A detailed report has recently been released declaring what many of us have alleged about the ex-gay movement for some time. Primarily, the movement "provides political cover for a significant new phase in the Christian Right's long-running anti-gay campaign."
The three-year study declared that the Christian Right has now shifted to a strategy of emphasizing personal salvation for homosexuals — through the ex-gay movement. Behind the mask of compassion, however, the goal remains the same: to roll back legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and enforce criminal laws against them."
The report was jointly sponsored by the only gay think tank, the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, along with Equal Partners in Faith (a multi-faith network), and Political Research Associates (a Boston-based non-profit research center).
Unlike a typical interest group press release, this 30-page report is a footnoted study of how a marriage of convenience has occurred between the Christian Right and a fledgling ex-gay movement. The height of the relationship's success came on July 13, 1998, when the national newspaper ad campaign began in The New York Times with Anne Paulk, a "former lesbian." Two other ads and $206,000 later, the effort, according to the report sparked a media firestorm which resulted in the largest exposure that the ex-gay movement has ever received."
"Calculated Compassion: How the Ex-Gay Movement Serves the Right's Attack on Democracy" was prepared by reviewing source material, interviewing ex-gay and Christian Right leaders, and attending two ex-gay conferences. Furthermore, work on the report began in 1995, well before the exposure of the developing public partnership of the two.
The partnership might not have been necessary, except that the divisive tactics of the Christian Right against gays was failing. The report notes that the Christian Right continued its attacks on the gay men and lesbians into the 1990's "by painting the gay lifestyle' as unhealthy and obsessed with sex." Its political and fund-raising efforts included producing propaganda like "The Gay Agenda, a twenty minute video featuring sensational scenes from pride marches and interviews with homophobic doctors." The purpose was to enrage the base of the Right, so its political efforts to fight pro-gay legislation could be bolstered.
"For years the Christian Right has used homophobic rhetoric to raise money and recruit followers." A tip-of-the-iceberg example is a 1992 fund-raising appeal by the Concerned Women for America, in which they declare, "We are at war in America today ... We don't want our children taught that the sin of homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle choice." By inciting fear with their donor base, these groups found success in raising money to fight the "activist, militant, homosexual agenda."
Yet, the report notes, that not only has public opinion on gay rights improved, but many mainstream religious denominations are sympathetic to the plight of gays. A number of Protestant churches are open and affirming, or at least tolerant, of gays. And in 1997, a U.S. Catholic Bishops' public letter stated that "God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual."
Furthermore, an April 1997 Human Rights Campaign poll shows by 3-to-1, "Christians believe that Americans should be protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace."
These elements have harmed the efforts of the Christian Right to grow their movement, raise money, and advance their agenda against Gay Americans. Thus, the idea of working with the ex-gay movement as compassionate "political cover" was born. "Calculated Compassion" notes several examples of coordination in sharing people and resources between the camps:
James Dobson's Focus on the Family hired ex-gay leader John Paulk as their legislative and cultural affairs analyst;
The Family Research Council (FRC) has given organizational and financial support to Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (P-FOX);
FRC's cultural director sits on the P-FOX board of directors;
The architect of Colorado's anti-gay Amendment 2 is also the co-author of a recent ex-gay book, Not Afraid to Change.
The report sums up the political result of this cabal. "The Christian Right has a new tool, the logic of the ex-gay movement, to persuade the right wing of the Republican Party that gay men and lesbians do not need legal protections because their homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, not an immutable trait."
Theirs is an unholy alliance. And as long as the Christian Right manipulates the myth of conversion therapy, the quest for gay civil rights and acceptance will continue to elude us. t