A couple of years ago now, Box Turtle Bulletin’s Jim Burroway attended Focus On The Family’s “Love Won Out” conference about how not to be gay. It was a conference attended by few actual gays but, rather, primarily by their worried religious family members. His report is long and endlessly informative, frustrating, enraging, and saddening.
In this post I want to just highlight a few key portions and encourage you to give the whole piece your time. It’s extremely valuable and important.
let me draw your attention to a gentleman I talked to in one quiet little corner of the church courtyard. He was there with his wife and we were talking when he began to tell me about his son. For a long time, this gentleman had been wondering why his very good-looking and popular son hadn’t gotten married yet, when about eight years ago his son came home for a special visit in order to explain why that wasn’t going to happen. This father was very forthcoming in telling me that he took the news very badly, and he said a lot of things that he shouldn’t have said. And when he talked to his son more in the months that followed, he repeated some of those awful things which brought their relationship to a terrible break.
Since then, he’s talked to his son on the phone many times, but too often it often hasn’t gone very well. There are too many times when the conversations between them break down as old patterns repeat themselves. There’s just too much pain and anger on both sides, although he’s careful not to blame his son. He wishes he knew how to talk to him, and as he said this he began to cry very softly. His wife, who had been standing silently next to him the whole time, gently reached for his hand and she began to cry as well. But she remained silent. She never shared her side of the story and I didn’t ask.
I just stood there and watched this man’s heart break before my very eyes. His lower lip quivered ever so slightly as he continued speaking — the hopes that he had for his son, the many things he admired about him, his pride in his son’s successful career, and yet, his utter puzzlement that his son could possibly be gay. Eight years later and he still can’t quite bring himself to fully believe it. All he wants is for his boy to come home.
I wished that his son could have seen his father as I saw him right then. This man revealed himself to me in a way that he couldn’t to his son, and that is so incredibly unfair. It made me mad a little. Not at him or at his son, but at the whole situation. It was his son who deserved the great gift of seeing his father’s love, not me, and I wondered if his son had ever had a chance to see him like that. My heart broke for that father because of the incredible pain he felt, and my heart broke for his son for having missed the chance to see what I saw.
And here he describes a talk which blames male homosexuality literally entirely on cold fathers. The audience’s response is heartbreaking
>All of this is because the father did not bond with his boy. Either that or the mother wouldn’t let him. I began to wonder how the parents in the audience were taking all of this. I didn’t have to wonder very long, because that’s when Dr. Nicolosi let loose with this broadside.
We advise fathers, if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will.
With that, a very painful groan rose from the audience. This was probably the second-most effective line delivered that day (I’ll get to the most effective one in just a little bit). I looked around and saw heads shaking, couples looking at each other, and a general sense of horror filled the room. My cheeks flushed as I wondered how many of those groans came from fathers and mothers themselves who made up a sizeable chunk of the audience.
But the cruel and false guilt irresponsibly induced in these poor parents by this remark pales compares to what they were later encouraged to fear about the other source of homosexuality in both their sons and their daughters:
I can draw anecdotally from having been a part of an Exodus member ministry for almost a decade, and in those years having met hundreds of women with this struggle, I never met one woman who had not been sexually violated or sexually threatened in her life. I never met one woman.And I never met one man either, that had not been sexually violated or sexually seduced in his life.[Emphasis Burroway's.]
The audience sat in stunned silence as Fryrear, her voice shaking, went on to talk about sexual abuse in greater detail. She later described her own sexual abuse as a child, and her talk had just followed a testimony by Mike Haley in which he described having sex with another older man beginning at the age of eleven. As far as this audience knew, there were no exceptions. This went a long way toward reinforcing Nicolosi’s admonition, “if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will.”
It’s not fair to say that the parents and relatives were rife with suspicions, but I was surprised at the number of suspicions that did come up — and the circumstantial nature of the “evidence” which prompted many of them. I heard ex-boyfriends and babysitters suddenly come under suspicion where there had been none before. It seemed as if many of these relatives, taking Melissa Fryrear at her word, turned several possibilities over in their minds — dismissing some, but holding others for future consideration.
Child sexual abuse, as we well know, is an all-too-tragic reality in our society.
And every parent of a violated son or daughter goes through a period of tremendous guilt and shame over their “failure” to protect their little boy or girl. I cannot even begin to imagine the anguish that these parents must feel.
But I saw at least one parent at Love Won Out feel that same anguish for the first time. And afterwards, I felt as if I was carrying a lead weight around in the pit of my stomach for the rest of the day. I wondered what sort of conversations would be taking place the next time these parents talked to their sons and daughters (those who were on speaking terms, anyway, as most of them were.)
And I wondered whether these parents would even believe their children when they deny having been molested. After all, they had heard the “experts” describe gays and lesbians as having been universally abused. And according to these “experts”, this made them “cautious, fearful, easily hurt, easily slighted, easily offended, self-protective” and incapable of being honest with their feelings. This is a terrible setup for dialogue and familial reconciliation.
And I also wondered how many coaches, teachers, boy scout leaders, and neighbors fell under an unwarranted cloud of suspicion, all because Melissa Fryrear said she never met a lesbian or a gay man who had not been abused or threatened. There was tremendous cruelty in the “nevers” and the “always” that were thrown around with such ease at the conference. It’s a cruelty that these parents didn’t deserve.