A giant ad in Monday's Washington Post -- it's a full page but somehow it looks bigger than the others -- touts an upcoming conference by Focus on the Family about "changing and preventing homosexuality. "
In a familiar tactic, the ad includes a huge, smiling photo of a woman who identifies herself by name and says in the accompanying text that she used to be a lesbian activist. She insists that she isn't trying to hurt anyone -- she just wants to tell her story, and maybe there are others like her "who are not finding satisfaction in homosexuality. " Display type in the ad craftily uses civil rights catch words while playing off the homo-weary community's impatience with the gay movement: "More than tolerance, I wanted freedom. "
The nice lady says she found her path "out of homosexuality " through a deep relationship with Jesus Christ, and I believe her. I don't necessarily believe that her sexual orientation has changed -- whatever her sexual orientation is. It's not my job to define that for her, so maybe she was always straight or maybe she was always (and still is) gay. But I do believe that through some faith in Jesus, she was able to stop acting on her lesbian orientation, if she has one, and to stop espousing feminist ideals. If she's happier now, good for her! If that's the case, I'm glad that she and this Jesus dude met up.
What troubles me, though, is that the Post reported that the people who paid for that ad also wanted to run their ad in the Washington Blade, the newspaper where I grew up as a reporter and editor over the past decade, until I left the staff early this year. The driving force behind the ad campaign is a guy named John Paulk, an erstwhile patron of some of D.C.'s finest gay establishments, including his visit to one local venue back in 2000 while Paulk was head of an "ex-gay " ministry.
John Paulk and the nice lady featured in the Post ad -- her name is Amy Tracy -- want their ad in the Blade because, presumably, they think there are some readers of that newspaper who are yearning for a path out of homosexuality. Some of them, they figure, have not had the pleasure of the acquaintance of this Mr. Jesus Christ who has helped Amy Tracy stop acting on any gay desires she may have. The Post reported Monday that the Blade's management had not decided early whether or not they would print the ad. Company president William Waybourn told the Post he was concerned about censorship, so they were taking some extra time to mull the issue. Early Tuesday, Waybourn issued a statement saying the Blade would reject the ad, consistent with the company's policy that it "will not knowingly do business with companies and organizations that discriminate against lesbians and gay men. "
The Blade made the right decision. For me, it's a clear-cut issue: Don't print the ad. If the Post wants to take money from these people, let them. But during the nearly ten years that I worked there, the Blade wasn't a newspaper for people who are unhappy with their sexual orientation and want to change it -- it was a newspaper for people who are gay and/or who want to know what's happening in the gay movement. Apparently, that's still the mission. If anything, this is a news story for the Blade, not a revenue opportunity. It's sort of like a white supremacist group trying to run an ad in the Afro American -- it's a no-brainer. The Focus on the Family people want to eradicate homosexuality. In their ideal world, the Blade wouldn't have any readership left after their ad ran.
It's not a censorship issue, either -- Focus on the Family has venues to promote their conference. The Blade is a niche publication. Justifiably, the Blade's publishers have an interest in their readers' health, including their mental health.
Despite the Blade's decision to reject their ad, the "Love Won Out " conference will go on and maybe a few troubled souls will decide to try to change their practices. They may find themselves in a deep relationship with Jesus, just like Amy Tracy, and feel happier. And they may find themselves, years down the road, perched on a barstool in an old gay hangout. They might find themselves in a position just like John Paulk two years ago, who now says he was "at a low point " in life at that time and that as a result, he "went back to a place where I felt comfortable. "
The most heart wrenching thing about the whole issue is a line of text in the Focus on the Family ad: "If you want to start a new life or if you're a parent of a gay child and need hope, Love Won Out is a day you'll never forget. " I fully support the right of any person, gay or straight, to take measures to change any behaviors that make them unhappy, including what people they fall in love with and what people they have sex with.
But I think it crosses a line to exploit the emotions of a parent of a gay person. Most of us who are gay and who behave that way don't want to change and aren't going to change, ever. We can't, and that's just fine with us. Some of us are lucky to have loving, supportive parents who wouldn't change us if they could. But many people suffer through estranged relationships with parents who don't understand, who want things to change. It would seem that Love Won Out is striving to nurture that desire for change -- even though it's unlikely in most cases. Where's the hope in that?
We hear a lot about how gay people supposedly "recruit " others to be gay. The fact is, that doesn't happen -- adults make their own decisions about what relationships they enter, and most often the decision to enter a gay relationship follows years of inner torment and confusion. But Focus on the Family is clearly trying to recruit. They want to recruit all of us to be straight, and they want to recruit our parents and families into their army of changemongers.
Who's the sinner?
Kristina Campbell is decidedly gay. Her column appears biweekly, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.