The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference
Irvine CA, 2007
So what's the big deal about this conference and why are we still talking about it?
In April of 2007, Beyond Ex-Gay launched its website, and joined Soulforce and the LGBT Resource Center at UC Irvine to put together a conference that was the first of its kind in the United States (and worldwide as far as we know).
The conference (held the end of June) was a huge success. In only three months, we had pulled off a conference that saw over 200 attendees total during the weekend. More importantly, it launched an important conversation about the harm often caused by ex-gay experiences. Where prior to this point most of the conversation had centered around the question "Does it work?" we were changing the conversation to highlight the stories and experiences of what we began to term "Ex-Gay Survivors." Not that we were the first to tell stories of ex-gay survivors. In 2001, Wayne Besen and the Human Rights Campaign released a document that for the first time told stories of people who had undergone various ex-gay treatments and programs and found them ineffective and in some cases, harmful.
But until this point, there was not a concerted effort to bring together survivors to discuss our history and stories, and there had never been a convening of former ex-gay leaders to talk about the harm they had witnessed over the years.
What all took place?
We kicked off the week of the conference with a press conference with three former ex-gay leaders, Darlene Bogle, Jeremy Marks, and Michael Bussee. During this time, they took the couragous step of issuing a public apology for their role in creating and/or promoting the ex-gay movement and the message that a change in orientation was possible. You can read their joint statement and individual statements (see links to the right). There was heavy media turnout and the story was picked up by CNN and other local and National news organizations. This was news; big news.
Beyond Ex-Gay also issued a public invitation to any Exodus leader or ex-gay provider to meet with a group of us for dinner. Our intention was to share some of our stories in an intimate setting over dinner, without the presence of the media or an audience. We sent a signed copy of the letter to the Exodus office, and then also made it public online. It was reported to us that Exodus attendees were warned by Exodus leadership against meeting with us, and consequently only three people met with us for our private dinner. It was a good meeting, and we were able to share some of our stories and answer the questions we were asked about our stories, our motives, and our goals for the conference and our ongoing work (again, look to the right for detailed links).
Following the dinner, the conference kicked off with a performance by Peterson Toscano of his hit show "Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo' Halfway House." The following day we had a day-long schedule of workshops and events, and wrapped everything up that night with a concert by Jason and DeMarco and a mini film festival.
We chose Irvine because the annual Exodus Freedom Conference would be coming to Irvine that same week. For Soulforce, beyondexgay.com, and the LGBT Resource Center at UC Irvine, it was very important to provide a positive response to the Exodus message that gay men and lesbians are sinful and disordered and needed to change.
How come you haven't had another conference since then?
Good question. Conferences like this are extremely difficult to pull off, and very costly. Because we wanted to keep this conference as affordable as possible, most of the people involved (workshop leaders, etc.) paid their own way, registration was only $40, and private donors helped pick up some slack. The co-founders of Beyond Ex-Gay went into personal debt to fund a small portion of the conference.
Since that time, we have tried to join forces with other organizations and conferences, as well as have mini-intensives and gatherings for the purpose of continuing what we started in Irvine. We have had gatherings in Memphis and Denver, taken part in several Soulforce events and conferences (in Philadelphia and West Palm Beach), conducted workshops at other conferences, and had several meetings with mental health professionals to develop best practices for working with ex-gay survivors. We are wanting to have another gathering or mini-conference, as well as a future intensive retreat. Our biggest hurdle, as always, is the financial piece. As we proceed forward with becoming a 501(c)3 we hope to continue this important aspect of our work.
Watch Brian Murphy's short film about the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference
Former Ex-Gay Leaders Apologize
Kim Clark also writes about the apology.
Exodus Dinner Invitation
Christine and Peterson issued an open invitation to Exodus leaders for a private dinner in Irvine.
One Exodus attendee shared her thoughts, as re-posted here.
The Ex-Gay Survivor's Conference
On Saturday morning, we gathered for a powerful "Chalk Talk" (or "Chawk Tawk" as Peterson likes to say).
Reactions to the Conference
Steve Boese pens a response to an angry PFOX letter.
The Survivor's Initiative
Inspiried by the courage of former leaders, other former ex-gays stepped forward to tell some of their own experiences as a witness and a warning.
This was called "The Survivor's Initiative" and consisted of a series of press conferences of survivors telling their stories outside of various locations that promote or provide ex-gay therapy.
For more details about the various events, check out our Survivor's Initiative page.