persons, Jernigan's ending words to the audience were harsh. At the 18:11 mark, she commanded religious leaders to reject homosexuality and "go after them devils" allegedly behind it.
"Stop tolerating homosexuality in your church. Get your homosexuals in your church delivered. Stop tolerating it. Stop being scared to go after them devils and get them delivered."
Jernigan's life story featured tropes commonly heard in other "ex-gay" testimonies: family dysfunction, sexual victimization, drug and alcohol abuse, despair, and rescue from the gay "lifestyle" through Christ. This is not to say that Jernigan did not experience these traumas -- rather, she seems to be misinterpreting her traumatic life events as either causes or effects of her lesbianism. The idea that LGBTQ persons can be happy, well-adjusted people was not discussed, nor was any context provided for the problems that some LGBTQ people experience.

Revealingly, Jernigan's talk toggled between quasi-humanizing rhetoric about gays and demonization of the gay "agenda" and "lifestyle". As with other homophobic speakers, such rhetoric reveals the hostility behind the quasi-loving facade of the anti-LGBTQ movement. The overall message, it seemed, was that homosexuality is supposedly a pathology that can be cured with spiritual upheaval, and that LGBTQ persons do not deserve equal rights because they can allegedly stop being LGBTQ. Behind the condescending rhetoric of saving LGBTQ persons from their supposed "hell" is a refusal to validate who they are and grant them equality.

To learn more about the Illinois Family Institute, visit illinoisfamily[dot]org

(Hat tip to Friendly Atheist and Joe.My.God)


  1. Some "ex-gay" groups like Exodus are finally at least coming around to the idea that LGBTQ people shouldn't be encouraged to "turn straight." I wonder if Jernigan and the IFI understand that even within their category of fundamentalist believers, they are behind the times.

    It's so nutty to me that all of this hubbub is about a simple scenario--one person being attracted to, loving, and possibly wanting to build a life with another person. Why would this drive people (much less a deity) so crazy?

    1. Michelle -- As for why this would drive someone crazy, there's actually a discussion about this going on at Sunstone's cafe -- Paul was baffled and wrote a post. I could offer the usual theories -- fear of LGBTQs because their existence threatens heterosexism, repressed sexuality, the "ew" factor -- but none of these really explain it. I'm stumped.

    2. Oops! I think I just deleted my comment! Sorry if you get 2 of these, Ahab. Anyhow, I love how she treats her own experience as a universal one. She didn't experience discrimination, so that means no same-sex couples do; she abused alcohol, so that means all gays do. Pretty lame, but I imagine it's what her audience wanted to hear. (Copying this just to be safe this time!)

    3. Donna -- Too true. She's using her own story as the standard, oblivious to the many different experiences that LGBTQ people have in their lives. I doubt her audience scrutinized her speech too closely.

    4. Spot on, Donna! That's a great point. I also agree with you, Ahab, that the audience is unlikely to be applying critical thinking skills to her speech.

      While I think it is human nature to be less critical of ideas that we agree with, I think Evangelicals often enough live in epistemic bubbles that make doing that all too easy.


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