Posts for February 12th, 2007

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”

Jim Burroway

February 12th, 2007

Focus on the Family and Exodus’ traveling roadshow, “Love Won Out” came to Phoenix last Saturday (Feb 10). According to the Love Won Out website, the purpose of the conference is to “promote the truth that change is possible for those who experience same-sex attractions.” These all-day conferences are held about six times a year in different cities across America. They are aimed mainly to friends and family members, pastors, youth ministers, and ordinary citizens.

I went up to Phoenix from Tucson on Friday to meet with Daniel Gonzales of Ex-Gay Watch and Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out and author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.

Ex-Gay Watch has a couple of posts up already about their activities. The first post features a link to Daniel Gonzales’ interview with NPR which aired on Saturday. The second post has a couple of great videos of a press conference put together by the Arizona Human Rights Campaign and Good Shepherd Metropolitan Community Church, which featured Pastor Brad Wishon, Ruth and Ray Grove from PFLAG, Barbara McCollough Jones from AHRF, Wayne Besen, and Daniel Gonzales. That press conference was held on Friday. On Saturday, AHRF and No Longer Silent, a group of ministers in the Phoenix area, held a vigil in the morning in front of Bethany Bible Church where the Love Won Out conference took place. They also organized a protest at the church from 11:00 to 1:00.

Where was I in all that? Well, I attended the news conference on Friday, and met afterwards with Daniel, Wayne and others for some business and social time. Then on Saturday, while everyone else was voicing their opposition to LWO through public demonstrations, I did something I never thought I would do.

I walked up to the registration desk, gave them my name, got a blue wristband, and I sat right down to see what it was all about.

Why on earth did I do that? Well, I had gone to Palm Springs last fall to protest the Love Won Out conference when it was held there. That’s where Melissa Fryrear, of Focus on the Family and one of the conference’s main speakers, told the local press that if we would just put down our signs and attend, we would know that they don’t hate us and there’s nothing for us to be so upset about. Actually, I don’t remember her exact words and the Palm Springs newspaper articles are no longer online, so I’m going by memory here. But I do remember reading something to that effect. And I also remember believing that her invitation was nothing more than a stunt.

So anyway, while we were greeting the conference attendees as they drove in on that sunny fall morning, I had a chance to talk very briefly with Michael Bussee who was also walking the protest line. Michael had been involved with the founding of Exodus back in 1975, and served on its original board of directors. Another person involved with Exodus in its early years was Gary Cooper. Michael and Gary eventually left Exodus when they came to the conclusion that it wasn’t possible to change their sexual orientation, and more to the point, that they were in love with each other. They had a commitment ceremony and remained together until Gary’s death in 1991.

As I said, I talked very briefly with Michael that day, so briefly that I doubt he remembers it. I mentioned what Melissa Fryrear said, and thought that maybe I should attend myself so I could see first-hand exactly what was said and done at these things. The whole reason I run this website is so I can look at what other people claim what social science research says, examine that research directly myself, and demonstrate whether and how people take liberties with that research, either in fact or in interpretation.

I often say that you should never take anyone’s word for anything if you can observe things directly for yourself. So if I’m such a show-me kind of guy, if I believe so strongly in going directly to the source, why should I let my perceptions about Love Won Out be shaped by what others are saying? Why am I not practicing what I’m preaching in this case? The more I thought about it, the more obligated I felt to go directly to the source itself — just like I always try to do with everything else.

Michael encouraged me to go. He had been to conferences in the past, and even though everyone knew who he was and had every reason to throw him out, they welcomed him warmly and treated him kindly. This was one of my hesitations and he laid that fear to rest. Like I said, I doubt he remembers this since the conversation was so brief.

So that’s what I decided to do. I signed up and attended Love Won Out when it came to Phoenix.

So here I am, back at home, decompressing from a very long, all-day affair. I have whole notebooks of notes and armloads of material. And I have memories of people, conversations, camaraderie, laughter and tears. I now have a renewed appreciation for what Exodus is really all about.

Over the next several weeks, I plan to talk more about what I saw and learned there. It’s an incredibly rich and complex story. No, I did not go over to the other side, but as is true for so many things in life, I was better able to see so much more grey between the black and the white.

Some of what I will report on will be things you may already know. But I think also that some of what I will say will annoy some and anger others — on all sides. This is why I want to go slow on this. I want to be very clear in what I’m saying. I want to try to speak with the same precision of language that I observed at Love Won Out. I also want to portray what I saw at Love Won Out truthfully. I try very hard in whatever I do to present the material fairly and accurately, but I don’t always succeed. But I want to be as fair and generous as I can to the conference participants and leaders because they certainly deserve that much.

So don’t expect all of this to come pouring out of me right away. Including all the breakout sessions, there were more than twenty hours of presentations to go through. In addition, there were brochures, informal conversations both casual and serious, and thoughts and emotions to sort out. It will take a little bit of time for all of this to gell into coherence.

I saw some things that disturbed me very deeply, things which could very easily propel me to my soapbox — and I definitely will get to them. You can count on that. But I saw other things which told me there are a lot of misconceptions about Love Won Out which also need to be dealt with. And there were a few positives that I saw which need to be explained as well. The ordinary family members I laughed, cried, and prayed with certainly deserve nothing less.

See also:

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For “Change”


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