Protest planned Saturday at Focus on the Family confab at Gov. Sonny Perdue’ church

By Dyana Bagby
Southern Voice Online

Atlanta gay rights activists planning to protest the Love Won Out conference Saturday held a press conference today, calling ex-gay therapy a “hoax” that utilizes fear to promote a socially conservative political agenda.

Patti Ellis of Atlanta, who has a gay son, said she wishes she could share her story of unconditional love for her son with participants in Saturday’ Love Won Out conference.

The conference, sponsored by Focus on the Family, teaches the idea that gay people can change their sexual orientation. It is set to take place Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the First Baptist Church in Woodstock, located at 11905 Highway 92. The protest begins at 10 a.m. Woodstock is about 33 miles north of Atlanta. Gov. Sonny Perdue attends this mega-church when he is in Atlanta.

“We are determined to expose the truth about this greedy, anti-gay hoax and we wish to do it in peace by speaking the truth in love,” said Rev. T.J. McGiffert of Atlanta at the press conference held at Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse. McGiffert is a member of Soulforce, an interfaith organization that addresses what it views as spiritual violence against gay men and lesbians.

“[T]he anti-gay industry says these patients are coming to them already unhappy with their sexual orientation and wanting to change,” McGiffert said. “We do not doubt this is true in some cases, however it does not logically follow that because a person is depressed, sexually dysfunctional, or suffering from low self-esteem or oppression sickness, they are therefore to be cured by being magically changed into a heterosexual.

“This is misdiagnosis at its worst and quackery at its best,” he added.

Focus on the Family issued a press release Oct. 31 addressing the planned protest.

“We will be presenting the truth about homosexuality,” said Melissa Fryrear, a Love Won Out speaker and director of Focus on the Family’s Gender Issues Department. “This conference ‚Äî our 41st and our second trip to the Atlanta area ‚Äî shows that change is possible for people who are unsatisfied living as a gay or lesbian.”

The event is also for family and friends of those who are gay, she said.

“Obviously some people believe we don’t have the right to share our stories of change, but we do have that right,” Fryear said. “Gay activists have protested this event in the past. We just hope they will be sensitive to those who come to hear our message of hope.”

“Fueling violence against families’

Patti Ellis of Atlanta, the mother of a gay son and a member of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays, said she and her husband struggled spiritually when their son came out when he was 16.

“We sent him to counseling, but we didn’t want him to go to someone who was pro-gay or anti-gay,” she said.

“[Adam] gave us a new pair of eyes and taught us what it to love unconditionally. It is so sad the desperation of the people entering the Love Won Out conference. If you try to change your child, you will lose your child,” she said.

Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, also an organizer of the protest, said groups such as Focus on the Family and National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) have a right to free speech, but their real goal is to sway more people to the political right.

“Why do such groups exist? It’ not about religion. These groups want to trick people into believing being gay is a casual choice, which then leads them to vote anti-gay,” he said.

Holding the ex-gay conference at the church Gov. Sonny Perdue attends is also deeply disturbing, especially for Georgia’ gay families, said Kathy Kelly, executive director of the MEGA Family Project.

“[Saturday’] conference may seem like an innocent attempt to change behavior, but it is there to create an environment of discrimination,” she said. “There were two alleged hate crimes against people perceived to be gay last month in Atlanta and I believe groups like Focus on the Family teach people it’ OK to hate gay people. Focus on the Family is fueling violence against our families.”

Daniel Gonzales, 26, said he tried reparative therapy under Joseph Nicolosi, who heads up NARTH, for two years before finally accepting himself as a gay man.

“I tried to pray the gay away,” he said. “I finally learned you can change your perception of the world, but you cannot change your sexual orientation. This conference’ goal is not only to convert gay people, but to bring them closer to the Lord. In my case, it accomplished the exact opposite.”

Trying to define homosexuality as an illness that can be cured is not only wrong, but can be dangerous, said Allan Vives, an Atlanta psychologist.

“Even the most staunch supporters of conversion therapies will tell you the success rate is at most 30 percent ‚Äî and all major mental health organizations do not accept that number,” he said.