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Open Letter To the Exodus International Board of Directors

Jim Burroway

March 11th, 2009

We’ve been following with great alarm the participation of Exodus International board member Don Schmierer in an anti-gay Conference in Uganda this past weekend. (Our coverage began here.) We aren’t alone in our concerns. Today, I join Ex-Gay Watch’s David Roberts and Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen and Michael Airhart in calling for swift action by the Exodus Board of Directors. Our open letter to the Exodus board is below.

I signed this letter because I believe that as we watched events unfold over the past week, we saw the Exodus leadership cross a line they hadn’t crossed before. The repugnant nature of Schmierer’s associations and actions go beyond anything we’ve seen from a supposedly mainstream advocacy organization. Calling for Alan Chambers’ resignation may seem like a strong response, but I assure you I did not come to this lightly. Longtime readers will know that I am not in the habit of demanding resignations. In fact, it’s not something I’ve ever done before. But watching these disturbing events unfold — and in consideration for the safety of LGBT citizens in Uganda and elsewhere — there must be strict and swift accountability for what happened. Otherwise the very name of Exodus will have taken on a whole new meaning.

That said, I should point out that I signed this letter in my role as editor of this web site, but I did not sign it on behalf of any other writers of Box Turtle Bulletin. That means the usual cautions apply: this letter may or may not necessarily represent the opinions of other writers at this web site. But it most certainly represents mine.


Open letter to the Exodus International Board of Directors:

We, the undersigned organizations, have monitored the ex-gay industry for more than a decade. To our great horror, prominent members of the ex-gay organization Exodus International participated last week in a conference in Uganda that promoted shocking abuses of basic human rights. This included draconian measures against gay and lesbian people such as forced ex-gay therapy, life imprisonment for people convicted of homosexuality and the formation of an organization designed to “wipe out” gay practices in Uganda. The conference also featured Scott Lively, a holocaust revisionist who at the event also blamed the 1994 Rwandan genocide on gay people.

The facts incontrovertibly show that Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, was aware of the list of speakers and abhorrent content prior to the conference. Exodus board member Don Schmierer, who spoke in Uganda, made no objections to the radical and dangerous platform offered. Instead, these mortal threats to the lives of gay and lesbian people were met with a deafening silence. Exodus, in effect, gave this insidious conference its tacit approval.

Today, we take the unprecedented step of joining together to demand that Exodus International’s Board of Directors take immediate action to hold accountable those who used the Exodus brand to promote an atmosphere conducive to serious human rights abuses. The accountability must begin with reasonable and responsible action by Board Chair Bob Ragan, including:

  • Dismissing Exodus President Alan Chambers for his knowing role in using Exodus to promote human rights abuses
  • Removing Board member Don Schmierer for speaking at a hate conference that promotes physical harm and psychological torture against GLBT people
  • Boldly articulating Exodus’ policy against human rights abuses including forced therapy
  • Promising to end future participation in all conferences that call on the persecution and criminalization of gay and lesbian people

We do not take this call to action lightly. These steps are necessary and commensurate with the massive breach of ethics and trust by the Exodus leadership. Clearly, Exodus has lost credibility and its claim to “love” gay people in the aftermath of Uganda seems duplicitous and insincere. As long as Chambers and Schmierer remain at Exodus, the organization is hopelessly compromised and even complicit in grave human rights abuses. It is time for the Exodus Board, led by Bob Ragan, to assert its moral authority by appointing new leadership and taking the organization in a more humane and principled direction.

Sincerely,

Jim Burroway                                 David Roberts
Box Turtle Bulletin                          Ex-Gay Watch

Wayne Besen                                 Mike Airhart
Truth Wins Out                               Truth Wins Out


The documentation implicating Exodus leaders for their participation at a hate conference in Uganda is robust and powerful. Most important, it is guided by indisputable facts:

The Case
Don Schmierer is a member of the board of directors for Exodus International. Last weekend, he used those credentials while speaking at an anti-gay conference in Kampala, Uganda alongside noted Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively. Those credentials as a leader of American’s largest and most influential ex-gay organization gave Schmierer the ability to speak authoritatively about the policies and ethics of sexual reorientation therapy. And more broadly, his presence as a leader of Exodus International lent credibility to the other speakers at the conference and the policy recommendations that emerged.

And so with Exodus International’s prestige fully utilized, we were outraged to discover that the conference was a forum for some of the most despicable statements and recommendations we have ever come across. During this conference we heard:

  • Gays blamed for the rise of Nazism in Germany. According to one eyewitness, Lively spoke extensively about his revisionist version of Nazi history, based on his book, The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party. In that book and in speeches, he claims that Nazi movement was, at its core, a homosexual movement. Despite the historical record to the contrary, Lively blames gays for the rise of Nazism and for the Holocaust itself, and claims that “the connection between homosexualism and fascism is not incidental.”
  • Gays blamed for the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Lively often claims that wherever gays gain the upper hand, they unleash a murderous rampage on innocent populations. In The Pink Swastika, Lively claims that “homosexuals are responsible for 68% of all mass murders in America.” According to one eyewitness at the Kampala conference, he extended that charge by blaming gay men for the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, which borders Uganda just to the south.
  • Gays blamed for recruiting/molesting children. In line with a common slander deployed by Ugandan anti-gay extremists in recent campaigns of anti-gay vigilantism and violence, Lively claimed that the gay rights movement consists of an entire network trying to recruit young children, including “predatory homosexuals who are always out to satisfy their sexual desires.”
  • Parents blamed for their children’s homosexuality. Don Schmierer presented his contradictory list of fourteen “signs that an adolescent may be struggling with gender issues.” But his focus appeared to have been on one suggested cause: it’s the parent’s fault. One eyewitness said, “He told participants that one of the biggest causes of homosexuality is the lack of “good upbringing” in families. In other words, good parents make straight children; bad parents, gay children.
  • Calls for new laws enacted in Uganda to require that those convicted of homosexuality be forced to undergo sexual reorientation therapy. The law in Uganda currently calls for a life sentence upon conviction for homosexuality. As far as we have been able to tell, no one at the conference called for decriminalization of homosexuality, nor a reduction in the current penalties. Instead, there were calls to strengthen the law to add the requirement that convicted gays be forced to endure unregulated and unproven therapies, under duress and against their will.
  • Announcement of a new organization designed to “‘wipe out’ gay practices” in Uganda. It is unclear what form or tactics this new organization will take, but another follow-up meeting was called for March 15. Our fear is that this will lead to another round of officially sanctioned extrajudicial anti-gay vigilantism, with Ugandan media — as they did in previous campaigns — publicly identifying private LGBT citizens and calling for their arrest or worse.

Given Uganda’s recent history, this is no idle fear. There were at least three successive public anti-gay campaigns in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In the most recent campaign, government-affiliated newspapers published articles identifying specific individuals with physical descriptions, addresses, places of employment — even photos — of those targeted, making them easily identifiable to neighbors, family members, employers, and the police.

Watching this unfold with the active participation of an Exodus board member has left us concerned with the direction that Exodus is taking. Some of us contacted Exodus president Alan Chambers on Friday, February 27 to raise our concerns about Schmierer’s participation alongside a Holocaust revisionist at this conference. We did this even though we do not believe it is the responsibility of Exodus’ critics to inform Exodus about the activities of an Exodus leader.

Chambers is not just the President of Exodus International, he’s also a fellow board member with Don Schmierer. He, along with board chairman Bob Ragan, had plenty of time to contact Schmierer to demand that he withdraw from the conference. (They do have cell phones, SMS text messages and email in Uganda, especially at the luxurious four-star Hotel Triangle in Kampala where the conference took place.) Chambers also had plenty of time of time to publicly articulate Exodus’ policy on forced conversions and criminalization of homosexuality, two subjects which are not new to the controversies surrounding ex-gay ministries. And he had plenty of time to clarify Exodus’ position on Scott Lively’s Holocaust revisionism and to denounce Lively’s dangerous rhetoric. But in all of this, Chambers has remained silent.

Don Schmierer, as a board member — and as one who was identified at the conference under those very credentials — could have spoken out against the excesses of anti-gay violence that has marked Uganda’s history. He could have spoken out against criminalization of homosexuality and denounced the policy recommendation of forced conversion therapy against the will of the individual being “treated.” Schmierer could have denounced Lively’s rabid anti-gay extremism, historical revisionism, and dangerous scapegoating. But in all of this, Schmierer has remained silent.

And the board, particularly Board Chairman Bob Ragan, could have exercised is oversight responsibility to ensure that Exodus’ name and reputation remain unsullied by its association with Scott Lively and the Uganda conference.

Exodus serves as an umbrella organization of some two hundred ex-gay ministries, each of which, according to Exodus, is “an independent organization which has met Exodus’ criteria for membership.” If Exodus is unable to regulate the actions of its own board member, how can we expect Exodus to monitor the practices and qualifications of their member ministries?

Despite informing Exodus of our concerns on February 27, they have remained silent on Schmierer’s association with Scott Lively, as well as their own links to him. And with the passage of each day, as we’ve received more reports about the conference, our concerns have grown to outrage.

It is not the first time forced therapy has become an issue with Exodus International. This issue was raised in 2005 when “Zach”, a 16-year-old gay teen, was forced against his will to attend an eight-week ex-gay therapy program at Exodus-affiliated Love In Action in Memphis. That same year, another father drove his 17-year-old son to Love In Action in handcuffs. Despite all this, Love In Action remains one of Exodus’ most prominent member ministries. Today, the calls for enshrining forced therapy into Ugandan law has been met with silence at Exodus. We call upon Exodus once and for all to address the morality of forcing people into unregulated and unproven therapies against their will.

Laws banning private consensual relationships between adult same-sex couples are no longer in force in the United States. While this is settled law in this country, it is not a settled position among most anti-LGBT organizations. Furthermore, criminalization of private, consensual relationships remain a reality in many countries throughout the world, many of which provide harsh, draconian penalties upon conviction. As Exodus International engages in ex-gay movements around the world, we call upon Exodus once and for all to address the morality of punishing private adult consensual relationships.

Because of Schmierer’s actions, Exodus International will bear responsibility for any renewed convulsions of violence that may arise in the aftermath of this conference. Given the highly volatile history of anti-LGBT vigilantism in Uganda, we find Schmierer’s actions there appallingly reckless and irresponsible. Lives and the well being of many Ugandans may well be at stake in the weeks and months to come. Because of the danger that Schmierer’s actions may pose to citizens of that volatile nation, we call upon the Board of Directors of Exodus International to remove Don Schmierer from the Board of Directors.

Scott Lively, along with another of Alan Chambers’ “good friends”, Seattle pastor Ken Hutcherson, is a co-founder of Watchmen On the Walls, one of twelve anti-gay hate groups identified and tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Incidentally, Scott Lively’s Abiding Truth Ministries is also listed by the SPLC as a hate group. While speaking at a Watchmen conference in Novosibirsk, Russia, in 2007, Lively excused the murder of Satendar Singh, a gay immigrant from Fiji who was killed in an anti-gay hate crime in Sacramento. We call upon the Board of Directors of Exodus International to resolutely and unambiguously denounce Scott Lively’s dangerous rhetoric. We further call upon the Board to end future participation in all conferences that call on the persecution and criminalization of gay and lesbian people.

It is clear that that Exodus under the leadership of Alan Chambers has failed to live up to its claim of challenging “those who respond to homosexuals with ignorance and fear.” The Board must take swift action and remove Chambers as its leader. If the Exodus Board fails to act, it bears culpability and full responsibility for creating a climate where hate crimes can and do occur both at home and abroad.


Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of recent anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Comments

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Truth Wins Out - Open Letter to the Exodus International Board of Directors
March 11th, 2009 | LINK

[…] Jim BurrowayBox Turtle Bulletin […]

Truth Wins Out - Watchdog Groups Demand ‘Ex-Gay’ Organization Dismiss Leader, Alan Chambers, In Aftermath of Ugandan Hate Conference
March 11th, 2009 | LINK

[…] from Ex-Gay Watch, Box Turtle Bulletin and Truth Wins Out signed the letter, which […]

L. Junius Brutus
March 11th, 2009 | LINK

We need to get HRC and other organizations involved. This is our chance to expose Exodus for what it is – an organization based on hatred and bigotry. It would be nice if future news articles about “Love in Action” mentioned this.

Priya Lynn
March 11th, 2009 | LINK

L. Junius Brutus, now that you mention it, it does seem strange that I’ve never heard organizations like HRC or GLAAD address the actions of these people – what are they doing with all those millions? Its sad that this kind of work is left up to small organizations without the big bucks.

David Gibbs III Warns Of Robot Marriage Danger Arising From Gay Marriage, Don Schmierer of Exodus International Goes to Uganda To Promote Forcible Therapy of Gays | Popehat
March 11th, 2009 | LINK

[…] and cultural conservative organizations — can finally participate in a conference where they bring the truth about gay responsibility for the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide and advocate laws requiring […]

Open Letter to Exodus « Peterson Toscano’s A Musing
March 11th, 2009 | LINK

[…] Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin, Mike Airhart and Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out, and, David Roberts of Ex-Gay Watch have issued a […]

HappyCat
March 11th, 2009 | LINK

I am glad and very thankful to all that help bring this criminal actions of Exodus to light. I have written to our Secretary of State asking that they also get involved. I haven’t received a reply.

I would like to hear what the Dept. of State has to say.

Stefano A
March 11th, 2009 | LINK

HappyCat, thank you for writing to the State Dept. I had hoped individuals and our advocacy groups would contact them regarding Uganda. So far, outside of ILGHRC and groups like UNAIDS or the European Intergroup I’ve not seen much.

I’ve been monitoring the State Dept press releases and remarks but to date have not seen them make any kind of remark or statement. (So disappointing considering Secretary Clinton has made remarks during two Town Hall meetings now regarding non-discrimination. The last remarks being made at the European Parliament in front of President Hans-Gert Pöttering.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Human rights is and will always be one of the pillars of our foreign policy, and in particular the persecution and discrimination against gays and lesbians is something that we take very seriously. It is terribly unfortunate, as you just recited, that right now in unfortunately many places in the world, violence against gays and lesbians — certainly discrimination and prejudice — are not just occurring, but condoned and protected. We would hope that over the next few years, we could have some influence in trying to change those attitudes.

While this was nice, it is now time for her to live up to that sentiment and make a specific statement on what is happening in Uganda, Nigeria and Burundi. But specificaly Uganda as it involves US citizens.

Mike Airhart
March 11th, 2009 | LINK

I think the State Department is unlikely to act without substantial media coverage. Thus far, there has been little coverage.

I recommend that people contact their nearest gay newspaper or gay news website and ask them to follow up.

John
March 11th, 2009 | LINK

Alan Chambers is a very weak leader who has been given much more slack than he deserves. I applaud the leaders of the main websites that monitor the ex-gay movement for stepping forward and calling a spade a spade.

Exodus leaders love to talk about accountability. We need to stop dancing around the morally egregious behavior of the likes of Exodus International and it’s leader Alan Chambers and demand some real accountability. People are suffering, and more people are truely going to suffer as a result of the Ugandan Conference. Good show.

Lynn David
March 12th, 2009 | LINK

I don’t think we’ll here a thing from Chambers. This is all about money. The harder line is wining out at Exodus because the middle is fleeing the Republican and even the more fundamentalist Evangelical groups. FotF, the AFA and other groups took a hit with their cash reserves fighting for Prop 8 in California and the amendments in Arizona and Florida. Exodus is likely then hurting also. They can only get more income by going more hardline conservative. If Ahmanson’s Fieldstead is committed to helping them out then Schmierer, who works for Fieldstead, will get a free walk from Exodus.

It’s all about the money, and that’s about as unChristian as Exodus can get.

quo III
March 12th, 2009 | LINK

With all respect, I don’t think that the idea that parents are to blame for their children’s homosexuality should be called “despicable.” That theory might be partly true (leaving aside the choice of the word “blame”), and it is hardly the equivalent of blaming gay people for the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide.

Emily K
March 13th, 2009 | LINK

That theory might be partly true

Which part, exactly? The part about the over-bearing mother and absent father, or the part about sexual abuse that gays just can’t seem to remember at all? (must be the trauma of being gay that represses it.)

The so-called “environmental” factors of homosexual orientation have already been put under study, and “environmental” doesn’t automatically mean “nurture-induced.”

Eddie89
March 13th, 2009 | LINK

I accuse my parents!

Because of them I am gay. Since I inherited their genes and DNA, which is what caused me to be born gay. As well as with brown skin, brown eyes and black hair!

I am PROUD to have inherited all of these traits and I am thankful to my parents for having passed them on to me.

quo III
March 13th, 2009 | LINK

Emily K,

I really don’t know what you mean about sexual abuse that people can’t remember. As for other kinds of parental behaviour being responsible for homosexuality – yes, that might well be partly true (in the opinion of various respected researchers, Kenneth Zucker, Seymour Fisher, among others).

My main point, however, was theories like this are in no way the equivalent of the various other statements (about the Holocaust, etc) at the Uganda conference. It shows a lack of a sense of proportion to suggest that they are.

Emily K
March 13th, 2009 | LINK

quo, unless you come up with statements other than “might be partly true” and start making citations, none of it carries weight.

This is what I mean by “abuse that is not remembered.”

quo III
March 14th, 2009 | LINK

Emily,

The reason why I am not making citations (which I don’t see you offering either) is because my main point wasn’t about the causation of homosexuality, just the oddness of equating a particular opinion on that subject with the idea that homosexuals are responsible for the Holocaust.

Emily K
March 14th, 2009 | LINK

Truth Wins Out has videos of scientists talking about it, you’re welcome to pop on over there and browse.

I’ve found that the reason people don’t offer citations is because they don’t have any.

And anyway, bigotted uninformed parents will not see a difference between “being the cause of” their child’s [filthy sinful awful] homosexuality and “being the ones to blame for” their child’s [filthy awful sinful] homosexuality.

Strange, True & Religious : Conference in Uganda by 3 professional anti-gays from U.S. sets off strange feeding frenzy as pastors accuse rivals of gayness, miracle faking and human sacrifices
May 16th, 2009 | LINK

[…] Mar 11: Open Letter To the Exodus International Board of Directors […]

Michael Bussee
January 15th, 2010 | LINK

I am not part of any organization, but as one of the founders of Exodus,I SO wish I could sign this letter. I whole-heartedly AGREE!!!

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