Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality will join clergy, educators, mental health professionals and allies at the 2009 Anti-Heterosexism Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, Nov. 20-22. The conference offers a range of in-depth workshops and is open to everyone who seeks to challenge the harmful affects of heterosexism, reparative therapy, ex-gay ministries and other efforts to change people’ sexual orientation.
“First off, it’ important to be clear that the title of the conference is the Anti-Heterosexism Conference, not anti-heterosexual,” says Jeff Lutes, Executive Director of Soulforce and one of the organizers of the conference. “Heterosexism is the widespread assumption that heterosexual relationships are somehow superior to same-sex relationships, which leads to all kinds of abuse and discrimination against LGBT people. We want to highlight where heterosexism seeps into the social, cultural, religious and political fabric of society, and how we can begin to unravel its damaging consequences.”
Through a weekend-long series of workshops and keynote speakers, conference attendees will learn to challenge heterosexist attitudes and practices, speak out against the dangers of reparative therapy and other conversion efforts, and become strong advocates for LGBT equality.
Keynote speakers for the conference include Dr. Sylvia Rue, Interim Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition, Rev. Deborah L. Johnson of Inner Light Ministries, and Dr. Jack Drescher, Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Joining Soulforce as co-sponsors of the conference are Truth Wins Out, the National Black Justice Coalition, Beyond Ex-Gay, Box Turtle Bulletin and Equality Florida.
The Anti-Heterosexism Conference also serves as a counterweight to the anti-gay think tank, NARTH (National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality), which will be hosting its annual conference on the same weekend in West Palm Beach. For years NARTH has promoted reparative or “sexual orientation conversion” therapy, claiming that LGBT people can and should change their sexual orientation.
However, after a thorough review of the literature on conversion therapy, the American Psychological Association (APA) concluded that sexual orientation is unlikely to change through therapy and adopted a resolution in August 2009 calling on mental health professionals to avoid telling clients they can change from gay to straight through “therapeutic” efforts or other treatments. The resolution builds on an APA report from 1998, which warned that reparative therapy can lead patients to “depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior,” because “therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”
In November, individuals and organizations from across the country will come together for the Anti-Heterosexism Conference to work through the process of moving beyond the dangers of heterosexism to a more just and equitable environment for LGBT people. “It’ time we named the problem,” says Lutes, “and begin walking together through the solution.”