Following Up On A Few Items In The USA Today Article

Elaborating About Mom, Hearing From Old Living Hope Friends, Exodus' Structure and The Infusion of Conversion Therapy into Ex-gay Ministry

First, thank you to everyone who has reached out about the USA Today article. Dan and I have gotten quite a bit of feedback and people reaching out wanting to share their story and experience. It might take a little bit to respond to everyone, but we will!

It’s also been great to hear from several people who went to the Exodus referral ministry in Texas that I used to lead (Living Hope Ministries.) Haven’t heard from these folks in at least 17, 18 years. It was quite emotional to see those faces and to hear their updates of finally coming to terms with who they indeed are as LGBT+ people. Their messages were filled with love and grace when, considering what I used to teach, understandably could have taken a different tone. My heart is with them, and I am eternally grateful we all managed to find our way out of the ex-gay/conversion world.

Following Up On A Few Items In The USA Today Article

There are also a couple of statements in the part regarding my story that has been on my mind to explain a bit further. There weren’t any inaccuracies, just a couple of topics I wanted to elaborate on.

For Randy Thomas, 49, of Orlando the issue is raw. After Thomas came out in 1987 at 19, his mother kicked him out of the house and he moved in with a drag queen who happened to be Christian.

All true. Only wanted to add that my relationship with my Mom is so much better today. We still have our disagreements, but this happened a little over 30 years ago. We have had some excellent conversations about this experience since then.

As joyful as it was to embrace his Christian faith, his work with Exodus took Thomas down a dark path by a group that actively promoted what it called “reparative therapy.”

For a long time, we did actively promote reparative therapists, the approach itself and reparative therapy resources. All of which is synonymous with “conversion therapy.” It is conversion therapy but under its original name. We also promoted peer-based ministries (ex-gay ministries) that the few who remain after Exodus are now thoroughly infused with the conversion therapy ideology and approach. These peer-based groups and nonprofits became a mix of “spiritual discipleship” and conversion therapy.

Plus, I believe religious stigma against LGBT+ people inspired the concept of “conversion therapy” to begin with. I believe this because I met and/or friends with most of the counselors that began the whole thing. Every one of them was staunchly conservative in their religious and social beliefs. NARTH, the original reparative/conversion therapist network was filled to the rafters with Roman Catholics, Evangelical Conservatives, and Mormons who believed that being LGBT+ was inherently “disordered” and against “God’s creative intent.”

It’s also important to note that Exodus had three networks. First, there were the Member Ministries (peer-based groups that Exodus was most known for, about half of which are still running today). Second, we had a Professional counselors network; even if they didn’t say they were conversion therapists, their approach was to try to help patients convert from an LGBT+ experience to or toward their “gender appropriate” “heterosexual potential.” Third, we had an extensive network of supportive churches. Most of whom weren’t the hellfire and brimstone of the past (a few were) but still believed in and imposed religious stigma against LGBT+ people. To be a part of the church network they also had to be fully supportive of Exodus’ efforts.

I just wanted to share that to show that reparative therapy was near the core of Exodus but it wasn’t everything we did. That said, it did influence everything we did. Hope that makes sense.

And lastly…

Thomas, who had risen to the position of executive vice president of the group, decided with others that Exodus needed to be shut down. In the aftermath, he lost all of his Christian and conservative friends.

About the first part, the then Exodus President and Board made the ultimate decision of course, but I helped build the case and present it to the board. The second sentence is probably something I bumbled in the interview. I meant to say that I lost all my conservative Christian friends. I did make liberal/moderate Christian friends and still have some conservative (but socially liberal) friends. It was specifically the conservative Christian friends (easily over 90% of my support system at the time) that just disappeared; some not so quiet either.

To conclude this post…

Ok… so these are the thoughts that have been tumbling in my head for the last 24 hours about this. As I have said, I am honored to have had the opportunity to speak to these issues to help end conversion therapy for minors. The USA Today article is very important and written incredibly well. Please read it if you haven’t already.

It’s time for conversion therapy for LGBT+ minors, and religious stigma against us as a whole, to end.

You are loved,

Afterthoughts on USA Today Article – A Call for Courageous Voices

The End, Of "Conversion Therapy", Is Near

Yesterday (online, print edition out today) I had the honor of lending my voice and story to the USA Today article written by Susan Miller, “‘Being LGBTQ is not an illness’: Record number of states banning conversion therapy.

It’s encouraging to hear that the wave of bans against conversion therapy for minors is gaining momentum. I am so grateful for the HRC’s help in getting the word out and making and keeping this a top priority. The work they are doing is fantastic, and I am encouraged by their efforts.

On the same note, what’s even more remarkable, are the efforts happening at the grassroots. I know and hear from people all over the United States (and some from abroad) that have had enough and are not going to be silent anymore. Individuals, families, and communities have seen the damaging impact of social and religious stigma against LGBT+ individuals. To continue that abuse under the guise of “professional” counseling for minors needs calling out for the harm that it is and banning.

It’s time to take our power back and lift our voices to protect the young; to help prevent future generations from having to experience what we have gone through.

So, if you need someone with 23 years of experience as a leader of ex-gay/conversion ministries and working with conversion therapists to speak out against it, sign me up. Also, if you have a similar story of escaping and healing from conversion therapy/ex-gay ministry and would like to lend your voice to ending conversion therapy for minors, please contact me privately with your preferred contact information. I want to and have been asked to, compile a list of people all across the country to pass along to organization’s and leaders seeking to end conversion therapy. As momentum increases, we need courageous voices willing to speak up at the local and state level. Please help and contact me if you can.

You are loved,

The “Rainbow Flag”

Gay Pride Colors: History & Meaning

The Rainbow Flag (LGBT+ Pride) celebrates 40 years of flying high as a symbol of LGBT+ equality. The rainbow colors are everywhere at gay pride events and on my desk at home :). However, I had never really known why it was picked as the LGBT+ symbol until long after I came back out the second time. I learned of its history and meaning after watching When We Rise last year.

From Wikipedia LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Pride (1978) (emphasis mine):

Rainbow flag (LGBT movement), the most widely recognized version

The rainbow flag was popularized as a symbol of the gay community by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978. The different colors symbolize diversity in the gay community, and the flag is used predominantly at gay pride events and in gay villages worldwide in various forms including banners, clothing, and jewelry. Since the 1990s, its symbolism has been transferred to represent the extended “LGBT” (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. For the 25th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots, held in 1994 in New York City, a mile-long rainbow flag was created and post-parade cut up in sections that have since been used around the world.

The flag was originally created with eight colors, but pink and turquoise were removed for production purposes, and since 1979 it has consisted of six colored stripes. It is most commonly flown with the red stripe on top, as the colors appear in a natural rainbow. Aside from the obvious symbolism of a mixed LGBT community, the colors were determined to symbolize: life (red), healing (orange), sunlight (yellow), nature (green), harmony/peace (blue), and spirit (purple/violet). The removed colors stood for sexuality (pink) and art/magic (turquoise).

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, a black stripe was sometimes used to represent the AIDS victims.

A few Christians believe that the “rainbow” as an LGBT+ pride symbol is an insult to God and Christians. Back in my conservative experience, I don’t know that I ever believed the gay community was purposefully trying to insult God or Christians. I was out (the first time) in the ’80’s and I never once heard someone say “let’s wave the pride flag around to tick off Jesus and all of Christendom.” However, during my ex-gay days, I did think it was “spiritual warfare” (Satan) attempting to hijack one of God’s symbols and a clever marketing campaign. Back then, there were even a few impotent efforts within our realms to “reclaim the rainbow.” Now I believe that the gay pride symbol was a direct challenge to our denial of who we were. It seems clear now that somewhere deep inside us, we resonated with the true meaning and importance of the Rainbow Flag.

Now that I am out, I see how myopic it was for me to think that the LGBT+ Rainbow Flag has any direct correlation with specific Christian beliefs. It is a symbol as defined above (no scripture quotes.) As a man of faith, I can easily see how the symbol does apply to my spiritual life, but it has nothing to do with spiritual warfare or marketing. Today it is all beauty and no cynicism… or Satan 😉

The rainbow is a ubiquitous naturally occurring phenomenon. Living in Orlando, you could easily see several rainbows a week during the rainy season. The colors of the rainbow are literally the spectrum of light. Wherever light is, those colors are present. It’s a perfect symbol for the LGBT+ community in that we will no longer live in darkness. We will assert ourselves and thrive as the LGBT+ people we are, our families will thrive, and our communities will thrive as acceptance of us as equals grows.

In the past, while I was rolling my eyes, the Rainbow Flag called to a more in-depth place of authenticity in me. Today, when I see my LGBT+ brothers and sisters waving the Rainbow Flag with their bright smiles and/or determined voices, I can appreciate the fantastic gift our LGBT+ history has given us with this symbol.

You are loved,

Post Taken Down: “Why Ex-Gay/Conversion Ministry Is Worse Than “Conversion Therapy”

After some really great feedback on how to make the points in yesterday’s blog post even better, I have decided to unpublish the article, “Why Ex-Gay/Conversion Ministry Is Worse Than ‘Conversion Therapy.'” Thanks to those of you who read and shared the post. I still believe in the core content, but will work on it being more clear and impactful. Thank you!

A Tale of Two Closets

Memoir Intro (Rough Draft)

This is the intro to the memoir I have written (rough draft at least). Thought I would get back to posting excerpts regularly again. Your thoughts and feedback would be encouraged and appreciated.

I have two “coming out” stories. I don’t recommend it. Coming out once is difficult enough but twice is #NotFun. Once you are out, please stay out. You’re good, God’s good, it’s all good. The first time I came out in the ’80’s resulted from my Mom finding a gay Valentine’s Day invite in my pants pocket. Conservative Christianity told her it was ok for a mother to stigmatize and abandon her child and throw me out of the house. I was homeless, afraid, and alone. It was a Christian Drag queen that took me in, and I credit God for using our wonderful Mella (George Timothy Reed) for saving my life.

However, even though I was “out,” I was a mess. I got involved in the dark side of club/party life and had no social/coping/survival skills. At age 24, I was seeking a way to become healthy and responsible. During that process, I became a “born-again” Christian (I still am as a gay man). However, I was susceptible to buying into a worldview and a stigmatized gospel that opened the door for me to enter the church closet of “ex-gay brokenness” which is code for shame, condemnation, and legalistic behavior modification.

I stayed in that stained-glass closet for 23 years and went from a shut-down neurotic substance abusing gay man to become a top leader in the ex-gay movement the Executive Vice President of Exodus International. After several heartbreaking years of conflict with hardliners in the ex-gay world and the death of a friend to suicide, I couldn’t ignore the truth. The blinders ripped off and I had no choice but to see the true damage that world had facilitated. I came out, again, on January 12, 2015.

Once again, culturally derived Christianity taught almost all of my conservative friends it was ok to condemn and abandon me; the same ones that helped me find my voice and gifts. A few were loud and boisterous about disowning me, most silently walked away to gossip with others instead of talking directly to me. As heartbreaking as that is, not everyone did that and other LGBT+ people of faith have rallied around and made up for lost friendship and community.

Plus, God affirms and loves me. Always has, always will. He loves all of me, and I believe created my relational state of being. Like the Good Shepherd He is, he is with me to guide and protect every step along the way no matter how much of an asshole I act like sometimes.
Culturally derived Christianity stigmatizes and abandons. Grace and love filled Christ followers, run to and lift up their LGBT+ brothers and sisters. Also, when people come out, we MUST help them find the resources they need. Unlike the ’80’s we have a large number of organizations like Zebra Coalition and the Trevor Project (who part of the proceeds from this book will help support) that help support homeless and desperate LGBT+ Youth. We have mental health counselors, substance abuse programs, issue-specific resources, faith communities, and more to plug newly “out” people into if they need and want them. There will be an appendix at the end of this book with a list of helpful resources.

Plus, we need more of our stories to get out there. Author Diva Jackie Collins once said (paraphrased), “Everyone has a book to write because everyone has a story within them.” I agree and want to add my story to the myriads testifying to the fact that “coming out” is in and of itself a miracle. Being a healthy and thriving LGBT+ person is a lifelong opportunity and gift.

My genuine hope is that you find this book challenging, encouraging and yes entertaining. I mean I cuss in it and everything! That makes me cool, right?! My somewhat bizarre life isn’t any better or worse than anyone else, but it sure was and is not boring. The following pages will reveal quite a cast of characters I hope will humanize the issues from the dramatically different viewpoints I have lived out. Because there is some truth to the accusation I can be a bit vain, of course I would love it if after reading this book you would say, “that was the most awesome memoir EVER!” But, more importantly, if you walk away with a deeper understanding and compassion for the LGBT+ community, understanding for why some of us get ensnared by ex-gay/conversion ideology, and how to escape it, I will accomplish the reason for writing this book. I also want to help add perspective to a better understanding of the enemies of LGBT+ equality and why Christ’s command to love our enemies appears out-of-place but is so appropriate and powerfully important today.

The antidote to stigmatizing is humanizing.

Now, let’s get to deconstructing a few “closets” by sharing with you the story of the two I am most familiar with walking out of.

You are loved,

A Brief “Healthy Christian” Survey

Since coming out, some folks refuse to believe I am a healthy Christian and have lots of questions. I don’t answer each time because the context is usually full of argumentative landmines. That said, some of the questions are good ones in their own right. Here are a few:

How often do you read the Word of God?

I have read it more than the millions of Christians over time that will never have the current canon of scripture. I have read it less than those Christians who believe the Bible is the fourth person of the Trinity. The true test isn’t how often you read the Bible as it is today. The true test is if Jesus, the incarnated Word of God is truly alive and enough to lead us through our journey. Many without the Bible will encounter Christ’s Spirit and/or hear of Him and be just as saved as we are.

That said, over the past 26 years I have read the protestant Bible from cover to cover more than a few times; other parts of it at least hundreds of times (especially Jesus’ teachings). I still draw Light, Life, and spiritual energy/nourishment from the Spirit and His teachings through the scriptures. Plus, he isn’t limited to a printing press. Our Creator manifests in the world around us all the time. One way or another, I experience the Word of God every day.

Are you praying regularly?

Of course. Prayer is an opportunity to learn and it keeps me centered. I also believe in the positive energy and insight it generates. But, I don’t wear it on my sleeve or walk around acting like I glow like Moses. However, while scheduling prayer and being in a particular position to pray works for some people, it does not for me. I am more apt to pray while ironing, driving to work or sitting on the balcony while the breeze hits my face. Prayer is a natural part of life for me, nothing to be glorified in and of itself. Some Christians try to turn it into some weird mumbo-jumbo supernatural freak-fest or a joyless ritual; no thanks. It’s a part of life and simply is what it is, life-giving.

Being gay, do you miss the closeness to Christ and His gifts flowing through you? (yes, I have been asked that before.)

No. I don’t miss that because I still have spiritual intimacy with Christ and experience His gifts daily. Again, I just don’t parade it around like some who choose to think that somehow the New Covenant is best represented by self-stylizing as an Old Testament Prophet. It’s even more amazing how amplified, natural, and unfiltered this part of my journey has become. It’s simply beautiful watching the life and gift of the Spirit unfold without being confined to a “brand” of ministry or feeling the need to “inform” others about what “God said to/showed me…” today.

Do you go to Church?

I avoided it for the first couple of years since coming out because it was just too difficult and I felt like I was only going through the motions. Now I go whenever I can. I actually work a 10 hour shift on Sunday’s (10am to 9pm) so I can’t go to regular church services. That said, the community I have the joy to experience now is life-giving and I have found that while church is important, The Body of Christ lives in hearts, not behind four walls. My “spiritual” community also includes those who don’t follow Christ. God’s not limited to those who know all the same talking points we do.

What is Christ “convicting” you of nowadays?

“Convicting” is a legal term of being found guilty of breaking a law. I don’t live under the law but under Christ’s finished worked so it doesn’t apply. That said, in cultural Christianity what is really being asked is, “How is God convincing you to change your behavior and thinking from unhealthy to healthy (basically to repent)?

Recently, I feel the Lord has been teaching me a lot about what I am putting out into the universe and the types and ways I expend energy. I also believe I am learning a lot about how anger (a legit emotion) is best expressed, but malice toward any one person is unhealthy and counter-productive. For example, Jesus had incredibly harsh things to say about the spiritual leaders of Israel, but I don’t believe for a second He ever had malice in His heart toward them.

Lately, I recognize malice in my heart toward some of my former friends who are still ex-gay ministry leaders. It’s one thing to oppose the abuse they are perpetuating, strongly. However, it’s unhealthy and hurtful to allow malice to set up residence alongside that legitimate anger. Two wrongs don’t make a right but that doesn’t mean opposing the first wrong isn’t necessary.

Jesus said to love and pray for your enemy, not ridicule them and call them an ass. At this point I don’t feel bad for calling them an ass but … pretty sure it isn’t Jesus approved. 😉

To conclude…

For those interested in where I am at on the topics above there you go. If you have other questions feel free to leave a comment or message me privately.

You are loved,