Looking back at my coming out experiences, I see how far I have come in embracing my sexuality and loving myself for who I am. It has not always been an easy road for me and, although I am now a proud gay man, I once despised the thought of it. I grew up in a conservative, Christian family– all of whom I love dearly and am extremely close with. Although homosexuality was not often discussed in my specific churches, I knew that being gay was “an abomination”. I struggled with my feelings for years before eventually (at the age of 16) disclosing with my parents that I thought I was gay. My parents and I had a lengthy discussion and decided we could deal with my issue by keeping it between us and “keeping me in the word”. We talked regularly about how I was doing and I kept things inside saying maybe it was a phase. My parents must have been relieved until I forgot to delete the browsing history on our computer and my brother found some inappropriate gay material.
This time my whole family became aware of what had happened and my parents decided, with my permission, to send me to a Christian counselor. The counselor was a nice guy and I did not feel judged; however, he maintained the idea that being gay is a sin. I went to the counselor for a few months, during my junior year, and he came up to a conclusion about why I was having homosexual thoughts. I never quite understood his reasoning, but I accepted it and moved on, trying to live a heterosexual lifestyle. Senior year, I started dating a girl for the first time and we became best friends. I loved my girlfriend, but there was never any attraction for her. I began looking into other viewpoints on homosexuality and realized that not even all Christians were anti-gay. I found an online home at gaychristian.net where I could socialize with other teenagers from around the world. This is where I began to embrace my sexuality.
I was still not out to anyone, besides myself, starting my freshman year of college. One day a cute guy gave me his number at my work; for the first time, a guy who wasn’t from the internet was showing interest in me. I was ecstatic and anxious, and my mom noticed when I got home. My mother can read me like a book, and she knew something was up. She asked what was going on, and after repeatedly telling her nothing, I decided to yell “I’m gay!” By the way, this is a terrible way of coming out, don’t do it. I left for the night to stay at my sister’s house. I went back home, and my parents told me they were going to think about the next steps. My father found out about a ministry called Pure Life Ministries that focuses on sexual addictions, but also takes in homosexuals. The Ministry is essentially one of many ex-gay programs, and I refused to leave to their Live-In program in Kentucky for up to six months. This is when I had to look for an apartment, spend a night at a hotel, and some more nights at my sister’s. After I had already placed a deposit on an apartment, my dad called insisting I come home. My sexuality shortly became something that was just not discussed in my family; I came out to friends and found awesome support there. My parents have grown and we have become even closer since I moved out and came to U of M; my siblings have always been pretty great to me. However, I wonder what my life would be like if I had went to Pure Life.
When I looked up Pure Life Ministries, I found the story of James Stabile. He discussed the horrible three months he spent there, how they made him feel degraded, and how he was able to escape. He staged a kiss with another guy in order to be kicked out of the program. I think about the pain that the teenager must have endured, and I am incredibly thankful I avoided the program. Stabile found an online home in Beyond Ex-Gay. This organization was founded by Michael Bussee who originally founded one of the first ex-gay ministries called Exodus International. Bussee now identifies as an ex-ex-gay and started Beyond Ex-Gay to apologize to all who have been hurt from his original ministry. He states in his public letter of apology, “No one was really becoming ‘ex-gay.’ Who were we fooling? As one current EXODUS leader admitted, we were just ‘Christians with homosexual tendencies who would rather not have those tendencies.’ By calling ourselves ‘ex-gay’ we were lying to ourselves and to others. We were hurting people.” Ex-gay ministries are unfortunately still common across the nation, including one run by Marcus Bachmann, former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s husband.
These ex-gay ministries are harmful to the individuals who take part in them; LGBTQ individuals are shamed and degraded. This is especially dangerous for gay teens whom already have a much higher chance of committing suicide. There is a petition on change.org that I would urge everyone to sign that suggests banning the use of ex-gay ministries on minors. The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have both condemned the use of “Reparative Therapy” on homosexuals in order to “change” their sexual orientation. It would be awesome to keep future LGBTQ youth from having to endure such a painful experience.
Side note 1: There are many amazing religious organizations and many that openly support LGBTQ rights. The ignorance of a few should not determine one’s viewpoint on all religious people/organizations.
Side note 2: I absolutely love my family. My parents have always been loving to me throughout my whole process. Their initial thoughts were only out of love and due to strongly held moral beliefs. They have always been supportive of me and my endeavors, and I am incredibly thankful to have such a wonderful family.
- Donald Henry