St. Louis protesters challenge anti-gay conference

ST. LOUIS — Over 350 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists, community allies and friends protested outside of an anti-gay conference here Feb. 25.

The conference, called “Love Won Out,” was sponsored by Focus on the Family (FOF) and Exodus International (EI). Both organizations claim that homosexuality is a curable disorder and use what’s called “reparative therapy” on young adults and people questioning their sexuality. FOF and EI have held similar conferences across the country.

According to the American Psychological Association, reparative therapy can cause depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior and can be especially damaging to young adults.

“Every major medical organization says that homosexuality is not something that requires a cure,” Dr. Ken Haller, a professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University, told the World. “If they were only preaching that homosexuality were bad, that is one thing, but they claim that they can cure homosexuality.”

Haller added that for the religious LGBT community, being told you are denied God’s love because of your sexual preference is a big deal. As a doctor he recognizes the relationship between having strong faith and good health.

Scott Emanuel from the ACLU believes that reparative therapy can damage young peoples’ sense of self. He volunteers with Growing American Youth, an organization that encourages teens to explore their feelings and be true to themselves. He sees kids struggling with questions of sexuality everyday.

“Unfortunately, with closed-minded family members, kids don’t have many positive images of homosexuality available to them,” said Emanuel. “They need to understand that believing in God and being gay is OK.”

“Many LGBT people are carrying a lot of negative baggage,” said protester Gail Elble. “The lack of acceptance in their own lives, and the idea that young people are being dragged to this conference by their parents, has brought a lot of people here to show their support for LGBT rights.”

FOF and EI aren’t just anti-gay, they are anti-union and are funded by right-wing organizations and individuals.

Sandra Telep of Pride At Work, an AFL-CIO constituency group for LGBT union members, told the World, “FOF and EI are anti-union and use the ‘gay issue’ as a wedge. It’s divide and conquer. The LGBT rights movement and the labor movement have a common enemy. We need to fight on a common front.”