Confusing verbal taunts and insults with Orwellian “truth,” Exodus International is preparing to re-launch, in April, a Christian Rightist effort to disrupt efforts by K-12 and college students and faculty to stop antigay bullying. And gay news media such as The Advocate are beginning to take notice.
Bullies have long been explicitly coached in intolerant behavior by antigay churches, Christian Right political networks such as Exodus International, and SPLC-certified hate groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition and Peter LaBarbera’s former employer, the Illinois Family Institute.
Since antigay violence and prejudice have long enjoyed calculated support from elements of local communities, it only seemed fair that someone should help communities form antiviolence efforts to counteract the hatred and violence.
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s annual Day of Silence was one such effort. Launched in 1996, it employs silent vigils at schools to commemorate the youths who have been physically assaulted, killed, or driven to suicide by relentless harassment, humiliation, and ostracism.
GLSEN‘s vigils — now in 8,000 schools — have, along with research into the chronic epidemic of antigay violence — inspired the formation of antiharassment programs and Gay-Straight Alliances against violence in thousands of schools nationwide.
The Christian Right, unfortunately, has evolved since the early 1980s to view ignorance, violence and intimidation as integral and indispensable core values of its less-than-Christlike “religion.” And so, in retaliation, the Alliance Defense Fund — a Christian Right legal-attack organization which sues schools and employers that oppose antigay violence and discrimination — formed the Day of Truth in 2004 with the purpose of empowering antigay students to disrupt the silent vigils.
Marketed with pious godtalk and liberal-sounding words such as “conversation” and “dialogue,” the ADF’s Day of “Truth” rallied antigay youths and parents — ranging from skinheads to fundamentalists — to disrupt vigils with vocal proclamations damning LGBT students, their parents, teachers, and friends to hell. The event urged the passage of school rules to silence any talk of tolerance and to mandate the promotion of fundamentalist ex-gay brainwashing in public schools. In recent years, Exodus conference speaker and antigay preacher Ken Hutcherson joined the ADF’s right-wing parade by organizing loud and disruptive protests and boycotts at Seattle-area schools in order to shut down classes rather than permit students to conduct their solemn vigils in memory of bullied and murdered peers.
In 2009, Exodus assumed control of the Day of [Orwellian] “Truth.” Its marketing objective remains the same: Damn students to hell with a smile, engage tolerant students in one-way conversation, insult LGBT sexuality with unchallenged falsehoods derived from antigay propaganda, and flatly exclude LGBT students from protection under any antiharassment programs.
Exodus tellingly offers no restraints on what antigay students may say or do, provided that the bullies don’t subjectively feel that their misconduct constitutes name-calling or bullying.
Nor does Exodus offer any help to antigay students who discover that their own enthusiasm has motivated peers to resort to verbal, physical, and spiritual abuse; as it has always done, Exodus absolves itself of responsibility for the violence that it inspires.
Exodus’s FAQ reassures the public:
Exodus and Day of Truth strongly opposes bullying, name-calling and acts of aggression against any individual or group of individuals for any reason.
This is a shameless lie, unfortunately: Exodus expressly opposes — in press releases, blog posts and advertising — the explicit protection of LGBT students from violence and verbal abuse. Exodus also opposes newly expanded federal law which explicitly protects Americans from felony violence committed on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Exodus FAQ for the event also tells antigay bullies to contact the ADF for legal assistance if school officials seek to curtail their efforts to disrupt classes and taunt classmates.
Exodus’ dependence upon violence and harassment, as tools of coercion, seems to be its primary reason for re-launching the Day of [Orwellian] “Truth.”
In the past decade, the ex-gay movement has utterly failed in its one-time objective of sexual recruitment through voluntary persuasion: Despite television, newspaper, and billboard ad campaigns, Exodus’ referral network of local amateur counseling groups has shriveled. Exodus’ bold move into the politicization of churches since 2002 has occurred precisely because Exodus has discovered — through the failure of its voluntary ministries — that people will seek out ex-gay organizations and their discredited amateur counselors only if they are pressured to do so through overt government-, school-, church-, and business-based discrimination, intimidation and ostracism.
Cases in point: Lance Carroll, Zach Stark, and Bryce Thompson. These three young men are just a few of the hundreds of teen-agers and young adults who have been forced involuntarily into ex-gay detention facilities such as Love In Action in Tennessee and a variety of secretive Exodus facilities in the Deep South.
Exodus’ secondary purpose for the D.O.T. is to assert that conservative Christians are the intended sole benefactors of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom.
When Exodus states that the D.O.T. seeks an “honest conversation about relationships, sexuality, and faith,” it may be helpful to remember that Exodus believes the Christian Right is the sole arbiter of what constitutes true faith and politically correct sexuality. Expression of any other faith perspective and any other view of sexuality is presumed by Exodus and its antigay church network to be demonic, immoral and exempt from any Constitutional protection.
Exodus has made its redefinition of “conversation” apparent in countless locations here and abroad:
- in Ohio, where veteran board member Phil Burress has raged against the presence of LGBT people in workplaces and against LGBT groups’ and individuals’ access to public facilities and the media;
- in Tennessee, where Exodus refused to cooperate with the state regarding suspicions of sexual abuse and intimidation at its flagship Love In Action residential program, and instead relabeled the detention facility as a religious “retreat” that is now exempt from public scrutiny;
- in Florida, where for years Alan Chambers vocally opposed antidiscrimination and pro-adoption legislation, as a means of silencing “conversation” by making people homeless, jobless — and parent-less;
- in Barbados, where Exodus Global Alliance published ads defending vigilantism and criminalization of homosexuality as a means of coercion into fraudulent ex-gay therapy;
- in Uganda, where Exodus board member Don Schmierer — with encouragement from president Alan Chambers — has spent seven years working with Scott Lively, Martin Ssempa, Rick Warren, David Bahati, Stephen Langa and others to foster the belief that homosexuals pose a dire threat which must be silenced and eradicated through abusive parenting, strict imprisonment, and involuntary ex-gay “treatment.”
Day of Silence supporters have coped with melees at Day of Truth events in previous years, but GLSEN puts a brave and diplomatic face on the situation this year. According to The Advocate:
GLSEN representatives see the competing event differently. “We find it unfortunate that the ADF and now Exodus International tries to spin a message counter to ours, that anti-LGBT bullying is wrong,” GLSEN spokesman Daryl Presgraves said. “Students today feel more welcome and accepted, and have a sense of belonging that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Part of the Day of Truth is to take away from that, to spread the mistruths about ‘conversion therapy.'”
Presgraves added that “it doesn’t look like [Exodus] is saying that bullying is OK. However, the fact that they have this counterevent a day before the Day of Silence on April 16 is telling.”
Perhaps more than just “telling.”