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Will love win out?

National | Former homosexuals find peace, but gay-rights groups try to silence the ex-gay movement

Issue: "The Sudan crisis," June 10, 2000

in Dallas - Sitting on a wooden bench beneath downtown Dallas skyscrapers, Joshua recalled the agonizing moment he stood in front of a mirror and proclaimed, "I am gay." Two months later he told the reflection, "No, I'm not gay because I know it's wrong." It was his secret civil war-a fierce battle waged within the privacy of his soul since the day he says he became a Christian two years ago. "I could never have peace as a homosexual because I love the Lord," the 22-year-old told WORLD. "And I could never have peace as a Christian because I was hiding this inner turmoil." A victor emerged inside the First Baptist Church of Dallas last month when Joshua joined 840 others for a Focus on the Family seminar featuring testimonies from ex-gays. "The power of Jesus Christ is much greater than my desires," said Joshua after the conference, announcing his intentions to discuss his struggle with his parents for the first time in six years. Focus' controversial "Love Won Out" seminar so far has visited seven U.S. cities this year, including Tampa, Fla., and Seattle, Wash. The conferences, according to the group, seek to alert communities "about the inroads made by gay activist organizations in public schools and other institutions." They also serve as forums for ex-gays to tell their stories. A lot of people don't want those stories told. Michael S. Piazza, pastor of Dallas' homosexual Cathedral of Hope, devoted an entire sermon to lambasting the seminar. He called the First Baptist Church, Focus' Dallas host, "a pawn to continue the abuse of lesbians, gays, and their families." In Tampa, vandals spray-painted a local church (that had no connection to the seminar) with pink triangles and the words, "Are You Tired of Being Baptist?" The attack came in response to a Focus ad campaign asking, "Are You Tired of Being Gay?" Focus' question may not be popular, but it's valid, said John Paulk, a former drag queen turned Christian who directs the Focus seminars. "All of us that have come out of homosexuality have done it because we are just tired of it," he told WORLD, citing his constant fear of diseases and struggles with suicidal thoughts and sexual addiction. "It's like ... I am worn out. Is there any other way? It's for those people that we place ads." The ads seem to be working. The Dallas seminar resembled an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as people crowded before microphones to discuss what they had dared not broach in public. "I caught my 15-year-old son in a sexual situation with another boy. Do I tell his siblings?" asked one woman. Later that day, a mother's sobs erupted from the balcony as Mr. Paulk described the psychological confusion of family members who discover a relative is gay. If gay activists have their way, the dark side of homosexuality will remain in the closet. They stifled efforts to promote "Love Won Out" in Tampa, crashing a Focus press conference and launching a phone campaign against advertisers. A radio station promptly pulled seminar advertisements and apologized to listeners. An outdoor media company, Eller Media, abruptly canceled a Focus order for $5,000 worth of bus shelter posters. Some churches have been intimidated. Focus had to move a planned seminar in Southern California after more than a dozen churches refused to host the event. In Dallas, ex-gay groups called at least six churches before they found a willing host. Beneath the outrage and the intimidation lies the reality that when ex-gays publicly choose heterosexuality, they threaten the gay lobby's core message-that homosexuality is not a choice. "The whole mantra of gay activism is that homosexuality is genetic and normal in every way," said Mr. Paulk. But, he added, when ex-gays say, "'Sorry, homosexuality is not normal ... there is something wrong with this, and I found freedom and now have a family,' that topples their stack of cards." The gay lobby, though, has an ace up its sleeve-the press. Gay rallies against the seminars in Tampa and Seattle garnered plenty of media attention. But gay activists decided to ignore the Dallas seminar, and so did the local media. Despite four billboards, radio announcements, press releases, and phone calls to six religion editors, The Dallas Morning News didn't report on the seminar. The only journalists who did show up, from Channel 4 News, promptly asked if there were a gay-rights protest to cover. There was not, and footage of the seminar never made it onto the evening news. Underneath the media's radar screen, however, lives are changing. "For the first time I feel freedom and it's not the freedom of personal autonomy, of loving who I want and doing want I want," Amy Tracy, an ex-lesbian and former press secretary for the National Organization for Women, told the seminar audience. "It's real freedom to do what deep, deep down inside I know I ought to do."

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