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Part 1: “Love Won Out” — What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Jim Burroway

February 15th, 2007

Note: As I describe my conversations with Love Won Out participants, I have changed several important details in order to protect the anonymity of those I talked to. The individuals who talked to me have a right to expect that their stories not be made individually recognizable. Nevertheless, the situations I describe are fully accurate in their substance.

I’ve been asked several times now and it seems like people are dying to know: “Who goes to these conferences anyway? What were they like?” I’ve wondered how they imagine those who go to Love Won Out, but I’ve never asked. The tone of the question is often one of strange fascination, as if I had just told them I visited a tribe of cannibals in the South Pacific and they responded, “Good God! What were they like?” I can hardly blame them. I asked that question myself many times, before I had the chance to see them with my own eyes.

Well I can now report that there was nothing exotic or frightening about the seven hundred people who attended Focus on the Family’s and Exodus’ Love Won Out conference in Phoenix on February 10. In fact, I found the people there to be exceptionally warm, friendly and cheerful. It was a crowd which, much to my surprise, I found to be very pleasant and easy spend the day with. I enjoyed my time chatting and laughing with everyone as we stood in this line or that one. For the most part, I think the people I met there would make great friends and neighbors.

There was definitely a very friendly vibe here. And while I wasn’t open about my own sexuality, I suspect most would have accepted me quite well if I had told them I was gay. In fact, I suspect they would have treated me like a rock star, because even though the conference was all about homosexuality, there were surprisingly few homosexuals there. I would have been the living, breathing homosexual everyone was talking about.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why some of the people I talked to treated me so well. Maybe they took one look at me and just knew, sort of the way I knew sometimes. I don’t know. But if I had told them explicitly, I’m sure it would have gotten in the way. I would have become a talker instead of a listener, and I wouldn’t have been able to hear what they had to say in their own words. So I kept those things to myself. Nobody asked and I didn’t tell. I was just there.

So who attends conferences like this? Love Won Out, which claims that “individuals don’t have to be gay and that a homosexual identity is something that can be overcome,” appears to draw mainly from three groups of people.

The first group consisted of church leaders, Bible study groups and youth groups who attended as part of their ongoing Christian education. For them, this was an all-day seminar on “the seldom-told side of the homosexual issue.” These were either true believers in their church’s stance on homosexuality or were well on their way toward becoming one. While this group was quite visible, they weren’t especially large. And since they all knew each other, they tended to hang around in clumps and talk among themselves. I didn’t interact with them very much at all. But there were specific breakout sessions for pastors and youth group leaders and I will probably address some of this much later in the series.

The second group consisted of those who were, in the parlance of Love Won Out, “struggling with same-sex attraction.” Now I have to confess that my gaydar isn’t necessarily the most accurately calibrated device on the planet, but it registered several loud, unmistakable pings throughout the day. Even so, like I said, this was a very small group, probably the smallest of the three. They were sometimes with their families, but they were more likely to be alone or with one or two others. They were generally rather subdued, not talking very much among themselves or with anyone else. Their reticence made them, to me at least, somewhat unapproachable. I was never good at mingling with people who were themselves quiet, something I guess I’m going to have to work on. So as it was, I didn’t have a good opening with which to casually strike up a conversation while standing in line for lunch or the coffee bar or during breaks in the lobby. I got the impression they generally wanted to be left alone and I respected that. As I looked through the day’s agenda, I saw only a couple of sessions that would be of direct interest to them, something I found to be a bit surprising.

But the third group — and this was by far the largest group (I think about two-thirds according to a show of hands during one of the general sessions) — consisted of relatives of those “affected by homosexuality.” And by my unsubstantiated estimation, it appeared to me at least that most of these were either parents or grandparents of gays and lesbians. The rest were brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or close friends. Because of their sheer numbers, this was the most approachable group of the three.

I’ll probably address the relevance of Love Won Out to the first two groups, but it’s the third group, especially the parents and grandparents, who I want to keep in mind as I tell you about Love Won Out. I don’t think anyone can really understand what Love Won Out means without looking at it through the eyes of the mothers and the fathers of gays and lesbians, particularly those with children who came out to them and continue to live as “gay- or lesbian-identified,” to use Love Won Out’s way of speaking.

Many of my gay and lesbian friends assume that anyone who went to these conferences would be filled with incredible hate toward the gay community. When I attended the Love Won Out protests in Palm Springs last fall, I was dismayed to see that the local protest organizers kept pounding on the word “hate”, declaring Palm Springs a “hate-free zone” and characterizing everyone associated with Love Won Out as being motivated by “hate.”

Folks, I can now state categorically that this is not true and we need to stop saying that. Now mind you, I can’t look into the hearts of the conference leaders and I’m certainly won’t mount a defense on their behalf. They will have to defend their own actions and motivations however they can. But those who attend Love Won Out don’t go there because of hate. To say otherwise is to commit a terrible slander and we should abolish that kind of language from our discourse.

Instead, let me draw your attention to a gentleman I talked to in one quiet little corner of the church courtyard. He was there with his wife and we were talking when he began to tell me about his son. For a long time, this gentleman had been wondering why his very good-looking and popular son hadn’t gotten married yet, when about eight years ago his son came home for a special visit in order to explain why that wasn’t going to happen. This father was very forthcoming in telling me that he took the news very badly, and he said a lot of things that he shouldn’t have said. And when he talked to his son more in the months that followed, he repeated some of those awful things which brought their relationship to a terrible break.

Since then, he’s talked to his son on the phone many times, but too often it often hasn’t gone very well. There are too many times when the conversations between them break down as old patterns repeat themselves. There’s just too much pain and anger on both sides, although he’s careful not to blame his son. He wishes he knew how to talk to him, and as he said this he began to cry very softly. His wife, who had been standing silently next to him the whole time, gently reached for his hand and she began to cry as well. But she remained silent. She never shared her side of the story and I didn’t ask.

I just stood there and watched this man’s heart break before my very eyes. His lower lip quivered ever so slightly as he continued speaking — the hopes that he had for his son, the many things he admired about him, his pride in his son’s successful career, and yet, his utter puzzlement that his son could possibly be gay. Eight years later and he still can’t quite bring himself to fully believe it. All he wants is for his boy to come home.

And with that, he couldn’t say any more. The conversation came to a very awkward end. He struggled for just a few, very brief seconds before regaining his composure, and I struggled to keep mine.

This part of the conversation lasted, I don’t know, maybe thirty seconds, tops. Such profound stories can come tumbling out so quickly when you least expect it. But at that moment, as we stood there in that mercifully quiet corner of the church courtyard, it felt like a lifetime. And in a way, it was. It was two lifetimes intertwined, with the irony being that their lives were drawn together by a chasm which stood between them.

I wished that his son could have seen his father as I saw him right then. This man revealed himself to me in a way that he couldn’t to his son, and that is so incredibly unfair. It made me mad a little. Not at him or at his son, but at the whole situation. It was his son who deserved the great gift of seeing his father’s love, not me, and I wondered if his son had ever had a chance to see him like that. My heart broke for that father because of the incredible pain he felt, and my heart broke for his son for having missed the chance to see what I saw.

A grown man does not often shed tears in front of a perfect stranger when talking about his son unless he loves him with a power and depth that few people are privileged to witness. Those who say that Love Won Out is all about hate have it all wrong. It’s not. Tragically, it’s about something much deeper and far more personal for most of those who attend.

I want you to remember that gentleman and his wife as we go through the things I saw and learned at Love Won Out. I also ask that you to remember that couple and their son in your prayers.

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”

Comments

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Mark
February 15th, 2007 | LINK

Wonderfully written, Jim.

The knee-jerk “hate” reaction is something that I think is a little hard to overcome given the terrible injustices the gay community has experienced, but I agree that it’s an unfair portrayal. I also agree that it’s important to draw a distinction between the leaders of the anti-gay lobby, and the people that make up their audience.

Your description of the father reminded me of my own parents’ reaction to my coming out—which to be succinct, I’ll call “adverse.” I don’t expect that I’ll ever fully understand their reaction—I’m not a parent, and if I ever become one, I already have a very good understanding of what it means to be gay. But with the help of books like Beyond Acceptance (where parents describe their experiences in words much like you’ve described above), I’ve come to appreciate the reactions for what they are, and try very hard to not get angry or impatient anymore. (Indeed, I’ve had some phone hang ups and moments of “excommunication” that I’m rather ashamed of.)

I think it’s unfortunate that Love Won Out uses misinformation and distortion to reach out to parents who are struggling to understand, but I agree that the gay community would be far more effective reaching out to these parents through other means (like PFLAG) rather than picketing Love Won Out with the blanket statement of hate.

Drew
February 15th, 2007 | LINK

I’m very excited that you are able to share your experience at the Love Won Out conference. You are spot on in saying that the individuals who attend these conferences are not necessarily those who ‘hate’ the gay community but searching for answers and some kind of resolution to a conflict, either within themselves or with others in their lives.

I can appreciate the situation that the man finds himself in. His initial reaction to the death of the mental image he had constructed of his son is something that I’m sure can be very devistating. Likewise, I understand his reasons for going to such a conference. He’s hoping for some parcel of information that he can use that might fix his situation with his son.

The message of the organization and the conference, however, will always be that homosexuality can be overcome. That is what is causing the division between the man and his son. By being at this conference, it seems that the man sees homosexuality as the obstacle that is preventing the realization of everything he wished for his son and for himself as his son’s father. In reality, however, to reconnect with his son, he will have to completely reconstruct his image of his son and that is something some individuals are not capable of doing.

To me, the conference offers false hope to those ‘affected by homosexuality’. It seems to say, that once you help your loved one overcome this, your lives will be as they once were. What is preventing them from realizing there dreams for their relatives is homosexuality. In this way, the state of being a homosexual can be hated by someone, even if they deeply love the person who is a homosexual, because it is preventing the realization of something they want.

I hope the family you wrote about will find some way to resolve their situation. Again, thank you for writing on your experiences.

cowboy
February 15th, 2007 | LINK

Communication is nearly always a key factor in reconciling with family.

However, at what point does communication become strictly a one-way dialogue and any amount of reconciliation is interpreted as giving false hope their gay son or daughter is changeable.

Then, there is the “tough love” stance some family inflict on their gay sons and daughters. Where do we reconcile some very hurtful statements such as: “I wish you were never born.” “ I wish you had not taken a breath when the Doctor spanked you.” If a family member saying such mean-spirited, hate-filled, emotionally manipulative and vitriolic statement is not hate…then what is it? The natural response is more likely to be equally hate-filled retorts.

There may be remorse for saying hurtful/hateful things but does that truly change their true feelings? There will be always suspicions and mistrust about this “remorse” and even witnessing your own family’s quivery lip is just a ploy…a manipulative tool sometimes to get you to change.

Sure, there is hate. Maybe the hate is not directed at family but their insistence at being aligned with very hurtful and unbending dogma.

Pomo
February 17th, 2007 | LINK

Thank you for writing this. I occasionally read your blog because I find it to be more balanced than most out there. And that is appriciated with such a volatile issue.

Since coming out to myself and others, ive spent most of the last 6 years in ex-gay circles. While I no longer fully agree with them or their claims, I would never change my time there. I disagree with their political stance but I have seen the peoples hearts. And they are good. As you evidenced. I may disagree with them on what “change” is but I can never talk about about them as people.

People wont listen to me because they think i’ve been brainwashed or any other list of excuses. But they will listen to you. And so I thank you that you are bringing to light the “other” side just as I am trying to do in my own way.

Ray Foster
February 17th, 2007 | LINK

Eight years. Yep. It’s getting close to reconiliation time. My two brothers wouldn’t speak to me for ten years and then it was over when my mother died. I was driving to the funeral home to arrange for her funeral and then on to get a head stone for her grave and my brothers went with me and it all come out right there in the confining quarters of a pickup truck. They told me they had both told people they only had one brother. I was blinded by tears and grief and almost drove into a big ditch. I pulled over at a roadside picnic area next to Lake Texhoma and cried for about an hour. I’ve never gotten over that.

No hate there.

PiaSharn
February 18th, 2007 | LINK

This post reminded me of a book that I read some years ago and would highly recommend. (If you haven’t already read it, that is.) The book is “Prayers for Bobby” by Leroy Aarons. (Here’s a link to the book on Amazon.)

It’s the story of a mother who finds out that her younger son, Bobby, is gay, and her efforts through religion and prayer to change him. She didn’t do this out of fear or hate. She did it because she loved him and was terrified that because he was homosexual, he would never go to heaven and she would be seperated from him for the rest of eternity.

Of course, nothing works. Bobby is unable to change himself, falls further into depression, and eventually commits suicide.

His mother then has to deal with the heartbreaking knowledge that her pushing her son to be straight, as well meant and loving as it was, resulted in his death. She has since become a spokesperson for GLBT rights, in the hope that her story can save other families the sorrow that hers has gone through.

It was your reference to the love that the people who attended feel for their GLBT kith and kin that reminded me of it. Mary Griffith (Bobby’s mother) truly loved her son. You can see that in this story. It’s also what makes the eventual outcome of her actions and the lateness of her understanding so tragic.

Mike E
February 20th, 2007 | LINK

“I was dismayed to see that the local protest organizers kept pounding on the word “hate”, declaring Palm Springs a “hate-free zone” and characterizing everyone associated with Love Won Out as being motivated by “hate.”

Folks, I can now state categorically that this is not true and we need to stop saying that .. those who attend Love Won Out don’t go there because of hate. To say otherwise is to commit a terrible slander and we should abolish that kind of language from our discourse.”

Thanks for defending this fact.

Bruce Garrett
February 21st, 2007 | LINK

Those who say that Love Won Out is all about hate have it all wrong. It’s not.

You walked among the attendees there at the conference and you could clearly see their humanity, and how deeply some of them were suffering. And this was your first time inside of one.

Question: how can the people organizing these ghastly things, who have been organizing them for year after year now, who have without a doubt heard stories like these over and over again, year in and year out, not see the bleeding hurting humanity in those people the way you could, at your very first encounter with it?

There’s the hate. There’s the stinking rotten core of it. No…it’s not the innocent people caught up in it. Not the ex-gays themselves. Not the hurting parents of gay children. They’re not the ones making money, and political hay, out of demonizing homosexuals. There is not a single person in Focus On The Family, from James Dobson on down, who couldn’t see for themselves, I submit, who haven’t seen for themselves, exactly what you so clearly saw while you were in there talking to those people. All the hurt. All the pain. All the broken bonds between parent and child. They know perfectly well what they’re doing to people.

And yet…they keep it up. They keep promising change for their children. They keep feeding parents one filthy lie after another about homosexuals and homosexuality. How many times have you yourself documented them dishonestly manipulating science to feed the fear and loathing of homosexual people? Don’t tell me they don’t know what they’re doing to people like the parents you spoke with there. It’s not like any of them, Dobson and his cohorts, are just walking into one of these conferences for the first time like you did. They know.

What did Timothy McVeigh call it…collateral damage? There’s the mindset. There’s the hate.

PTBoat
February 23rd, 2007 | LINK

I think it is wonderful, and forgiving of you to see the father and think that he is attending this seminar out of love. The man may well love his son, or who he believed his son to be. He remembers all of the good times, the successes his son had and that he was a handsome young man. The man even cries and regrets some of the things that he said to his son during those several phone calls, but what is missing is that the man is attending a seminar that is focussed on the idea that his son can change to fit his father’s ideal. This isn’t love, this is applying a condition to the young man’s very fiber of being in order to receive love from his father. I see the hate there. Surely, the man does not love his son, but he hates what he is. He hates that his son is gay and, rather than seeking out PFLAG, or some other supportive organization, instead of calling or writing his son with an apology and a desire to understand, he has decided to go to a conference that will reinforce his own misconceptions and bigotry. It’s as if his heterosexual white son married a black woman and he went to a KKK rally to understand.

To me, the hate is obvious, but I’m certain it isn’t to the man himself. He doesn’t realize that while hating what his son does so much that he can no longer see him, he is hating who his son actually is.

MrPendent
February 24th, 2007 | LINK

Got here from Pam’s House Blend (wanted to see what ‘Love Won Out’ was–never heard of it). While I’m not gay (or ex-gay ;-) ), I don’t have any problem with it. Some of best friends, blah blah blah…

Anyway, I just wanted to add that it seems to me that the hate is subtle, but quite clear. Would you have found the old man’s story so touching if he were upset about anything else? He was sad that things turned out this way, but when he speaks of continually fighting with his son over the phone, what do you think he’s saying–that his son shouldn’t eat so many carbs? No. He’s telling the son that he shouldn’t be gay, that it’s wrong, that he’s a lesser being and he’s going to hell. The son rightfully gets angry, and they hang up. Wait a few weeks, and they do it all over again.

The problem, in my opinion, is that this kind of reviv…er…conference is not trying to help the family understand that not only are their sons and daughters gay, but that it really has little to do with them. This conference makes the assumption (and pushes the idea) that sexual orientation can be changed and that it *should be changed.* That for your son or daughter to “remain” gay not only is a sin, but a character flaw–not only is he gay, but lazy too!

If there were a “conference” tent right next to this one offering to help people come to terms with their relatives’ sexuality (which, again, I can’t see is any of their business–I don’t discuss sex with my parents), do you think these people would be lining up for that? Call me cynical, but I doubt it.

Maybe, if they are so concerned about their relatives, they would put some effort into ensuring that those relatives are not treated as second-class citizens, rather than trying to “cure” them.

texas dem
March 1st, 2007 | LINK

You’re right that gay activists are wrong to use the “hate” lines when directly confronting Love Won Out attendees. The parents of gay people generally aren’t haters, although due to some tragic misunderstandings they often do awful and truly hateful things.

The line that these people — the parents and other consumers of this information, not the producers of it — need to be confronted with is not “no more hate” or “hate-free zone” but “no more lies” and “the truth will set you free.” The correct criticism is not “you are full of hate” but “you have been told lies.” If the Truth can win, it will clear the air of the lies and darkness that have blocked love and perverted it into anger and sadness and bitterness and yes, hatefulness. If the Truth wins out, love will be able to find itself again.

Anyway, when confronting these people, it’s not “no more hate”, but rather “no more lies.” That’s the core of the problem here. And telling a grief-stricken mother she’s hateful won’t get her anywhere, but telling her she’s been lied to might get her thinking.

Steve
March 9th, 2007 | LINK

Perhaps the sign protestors need to carry at these things is:
“Free yourself from shame. Love your child for who he is”

Exodus pushes the attendees so hard to seek change in another, when they all must really seek to find change in themselves. It tells them: “Ignore the beam in your own eye; if you have fault, it is in the past and the past cannot be changed. It is they who can and must change.”

Julius_Gay
May 13th, 2007 | LINK

I agree.

Julius_Gay
May 13th, 2007 | LINK

Orange Julius Gay

Its a shame society does that to people this is the us of a as i am told

A Gay Blogger Undercover At “Love Won Out” « Camels With Hammers
October 11th, 2009 | LINK

[...] is an account of an experience with a devastated and bewildered father alienated from his son over his … let me draw your attention to a gentleman I talked to in one quiet little corner of the church [...]

Kimc
December 23rd, 2010 | LINK

My therapist told me that anger is a secondary emotion — that the primary emotion behind it is hurt. That father expressed his hurt to you, with his tears and quivering lip, hurt and grieving for the son he thought he knew. but when he talks with his son, his ego gets in the way and his hurt gets expressed as anger. and anger begets anger, so his son is angry back, when he is really hurt that he can’t see the love he has every right to expect from his parents.
And yes, this muddle of emotions and hurt feelings and misunderstandings is all due to the lies told about homosexuality. And yes, the leaders know what they are doing and don’t care. but the families: the parents and the gay sons and daughters — are all the victims here.
but the leaders make money at this, so they are American heroes, because all America counts anymore is money. We don’t count. Only our money has value, not our selves. What does that sound like to you? Brad Hicks says the religious right made a pact with the devil in 1964. If they did, isn’t this what it would look like?

Love the Straight Supremacist–Hate Straight Supremacy « Peterson Toscano's A Musing
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

[...] leadership Exodus has taken over the Love One Out conferences, a day long event that assures parents and church youth workers that their queer youth need not stay that way. They offer testimonies of people who claim they have changed, and project photographs of former [...]

Sissy Boys and Crushed Spirits « Peterson Toscano's A Musing
June 8th, 2011 | LINK

[...] Jim’s attention to detail and his compassion that runs deep and in many directions (read his report about parents who seek a cure for their queer children.) I feel grateful that Kirk’s brother and sister found in Jim [...]

tips about golf » Box Turtle Bulletin
November 24th, 2011 | LINK

[...] 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 [...]

Gromm
December 6th, 2012 | LINK

You said:

“But those who attend Love Won Out don’t go there because of hate.”

Which reminds me of this little quote (source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0681314/quotes):

Brian Kinney: [to Craig Taylor] So in other words, for Justin to live here with you, he has to deny who he is… what he thinks… and how he feels.
Craig Taylor: No one asked for your opinion, Pal.
Brian Kinney: Well, that’s not love. That’s hate.

Sorry, but the man you immediately write about there as proof that he’s not there because of hate, you don’t understand what you mean when you say “[they] don’t go there because of hate”. That man may love his son, be proud of his every accomplishment, yearn deeply for his return. But that man also hates the homos so much that he cannot stand the fact that his son is in fact, gay.

And so he shows up here, desperate for the answer to the question “Why can’t he just *change*?!” Expecting your children – especially the adult children – to change so that you can love them fully, is folly motivated by hatred. And I say that as a parent myself. You either love your children for who they are, or you don’t *really* love them. All he has to do is change a thought. What he’s asking his son to do is change who he *is*. This place isn’t helping him, it’s preying *upon* him. It’s selling him a lie because he desperately wants to believe it. These people may as well be trying to sell cod liver oil as a cure for cancer. And there’s conferences for *that* too.

gary47290
June 25th, 2013 | LINK

Regarding Your couple who didn’t know what do about their son.

They don’t love their son. They love a 2 dimensional fiction the have about their son. They need to accept who he is, not who they want him to be.

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