The Right to Intolerance
Tanya Erzen printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Apr 21, 2006 at 09:48:27 AM EST
This April, the Liberty Counsel and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) launched a "Change Is Possible" Campaign focused on GLBT youth in high schools around the country.  Their goal is to promote the message that high school students can and should participate in an ex-gay ministries to change their sexuality, and that schools with diversity programs discriminate against ex-gays and ex-gay supportive students.    
The Liberty Council press release reads:

Does your school, or do groups within your school say they promote "tolerance?"  Are there Safe Zones, Diversity Days, or Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs in your school?  We encourage you to take the Tolerance Test.  Every day in schools across America, students are told that they are "born gay," they cannot change, homosexuality is as healthy and natural as is heterosexuality, and it is safe to act on same-sex attractions. In those same schools, however, the message of students with a different message is often silenced, or labeled as hate speech and discriminatory.  That message is simple, but life-saving and life-changing: you have the right to choose to change. When your school or friends talk about homosexuality, do they mention that homosexuals can Choose to Change, or that thousands have?  These men and women are living proof that people are not "born gay."

Just as the ex-gay movement characterizes homosexuality as a condition or false lifestyle through the language of hope for healing, the "Change is Possible" campaign appropriates the language of tolerance and rights for those students who want to support the ideas that ex-gays exist.  The campaign distributes a Tolerance Test  for ex-gay and ex-gay supportive students who they claim have been "silenced" by pro-gay forces in their schools.  

Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, states:

"We are confident that this project will help root out intolerance that exists under the guise of tolerance and diversity. There is an ongoing battle over the hearts and minds of our youth. We have an obligation to protect them from the harmful message that people are 'born gay' and cannot choose to change."

The campaign also includes brochures about student rights and information on how to distribute literature in schools. It even asks students to start "Gay to Straight Clubs."  The PFOX campaign intentionally coincides with the annual Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) student-led "Day of Silence"  on April 26th which protests the discrimination and silencing of GLBT youth and allies in schools.  

Exodus,  the umbrella organization for the ex-gay movement has also devoted considerable resources to promoting its youth ministry, Exodus Youth, an outreach to teens and other youth "struggling with homosexual issues."  

In a pamphlet called "Reaching Gay Youth" DJ Thompson writes:

"These youth, starved for attention, find same-sex romance at least somewhat satisfying.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that these youth are redeemable.  I am a living example of this.  And so I say that the teenage years are a crucial period for the Church of Jesus Christ to speak to youth tempted by homosexuality."

Exodus has developed a separate Exodus Youth website with music, cd-roms and teaching materials as well as Refuge, an outpatient ex-gay program for teenagers between the ages of thirteen and eighteen.  Exodus also recently created a curriculum guide on youth, sexuality and the roots of homosexuality for Christian Schools that they hope to expand elsewhere.

The idea behind the Exodus Youth website and the PFOX campaign is to provide an alternative narrative to coming-out as gay.  Instead, it tells questioning youth that their same-sex feelings are not an identity but a condition, and it directs them to ex-gay ministries and resources where they can attempt to transform themselves.    Polls show that young people are more likely to have tolerant attitudes toward sexual diversity and gay rights.  The PFOX campaign and Exodus' focus on youth reflect conservative Christian anxiety about this demographic trend. The campaign also exemplifies the ex-gay movement's strategy of appropriating the ideas of tolerance, rights, and silencing to claim there is a "way out of homosexuality" even while denying tolerance and rights for GLBT youth.  

Thanks Tanya for this overview. I am left wondering how to respond to all of this. In this context, how do we practice tolerance? Do you think the document, Public Schools and Sexual Orientation: A First Amendment framework for finding common ground, is a good attempt at trying to work out these problems?

by Carlos on Fri Apr 21, 2006 at 12:55:01 PM EST

This is a very typical strategy - claiming and redefining the terminology of your opponent. Look how "compassionate bleeding heart liberal" became "compassionate conservative." The reality is that they are mutually exclusive, but it effectively takes the whole compassion thing off the table.

In attempting to redefine "tolerance," what they really are getting at is the common "you are being intolerant of my religious views if you don't accept them." They have no statistics or studies to back up their theory of "Choose or Change." They can only claim it's biblical (although I don't remember anything in the bible about changing sexual orientation, only that homosexuality existed and one writer in the Old Testament didn't like it). it reminds me of the Evangelical hysteria around proselytizing - "if you don't allow me to be in your face about Jesus then you are religiously intolerant."

Freedom of speech doesn't give you the right to force your religious view on everyone. Besides, the reality is that most people are somewhat bisexual (given the proper circumstances), some falling closer or further from the extremes. It's entirely possible that SOME folks, tempted by same-sex thoughts or encounters, can end up straight for the rest of their lives (in fact, it happens all the time). These folks claim Jesus made them change... whatever.

This is a twisting or the term TOLERANCE, and (for the lack of a better word) should not be TOLERATED. I would counter with a CHOOSE OR CHANGE program for Christian  youth, giving them counseling and the opportunity to become Atheists/Rationalists/Humanists/Secularists/etc.

It's not too late, kids. Remember - you're not born Christian, and you can choose to change!

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