Gays protest ex-gay meeting in SF
by Katie Dettman
Desert Stream Ministries, known for its sexual and relational "healing" workshops and programs, brought its annual Crosswalk conference to San Francisco's Promised Land Fellowship Church on Market Street last weekend. According to the group's Web site, the conference was meant to: "address topics such as sexual promiscuity, pornography, same-sex attraction, and relational integrity for singles and married couples."
But not everyone was buying into Desert Stream's message.
Corey Hidlebaugh, an ex ex-gay, and his friends were in front of the church Saturday, February 17 to hold a peaceful vigil and protest against what they said were Desert Stream's harmful teachings. Hidlebaugh, who is currently studying to become a minister, spent eight years trying to rid himself of homosexuality. Most of the 30-odd protesters are members of the Graduate Theological Union (a consortium of nine seminaries in the Bay Area), based out of Berkeley, and are studying to become members of the clergy of various Christian faiths. Their message: Ex-gay therapy is harmful, both emotionally and spiritually, and needs to be stopped.
"We're not here to debate," Hidlebaugh reminded the group. "For me, the debate's over ... This is kind of a somber thing. I don't want to be here. We shouldn't have to be here. ... Try to be silent as much as possible, but talk when people want to talk. People are not the enemy. Untruth is the enemy.
"I spent eight years trying to change my sexual orientation, using everything from ex-gay therapy to exorcism to try to do that," Hidlebaugh told the Bay Area Reporter. "And of course it didn't work and it caused everything from depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and even attempted suicide. So one of my goals as a Christian is to expose the hurt and the pain that individuals go through that feel like they have to change their sexual orientation, because God won't accept them if they won't."
One protester held a sign that read: "Ex-gay therapy killed my friend." Another spoke of a friend who shot herself at the age of 19 because she was gay and thought God didn't love her because of her sexual orientation.
"I'm a straight ally," explained Audrey DeCoursey, one of the protesters. "I'm an ally of my friends and lovers and classmates and colleagues who are gay and who are oppressed because they're gay and told that God doesn't love them. We need to end that message, and I, as a straight person, have to come out and stand with people who are being oppressed every day for who they are, who God made them to be."
Recently, former Colorado pastor Ted Haggard, who was outed last year as having a relationship with a male escort, said he underwent three weeks of therapy and is now "completely heterosexual." That has led to an increase in publicity for ex-gay ministries, which have been largely debunked by mainstream mental health professionals and numerous organizations.
"We're here because ex-gay therapy has been said by every major health and mental health organization in the United States that it does not work," explained Hidlebaugh. "Not only does it not work, it's harmful to those who participate in it. The truth is God created and loves gay and lesbian people just the way they are without any reservation. We're here to say its okay to be gay and a person of faith. It's okay to be gay and Christian. You don't have to change. Ex-gay therapy is poor science but not only is it poor science, its poor theology, to say that God isn't big enough to love gay and lesbian people just the way they are."
A handful of conference attendees spoke peacefully, and at length, with the protesters during the lunch break. Most, however, ignored them. Many passersby honked their horns or clapped in support of the protesters. "I agree," one man told the protesters as he walked by.
Maria Caruana and Todd Ferrell of San Francisco's Freedom in Christ Evangelical Church came out to join the protesters, wearing purple "Christian + Gay = OK" T-shirts. Ferrell was there, he explained, "To let people know that there are people out there that have found freedom and have a great relationship with God. I don't think that he intended my life to be in a quandary about change for 40 years. What happened is that I found freedom just by accepting myself and accepting the gift that God gave me as a gay man and suddenly peace and joy and all of the things that I didn't have before that I was fighting, finally came."
Michael Laird, a member of Promised Land, came out during the lunch break and offered water and conversation to the protesters. He spoke at length with two of them.
"Jesus talked about how we're all very broken people," he told the Bay Area Reporter. "Obviously, that comes out in the sexual area and Jesus would often, when he walked on Earth, talk to people who were broken sexually. He loved all of us and he also said: 'Okay, it's time to stop doing what you're doing.' That's true with homosexuals and that's true with straight people."
When asked why he wants to change other people's sexuality, Laird said that that was not his intention, that he was there just to attend the conference: "The church is having a conference for both straights and homosexuals to try and receive healing to get God's power to live in the right way."
"Unfortunately, the lie has been that people need to change their sexual orientation and that's just not true," said Caruana, the pastor of Freedom in Christ. "God created us gay. God loves us. God sent his son to save us. All he cares about is our salvation in Jesus Christ and not what orientation we are sexually."