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,

Divine Choreography – An Important Reminder

I am directionally challenged so when Divine choreography (my friend Daniel Karslake’s description) happens, it really gets my attention.

For a while now I have been semi-quietly working on developing a new non-profit organization. I have pulled together a proposal and pitched it to a few people and all of a sudden in the past few weeks everything appears to be falling in place; a donated office and phone line, pledges of support and a myriad of action steps and resource development pouring out of my heart and spirit. It’s been an exhilarating process and I am enjoying watching it all manifest.

That said, this is my first day coming to Orlando (where the new office will be located) to get a PO Box and work on more development issues for the organization itself. Plus, it was fun to commute to “work” with Dan (he works here a few days a week.) I wore my HRC “We are Orlando” t-shirt made for the Pulse One Year Memorial service. I wore it because remembering and honoring the 49 while pulling together a non-profit seeking to end religious stigma against LGBT+ people, and live a full life beyond it, seems appropriate. It might sound weird to some but today I wanted to wear a powerful and personal reminder that we need every champion for love we can find.

I dropped Dan off at his work and hung out at Starbucks this morning. Then we had lunch and I needed a change of scenery. I asked Siri to find the closest Dunkin Donuts and, again, being directionally challenged, I was very surprised to end up at the Dunkin across the street from Pulse. I didn’t burst into tears in the parking lot but I was very emotional thinking of the synchronicity of the moment. It wasn’t planned, at all. Divine choreography.

As I typed the above paragraph a lone businessman in grey slacks, nice blue long sleeve dress shirt, modern haircut, and stylish sunglasses walked up to the memorial fence. He took a single photo of one area. The way he adjusted his glasses and wiped his eyes made me think he was weeping. Looking on, I wept with him.

It’s hard to describe the passion I am feeling right now. The passion for my community, for individuals, for the church, for the culture, for the generations, for the right to thrive in full equality with the dignity afforded to every soul that draws breath… I could go on and on; yes, feeling quite stirred up is an apt description of the moment.

My mind has been running 900 mph for a few weeks now imagining the “what ifs” and “what could be” of the new organization. Apparently, my heart needed my mind to be quiet and simply Listen for a moment. What I hear is a loving Creator issuing an important reminder to stand firm in a love and grace, to be bold and clear, and to resist hate with truth and life-giving resources.

So, that’s what I plan to do. More details on this new project will be coming very soon.

Being free is good,

Embrace The Gift – Bisexual Awareness Week

When it comes to the LGBT+ crowd, the “B’s” don’t get equal attention. There is a lot of myth and bias against bisexual people. It’s worth your attention and time to learn about how being Bi is something we should affirm and celebrate as a form of human expression and love. This post contains a few thoughts I have from my own experience and some concerns about how Bi people are particularly vulnerable to ex-gay theology and religious stigma. Being Bi is a gift, and I am very grateful for every single “B” in the LGBT+ community! I hope you find this post encouraging.

I have never been officially “tested,” but after 49 years of sometimes obsessive introspection, I am somewhere on the Kinsey sexuality spectrum near the number 5 “Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual.”

For example, I came out of my self-imposed celibacy twice during my ex-gay days. I dated a woman in 1997 and another in 2006 and loved them both, especially the latter. Our relationship was genuine, and I was attracted to her in every way. Did I have crushes on other guys while we dated? Yes. Is what I had with her the same as what I have with Dan today? No, not even close. But again, our relationship was genuine, honest, and real.

Of course, I am very glad we did not progress on toward marriage. I know now that while what we had was very sweet, it wouldn’t have lasted. Well, obviously, because it didn’t last. Today it’s crystal clear that I am created to be in a relationship with a man. I will always love, support and encourage her though; nothing but respect. I am a better person for having dated her.

During my ex-gay days, oddly enough, I created the space to question and explore my attractions. Among many issues explored, I realized I never had any negative feelings toward woman’s sexuality. Growing up, while I was obsessed with Bo and Luke Duke, I did have a crush on Janet Jackson … until George Michael came along. However, in a world that stigmatizes being gay, I was told and believed that the fleeting attractions to women were “proof” of God’s original intent and should be cultivated. That any attraction to women was a sign of “change” and highly rewarded with affirmation and “atta’ boy!” type of attention. The myriad of crushes and attractions to men was to be condemned and considered “broken” and a core soul/spiritual “weakness.”

Nutshell: Same-sex attractions were met with attitudes of “deep prayerful concern” and shamed with descriptions like “inherently disordered” or “outright rebellion” and going-to-hell-worthy sin impulses. However, share about having opposite-sex attractions and be rewarded with great big smiles and “Hallelujah for embracing your heterosexual potential!”

I firmly believe that most people who are ensnared by ex-gay organizations and stay there a long time are somewhere in the bisexual area of the spectrum. Even the slightest hint of opposite-sex attraction is a powerful hook into thinking what these organizations offer in the name of “healing” is true. It breaks my heart that Bisexual people are literally being ripped in two with the toxic messaging these groups produce.

So during Bisexual Awareness week, my love and thoughts are with all the Bi folk out there who are often misunderstood, mischaracterized and don’t often feel accepted by their own community. My thoughts and love are especially with those who remain ensnared in ex-gay theology and stigmatizing religion because they do experience a measure of opposite sex attraction. It’s nuanced but what a powerful shackle to keep Bi people enslaved to stigmatized views of who they are.

If you are Bi, you are a gift. You are a treasure. As a Christ Follower, I believe you have been given a special gift to love beauty in a way that manifests through how you know and are known by others; how you love and are loved by others. We know who you are drawn to is not based on one attraction being better than another, it’s based on who our Creator is drawing you toward.

Don’t fear who you are, God doesn’t. Enjoy the gift you have been given.

Being Free is Good,

P.S. Follow Eliel Cruz on Twitter to learn more about #BiWeek, learn of his own journey and the various resources he recommends.

Joy Eclipses Cynicism: What The Eclipse Really Brought In Its Wake

Yesterday I watched the complete solar eclipse coverage from coast to coast on CNN. As millions of people exclaimed with wonder and joy witnessing the spectacular celestial alignment, I couldn’t help but feel goosebumps.

It was a delight watching grown adults turn into literal star-struck children; tumbling over their words with half sentences and excited exclamations. I got emotional thinking that we, as Americans, needed an event like this. A moment of collective joy where we sat in wonder at the glory of nature, the universe, and our place in it.

Before the eclipse, there were a few conservative Christian leaders saying that the eclipse could be a judgment of God against the United States (here and here). That we should see this naturally occurring, entirely predictable, amazingly awesome moment as a dire warning of God’s anger and wrath being poured out on the United States.

Why is it that some brothers and sisters in Christ always see the possibility of a significant collective experience as only being a portent of evil and/or wicked? Is it negative attention seeking? Paranoia? Psychological “transference” onto others the anxiety of some personal issue?

I don’t know about those negative Christian leaders, but I do know it can be so tempting to be energized by bad news. Expecting the worst gave me something or someone else to worry about, instead of focusing on my own issues and anxieties. It is also a lazy way to get the adrenaline pumping. That’s not wisdom or a healthy way to operate in the world. It’s discouraging and could lead to “bearing false witness” which is also very unhealthy.

From my limited perspective, God blessed our nation and people with a collective joyful experience. The eclipse brought a blessing, not a curse. Wouldn’t it be great that when we think about the larger picture, we would assume the best and intentionally look for blessings and not lazily expect curses?

When I remember the eclipse of 8/21/2017, I will remember how the afternoon light got really weird. I remember the joy of hearing the kids having fun at the elementary school around the corner, excited adults acting like children on television, talking to Dan, and watching Anderson Cooper actually smile with joy for the first time in a long time while reporting the news. I will also remember saying a prayer of thanks to our Creator for this moment of joy literally sweeping across our country.

It was a great day and beautiful moment.