What About the Parents?
I am an ex-gay survivor, but then so are my parents.
When someone chooses to enter an ex-gay program like Love in Action (LIA), if they mean to or not, they often bring other people along with them--partners, friends, and in many cases, parents.
Ex-gay leaders have typically pointed to the parents as the probable cause for a homosexual child. How many of us have heard things like, "You're mother was overbearing, and your father was emotionally distant."
The program leaders and ex-gay spokespeople pieced together the profile of what made us homosexual. They provided us with a template that insisted that serious dysfunction must have occurred in the home. Even when we insisted that things were fine at home, they questioned us further and suggested that we were in denial.
I have heard horror stories from lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people who have told me how program leaders targeted their parents, and in so doing, drove a wedge between parent and child. In some cases the leaders misused their power and even coerced participants to confront parents about past events. Other times ex-gay ministers hinted at neglect and unspoken abuses by parents.
No one has perfect parents. Parents and their adult children need to talk about past hurts and family issues, but so often without any trained counselors, after only a few days of group therapy, ex-gay program leaders have pushed parents and their sons and daughters into conflict and crisis. The "therapy" sessions have caused a deep rift in the relationships and have wounded the parents. The parents left feeling confused, condemned and brokenhearted.
On their web site Love in Action announces one of their newest programs,
"We are excited to present a concentrated four-day course designed for parents with teens struggling with same-sex attraction, pornography, and/or promiscuity."
On a recent road trip with my dad I asked him what it was like when he and my mom came to Memphis for the Family and Friends Weekend at LIA, a concentrated family encounter. Here is some of what he said.
We went to the meeting and had no idea of what we were going into. We met a lot of parents in the same category. Lots of kids had no parents there.
Everything seemed to be on the up and up at first. Yeah, but we found out these things aren't so. I said to them, "You can't change a zebra's stripes." They didn't go along with me, and they were very aggravated with me for saying so. Some people go through two colleges and they don't have common sense. I hate when people keep things locked up.
They made me feel that I failed you. That's how I felt after they got through with me. That's how they made all the parents feel.
Years after I left LIA and I began to write my play, I interviewed my younger sister, Maria, about that time. What she told me broke my heart. She said that when our parents returned home from the Family and Friends Weekend, they were devastated. They didn't eat right or look right. They acted sad and depressed. This went on for weeks. My sister felt so concerned that she actually called Love in Action and asked, "What did you do to my parents?!" She felt frustrated by the lack of concern or comprehension she encountered from the staff.
Before my mother died this past September, I apologized to her for my part in dragging her and my dad through the horror of that weekend at LIA and the subsequent ones. She appreciated hearing that, but even in her last letter to me, she still questioned herself as a parent, questions that I know arose in large part because of her time spent at LIA.
View a video of Peterson sharing more about his parents.
For further information, read the article, Can My Gay Child Change?
Watch a Truth Wins Out video of Susan Stanskas, the mother of a gay man who shares the harm that ex-gay therapy brought to her family.