When New Life Church founder Ted Haggard went off to be “cured” of his homosexuality after being outed in November, the Texas-based gay group Soulforce launched a letter-writing campaign of sorts, to Free Pastor Ted.
Indeed, many members of the gay civil rights group know the difficulties of coming to terms with their sexuality. The organization’s charismatic founder, Mel White, for example, spent upward of $100,000 on ex-gay therapies – even electroshock and an exorcism – before realizing he’s gay and that’s OK.
Today, July 8, several members of Soulforce plan to visit the Colorado Springs mega-church that Pastor Ted built, where they plan to tell all who will listen about the “psychological and spiritual harm” they experienced in “ex-gay” programs.It’s unclear what type of reception they’ll get at New Life, though Mike Jones, the male escort who informed the world of Haggard’s meth-induced gay trysts just five days before the ’06 election, said he was welcomed with open arms when he visited the church early this year. (Haggard, who was fired and has since moved with his wife and children to Arizona, said in February that he was “completely heterosexual” after three weeks of intensive counseling.)
In a release, Soulforce detailed the biographies of the gay and lesbian activists who are planning to show up today at New Life Church, in northern Colorado Springs:
Christine Bakke moved to Colorado in 1998 to become ex-gay. She tried support groups, the “casting out of demons,” and private therapy. During this time, she attended a Cleansing Stream seminar at New Life Church. In 2003, she realized that, while she had changed in many areas, her sexual orientation remained the same. She has told her story in Glamour magazine and on Good Morning America, and she is a co-founder of beyondexgay.com.
Daniel Gonzales grew up attending a Baptist Church. He sought “conversion” therapy at the age of 18, because he didn’t view being gay as a spiritually acceptable way to live his life. Ultimately, he realized that the therapy threatened his mental health and his faith. He is now in the process of moving to Denver, where he will work as an architect.
Peterson Toscano spent 17 years and over $30,000 to change and suppress his same-sex attractions. He submitted himself to residential treatment, support groups, and three exorcisms. In 1992, he traveled to Colorado Springs for “reparative” therapy. Now a proud gay Christian, Peterson is a co-founder of beyondexgay.com and has been approved by New England Quakers to “travel in the ministry.”
This year, Soulforce activists have also engaged in non-violent actions against Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, which maintains that gays can be “cured” of their homosexuality.
In February, Dotti Berry and Robynne Sapp were arrested when they refused to leave Focus headquarters after a guided tour. Three months later, Amanda Harris, 22, of Conway, Arkansas, and Kourt Osborn, 21, of Kanab, Utah, were also arrested after participating in a regular tour and refusing to leave.
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential, and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org