Billboards, Counselors and Ex-gays: Let it Shine

Recently controversy has erupted in Rockville, Maryland and Houston, Texas over billboard advertising concerning the right of people to seek change in homosexuality. The Alexandria billboard sponsored by Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays (PFOX) shows the picture of a young man with the caption: “Ex-gays prove change is possible.” The Houston billboards were backed by Exodus International and contain similar messages. Predictably, homosexual activists have been swift to denounce them.

In a recent Washington Times article, Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland is quoted saying, “If it wasn’t so sad that people are spending so much money, energy and time that could be used on something constructive, like dealing with tsunami victims, it would be ludicrous.” I wonder if Mr. Furmansky would take kindly to a similar suggestion that he donate his organization’s budget to the tsunami relief effort.

To be sure, change in sexuality is nearly as controversial as gay marriage or what to teach about homosexuality in schools. Organizations such as the National Mental Health Association have suggested that all such efforts are harmful, saying in their brochure, What Does Gay Mean?, “…attempts to ‘cure’ lesbians and gay men may help change sexual behavior temporarily but will also create emotional trauma.” Despite research to the contrary, groups such as the NMHA routinely make these pronouncements.

On the other hand, a major mental health organization, the American Counseling Association recently went on record to defend the right of people to determine whether or not they should seek change. Based in Alexandria, Va., the ACA along with its divisions represents the interests of professionals ranging from school to career counselors.

In reply to a question from Rev. D. L. Foster of Atlanta Ga., Larry T. Freeman, MA, LPC, Manager, Ethics and Professional Standards for the ACA affirmed a client’s right to self-determination as it relates to seeking counseling to change sexual identity. Pastor Foster asked the ACA in a letter: “I am interested to know if the ACA’s Code of Ethics A.2.B is applicable to clients who seek to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.”

Mr. Freeman’s verbatim response is as follows:

“In response to your inquiry below regarding whether Section A.2. Respecting Diversity. b. Respecting Differences; is applicable to clients who seek to change their sexual orientation. Yes, this code applies to any one who feels or perceives themselves as struggling with an issue that impacts negatively the quality and comfort of their daily life. The key word here is client, it is the client that approaches the counselor and gives consent to be treated. If one’s sexual orientation is not an issue to them, it should not be an issue for the counselor. However, if it is, then the person(s) should have the freedom of choice to seek appropriate treatment for it; what ever the issue(s) may be. If what the client is experiencing is not in the training or education of the counselor a referral is suggested to the client, so they can receive the proper treatment that meets their counseling needs.”

When I asked Rev. Foster how he viewed the ACA statement, he said, “As a Pastor and one who has experienced satisfying change in my own sexual orientation, I welcome this wise and balanced response which truly values diversity and a client’s right to self determination.”

However, I have talked to colleagues who have asked, in effect, what is the big deal here? Why does it matter what the ACA says’ Why do ex-gays have to put up billboards’ And why go by the identity ex-gay? People are not ex-liberals, they are conservatives, right?

My answer is that no one disputes the existence of ex-liberals, or even ex-Michael Moore fans. However, the very existence of ex-gays is routinely and systematically denied by gay activists and often those in the mental health professions. The term ex-gay denotes a process of transformation maligned and doubted by many. That is why the ACA statement is so encouraging to them.

On this point, Rev. Foster said, “It is gratifying to know that struggling men and women seeking changes to sexual feelings won’t be relegated to second class status in the mental health field simply because they want to live happier, fulfilling lives.”

Many ex-gays are recognizing that the only way to get the message out about their own existence is to become increasingly vocal and visible. The more the gay activist community denies their existence, the more public they will become.

Ex-gays such as Rev. Foster are taking seriously the song learned as kids: “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. Hide it under a bushel, No! I’m going to let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine.