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July 2nd, 2014 KATE WILLSON | News Stories
 

“Not Born That Way”

The fight over “curing” homosexuality is the front lines of upcoming gay-rights battles.

news3_4035IMAGE: WW Staff
Dean Greer says he doesn’t have sex with men anymore.

He is married, has a son and is devout in his faith in Jesus. But Greer says he is not cured from an affliction he calls “same-sex attraction” that he has suffered from for more than two decades.

Greer is telling his story to about 250 people gathered in the fellowship hall of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Happy Valley, where his audience has gathered to talk about ways people with homosexual drives can overcome their urges.

Greer tells the audience he changed his ways when he was diagnosed with HIV, and he now relies on a support of men who consider themselves to be formerly homosexual to keep him accountable and straight.

“My wife has taken comfort in my accountability relationships,” Greer says. “We avoid the details of my confessions.”

Many in the audience nod in approval. They have come to the national conference of Restored Hope Network, a Milwaukie-based group that ministers to people “broken by sexual and relational sin, especially those impacted by homosexuality.”

The audience gathered at the June 27 event includes clergy, counselors and family members wounded by the discovery that a loved one is gay.

With same-sex marriage in line to become a civil right, all sides in the gay-rights debate are considering their next political fights. Gay-rights advocates have targeted “conversion therapy,” a controversial approach that believes people can be treated for homosexuality and issues of gender identity.

Every major medical association in the United States and the World Health Organization has come out against conversion therapy. Mainstream health experts consider the therapy harmful. The Supreme Court on June 30 upheld a California law banning use of the therapy on children, and last week the National Center for Lesbian Rights launched a campaign to take the ban nationwide.

But at the conference, where WW was the only news-media outlet allowed to attend, the focus was as much on curing homosexuality as helping people who are conflicted about their attraction to people of the same sex.

Andrew Comiskey, board chairman of Restored Hope Network, says he’s aware of widespread opposition to approaching homosexuality as both a disorder and a sin.

“The brightest lights step forth out of the darkest nights, and we are in dark nights in terms of sexuality and gender,” Comiskey says. “I welcome being a minority voice.”


The conference opens with audience members raising their arms and joining with gospel singer Georgene Rice, who performs between speakers and workshops. “Everyone needs compassion,” Rice sings at one point, “everyone needs forgiveness, the kindness of a savior.”

Treasure Fennell follows the song. Fennell has interned for Desert Streams, Living Waters, a ministry and support network for the “sexually and relationally broken.” She introduces herself as a “recovering lesbian” who sought sexual relationships with women because she had been abused by men as a child.

“It was easy to embrace the lesbian lifestyle,” Fennell says. “I was physically and emotionally attracted to women, and I had a murderous hatred for men.”

“I wasn’t blindly led in there,” she adds. “My DNA didn’t make me do it, nor did I blame my past. I went from one person to another trying to find the love only God could provide.”

The audience issues a collective “Amen.”

The nation’s leaders in socially conservative Christian policy say they haven’t given up the fight against same-sex marriage.

But Jeff Johnston, gender issues and marriage analyst at Focus on the Family, says many organizations are increasingly focused on gender identity.

“We recognize there’s a shift in the culture,” Johnston says. “We’re working to explain the reality of male and female and why that’s a good thing.”

Most mainstream experts believe there’s virtually no evidence that childhood experiences lead people toward homosexuality.

But conservative groups rely in large part on the belief that childhood traumas can lead directly to a person’s confusion about sexual identity.

“We don’t believe in ‘pray the gay away,’” says Sharon Slater, president of Family Watch International. “But a lot can be done to help people who have been abused. The big problem is, homosexuals embrace it as if that’s who you are forever. That’s ridiculous.”

At the conference, Fennell credits a Christian ministry for healing her and says she has been “freed from homosexuality” for 13 years.

“It was not easy,” Fennell says. “But with hard work and the support of the ministry, I do not desire women. I do not hate men. And I fully embrace my femininity.”

The audience gave her a standing ovation.


Restored Hope Network emerged after the leading group advocating conversion therapy, Exodus International, folded after 40 years. 

Two of its leaders have since acknowledged the approach of counseling people to change or control their same-sex desires was wrong. Among them: Exodus board chairman-turned-Portland chef John Paulk. “I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation,” Paulk has said. “In fact, it does great harm to many people.” 

The Happy Valley conference attracts parents troubled by their children’s sexuality and seeking a way to help them.

During the conference’s lunch break, several parents—mostly mothers—speak about their feelings, making it clear all are forgiving of their children’s sexuality while hoping faith in God might change their behavior.

As the parents introduce themselves, one mother sits quietly with red, tear-filled eyes. When it’s her turn, she can barely choke out the words: Her son says he is really a girl.

“You’re in the right place,” someone tells her.

Next to her, another mother says her daughter told her she is transgender. “Satan put these thoughts in her head,” she says. “That’s what’s really behind the transgender thing.”

Therapists who believe a person’s sexual orientation can be treated say nothing can be done unless the person seeks to change.

“If I had a mother or father come in to see me, we explain up front if the child is not conflicted, we will not refer that child,” says Dr. Michelle Cretella, a Rhode Island physician and vice president of the American College of Pediatricians, a small conservative association. “You cannot force anyone into any kind of therapy for something they do not see as a problem.”

Many parents at the conference say their sons and daughters have not yet discovered the need to change their ways. 

“At first it was really devastating,” says a woman from Redmond, Wash. “We brought our son up in a Christian home. But our door will never be closed.”


An industry of conferences, books and lecture tours has sprung up around the “ex-gay” movement.

Between sessions, conference attendees flip through DVDs, autobiographies and how-to books available for purchase in the hall, with titles such as When Homosexuality Hits Home, Victory Over Lesbianism and Dangerous Affirmations.

The author of that last book, Denise Shick, speaks at a workshop called “Transgender Confusion.” She tells her audience about her father, who wished he had been born a woman.

Growing up, Shick says, her father’s belief robbed her of her femininity.

“My dad on my wedding day said, ‘I wish I was wearing that gown,’” Shick says.

Gay-rights support groups are increasing their emphasis on transgender youth, and conservative organizations are responding by advocating for the continued use of therapy to treat people who are gay or transgender.

“It’s primarily, unfortunately, political,” says Cretella, the pediatrician. “There’s no evidence anyone is born with gender confusion. There’s no transgender gene.”

Many at the conference believe homosexuality and gender identity are driven by exterior forces.

Shick, founder of a Kentucky-based counseling service called Help 4 Families, explains homosexuality as “a deep-seated envy of men” and transgender identification as “a deep-seated envy of women.”

She lists transgender risk factors: a distant father and “smothering” mother. Perfectionist tendencies. A history of sexual abuse or watching pornography. Masturbating while dressed in women’s clothes.

Shick says men who identify as women should stop cross-dressing, refrain from fantasizing about dressing as women, and avoid television shows that parade women in revealing clothes and commercials for women’s underwear.

“Restoration is possible,” she says. “It’s a message we’re losing now. And my hurt is for the young people.”

The woman from lunch who spoke about her transgender son approaches Shick after her presentation.

The woman is crying, and Shick pulls her in for a comforting embrace. 

 
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