Repairing What Shouldn’t Be Fixed

by Kate Wheeler

November 1, 1878. That was a particularly dark day for American Indians; the day that Captain Richard Pratt opened the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. His goal: to “kill the Indian, but not the man”–to “fix” Indians by teaching them that everything about being an Indian was wrong, and that Indian children needed to be as much like whites as they possibly could.

The staff at the Carlisle School and many others at schools like it continually represented themselves as working compassionately to “help” Native Americans find their footing in a White world. But the fact was that these schools were founded on bigotry, hatred, and an agenda to neutralize any future threat of Indian uprisings against Whites.

The Damage of Hidden Agendas

When President Hayes questioned whether or not Captain Pratt was needed more as a soldier than a teacher, Pratt snapped back in a letter that he was fighting a war to bring “civilization out of savagery! Industry and thrift out of laziness! Education out of ignorance! Cleanliness out of filth!” His actual feelings about the children he was “helping” is pretty clear in that passage.

Today, Indians throughout North America are still haunted with depression, high suicide rates, and substance abuse that are a direct result of the brainwashing their parents and grandparents endured in these schools, where they were told that nothing about themselves was right; that what was inherent within them needed correction or, better yet, abrogation.

History Repeats Itself

Do any of these techniques and results sound familiar? If you read the news last week, it should be ringing some bells. You would have heard of a dog-and-pony show that’s on its way to West Michigan with a similar message–put on by people who are attempting to create as much damage in the LGBT community as Pratt and his kind wreaked on Native American tribes. Love Won Out, a “reparative therapy” group, is going to be setting up shop at the Sunshine Community Church to help people with same-sex attractions heal themselves of their very natures.

Just like Pratt, Love Won Out, brainchild of the infamous James Dobson, professes public compassion for those who are “affected by homosexuality” and seeks to bring them “into the arms of their Creator.” This kindly language is mirrored by Dobson’s Family Research Council, which states “Compassion, not bigotry, compels us to support the healing of homosexuals.”

Two Faces, A Single Goal

But groups like this sound very different when they’re speaking to their base. Recently, as one example, Exodus International President Alan Chambers stated, “One of the many evils this world has to offer is the sin of homosexuality.”

And so Love Won Out and groups like them come to us with their hidden bigotry and their surface “compassion” and their agenda to kill the homosexual, not the man. And they offer their bizarre treatments, which range from suggesting prescriptions for Prozac to meditating on a tree when one feels same-sex desires to improving one’s hand-to-eye coordination (on the supposition that men who are bad at sports become gay out of pure shame).

Lack of a Scientific Basis

Although they claim a high success rate of turning gays into heterosexuals, the ex-gay industry never offers scientific data or actual statistics–mainly because their successes are mostly failures. These broken results were predicted by the American Psychiatric Association when it stated in 1998 that “the potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior…”

That scenario sounds so similar to the one being played out on reservations that you’d think that there’d be some value in the lessons of history–but apparently not.

Even worse, some ex-gay counselors insist to their clients that therapies to cure homosexuality are routinely used in mainstream treatment, a lie which is repudiated by groups such as the American Psychological Association. This professional organization issued a statement in 2006 which said, “For over three decades the consensus of the mental health community has been that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure.”

Because the Bible Told Me So

With the force of all of the major mental health professional groups standing against them, how do groups like Love Won Out justify their ongoing march of reparative destruction? Why, because it’s mandated by the Bible, of course. The problem with that argument is that the Bible can be carefully cherry-picked to justify any evil under the sun, and has been. It’s been used as a call to war…as a justification for slaughtering Jews…as an excuse for empire-building and the eradication of native cultures…as a foundation for lynchings…as the rationalization for slavery. Remember that Jefferson Davis said in a famous speech, “Slavery was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible.”

The tactic of Biblical justification for human horrors once prompted Lord Byron to remark, “History is the devil’s scripture.”

When Love Won Out arrives in Grand Rapids, it will be funded by its $146 million budget. It will be fueled with a religious zeal to transform everyone into the same cookie-cutter view of what is acceptable–acceptable in the eyes of James Dobson, if not of God.

But the basis of this group, just like the philosophy of the Indian school educators, is absurdly flawed. Gays can’t be fixed any more than I could fix the fact that I’m straight, or five-foot-three, or that one of the major lines of my family is rooted not in Spain or Germany or Russia but in the Abenaki Nation. These things can’t be fixed because there’s nothing wrong with them.

We are each perfect in the richness of our differences. Someone should try that concept as a reparative therapy for the Reverend Dobson.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Film Looks at Philanthropy in Grand Rapids; Family Research Council Candidate for Hoekstra’s Seat

Here are some interesting articles published elsewhere in the past 24 hours covering Grand Rapids and Michigan:

Report Looks at Michigan’s Gay Marriage Ban and the Lessons that Can Be Learned from It


The Center for American Progress–a liberal/centrist think-tank–has released a new report that examines the 2004 ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in Michigan.

The report is titled “The Faithful Divide Over Wedding Vows: A Profile of Michigan’s 2004 Battle Over Marriage Equality” and it takes a comprehensive look at how opponents of gay marriage were able to wage a successful campaign to ban the practice in Michigan. The report looks at the organizing on both sides of the debate to draw lessons that progressives in Michigan and other states can use to inform future organizing.

The report looks at the 7 ballot committees that supported the measure, fundraising efforts on behalf of the ban, and the role that various religious groups played in building support for the amendment. It’s an exhaustive look at the issue that provides some critical analysis and understanding of why the amendment passed.

Given how long it has been since the proposal passed, the most important part of the report are its recommendations for future organizing. Based on its analysis, the Center for American Progress recommends that LGBT advocates build relationships with progressive faith leaders to challenge the anti-gay religious monopoly, that whole denominations not be entirely written off, and that the message of LGBT rights should be framed in a mainstream way. In addition, the report argues that the campaign against Proposal 2 was limited by an ineffective media and organizing campaign.

As always, there is good reason to be skeptical of portions of their analysis, but it’s worth considering, especially with talk about a possible effort aimed at reversing the ban.

Ex-Gay Conference in Grand Rapids to be met by Panel, Protest


I received a disturbing email earlier today about an “ex-gay” conference at Sunshine Community Church here in Grand Rapids. For those of you who haven’t heard of them, “ex-gay” ministries are rightwing religious/political ministries that operate with a homophobic/anti-gay agenda that says that homosexuality is a mental illness that can be “cured” by prayer and/or “reparative therapy.”

This particular conference is sponsored by a group affiliated with Focus on the Family called Love Wins Out. It’s part of a multi-million dollar industry of rightwing ministries focused on repressing LGBT people. The conference features sessions outlining “the family dynamics that can lead to the development of same-sex desires,” how lesbians are a result of “emotional dependency,” how to raise children “toward a healthy heterosexual identity,” and how to pursue legislative efforts aimed at stopping LGBT equality.

If anything good came out of the news, it’s that there is already serious organizing going into the countering the hateful message of the program, with Grand Valley State University organizing a panel discussion on ex-gay ministries and a protest at Calder Plaza.

An email from GVSU’s LGBT Resource Center provides some background information and outlines the events:

Dear members and friends of the LGBT community,

Focus on the Family is bringing their anti-gay seminar “Love Won Out” to Sunshine Ministry Church on Saturday, June 13th. This program has a “pray away the gay” philosophy.

To present another side to that conversation, Grand Valley State University will host a panel discussion on religion and homophobia that will feature national and local experts.

“Religion and Homophobia: Spiritual Violence in Our Community” is set for Thursday, June 11, from 7-9 p.m. in the Eberhard Center, Room 215, on Grand Valley’s Pew Grand Rapids Campus at 301 W. Fulton St. The event is free and open to the public.

Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, will begin the discussion with a presentation about the nature, validity, and impact of “ex-gay” reparative ministries or therapies. Truth Wins Out is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to defending the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community against anti-gay misinformation campaigns.

Panel members will include the following:

• John Corvino, Wayne State University professor, author and lecturer;

• Milt Ford, director of Grand Valley’s LGBT Resource Center;

• Judith Snow, Grand Rapids area forensic therapist and author;

• Doug Van Doren, pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ;

• Josh Sleutel, GVSU student, previous reparative therapy patient.

Join our Facebook group, “Religion & Homophobia: Spiritual Violence in our Community” The National Organization of Women is planning a protest response to “Love Won Out” on Saturday, June 13 at noon – Calder Plaza. Join their Facebook group at “Grand Rapids NOW Takes Action!

The event is sponsored by Grand Valley’s Division of Inclusion and Equity, Dean of Students Office, LGBT Resource Center, Women’s Center, Women and Gender Studies Department, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Liberal Studies Department, Allies and Advocates, and the LGBT Faculty and Staff Association.

For more information, call the LGBT Resource Center at (616) 331-2530. Tell your friends!

Grand Rapids Press Interviews Rich DeVos, who Generally Proves that he is an Anti-Gay Jerk


As part of its three days of coverage on Amway and its 50th anniversary, the Grand Rapids Press published an interview today with co-founder Richard DeVos (he co-founded the company with Jay Van Andel. Here at, we’ve long been critical of Richard DeVos, looking at his political activism, his “charitable” contributions, and his role in funding the religious right.

In the interview, DeVos basically proved everything that we have been saying all along. His comments are awful–he basically says he is right to be against gay marriage (although he claims to have gay friends, so that must mean it’s OK) and that he can do whatever the heck he wants with his money.

Usually I try to shy away from just quoting extensively from The Grand Rapids Press, but there really isn’t much to be said. DeVos proves himself to be a completely awful human being.

Here’s his thoughts on gay marriage:

Q: You gave $100,000 to the effort to defeat the recognition of gay marriage in Florida. Why did you choose to put money behind that cause?

A: Because I believe in it. That’s just a sacred issue of respecting marriage. It was not an anti-gay thing.

I have been hung in effigy by the gay community for a long time, from when I was on President Reagan’s first AIDS commission.

Q: How does that tie in with the gay marriage issue?

A: From that point on, that’s when they were hanging me in effigy because I wasn’t sympathetic to all of their requests for special treatment. Because at that time it was always somebody else’s fault. And I said, “You are responsible for your actions, too, you know. Conduct yourself properly,” which is a pretty solid Christian principle. You’ve got to take responsibility for your actions. It went from there to a series of requests for special treatment.

I would say, “I understand who you are. I accept who you are. Live your life. I will respect you. But don’t keep asking for favors.” Don’t ask for a concession on the marriage issue, which is not vital to them, in my opinion. They’ve made it a vital issue because they want to.

Q: Is there a solution? A compromise you would support?

A: Call it something else. Call it anything you want to. But marriage is a sacred document, OK? A sacred sacrament in the church and in the world. Don’t mess with it.

Go do something else. I deal with a lot of wonderful gay people. I hire a lot of them. I use a lot of them. I respect them. They’re terrific. I am good friends with them. But you live your life the way you want to live and I’ll live mine and I won’t stick my nose in yours. But don’t keep trying to change things. That’s all.

Q: Do you think it’s a winnable fight, long term?

A: For them? They’ve won a lot of fights. They’re a tough bunch. They keep asking for concessions all their lives. I don’t put anything past their ability to adjust things to their way on some equality basis. That’s all fine until you start dealing with sacred issues.

And on his wealth:

Q: There were a lot of people who thought: “Well, here’s a billionaire and he went over to England and bought a heart.” The average person who is in his 70s would not be able to afford to do that and may not have been able to have that same opportunity.

A: That’s true.

Q: How do you respond to those people? How does that make you feel?

A: I guess my quick reaction, my cute reaction, is: “That’s the benefit of making money, isn’t it? That’s the benefit of being industrious.”

I look at that as the hand of God. What happened in my case, there’s no other explanation for it. There are too many little things that occurred.

I’ve always been greedy. But never to the point where I corrupted the system. The normal desire to make money is always there. But it was never so powerful in the building of the business that it overcame those things.

Unfortunately, this really only touches the surface. DeVos has been a huge benefactor to the religious right and many of its key institutions over the years. He was instrumental in developing the modern conservative infrastructure and has given considerable money to Republican candidates and the party as a whole.

He isn’t simply a guy who “made it” and is spreading his money around–he’s actively pursuing a specific ideological agenda. Sure, he might give some money that benefits some in this community, but even those contributions have ideological underpinnings (for example, contributions to Christian schools).

Religious Right Group Files Lawsuit Against Radical Queer Group over Church Disruption

Bash Back Protest

The rightwing Alliance Defense Fund has announced yesterday that has filed a lawsuit in federal court (Western District of Michigan) against activists who disrupted a church service in Lansing last Fall. The activists–part of a national queer/transgender network called Bash Back!–disrupted a church service at the “anti-queer mega church” Mount Hope outside of Lansing, Michigan. Bash Back! targeted the church over its anti-gay politics.

While the protest resulted in no arrests or local charges, the Alliance Defense Fund is now pursuing an effort in federal court to hold the activists responsible for civil rights violations (physical obstruction to a place of worship and intimidation at a place of worship) and trespassing.

According to independent media sources and Bash Back! the lawsuit has resulted in subpoenas being served on three activists in the Midwest. The federal complaint lists 14 activists by name who are believed to be associated with Bash Back! and the protest. In some cases, the complaint says specifically what activists are accused of doing–i.e. providing transportation–or that they were documented as being there by local law enforcement.

Much of the complaint focuses on Bash Back!’s use of so-called violent imagery of guns and activists glad in bandanas. It also argues that Bash Back! deliberately sought to intimidate the congregation and instill fear.

ADF says that the actions of Bash Back! indicate “how dangerous the homosexual agenda is to our First Liberty, religious freedom.”

In response to the lawsuit, Bash Back! said:

The work of devoted Bash Back!ers and allies determined that this morning’s hysteria is the result of the Alliance Defense Fund, a notorious anti-womyn, anti-queer, racist organization. The ADF decided to sue Bash Back!, Bash Back! Lansing and individuals because the authorities would not file a single criminal complaint regarding an action at the Mount Hope Church in Lansing last fall. But that’s not all! Those pesky evange-fascists are trying to identify and out up to 20 other people involved with Bash Back! in the hopes that criminal charges will be placed against them.

Interestingly, the lawsuit is alleging that Bash Back! Violated the church’s and its congregation’s first amendment rights under the FACE Act, a federal act that was first passed to limit the activities of anti-abortion protestors.

In the past, the Alliance Defense Fund has campaigned against measures aimed at giving civil rights to transgendered and gay citizens.

Anti-Gay Candidate Elected to GRCC Board of Trustees

Richard Ryskamp

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Richard Ryskamp, an anti-gay “morality” candidate for Grand Rapids Community College’s (GRCC) Board of Trustees. Unfortunately, Ryskamp won the seat. He received the second highest number of votes in the election.

In an article from the Grand Rapids Press, Interim President Ann Mulder seemed concerned over Ryskamp’s election. She was quoted saying, “I have faith the top three will understand the significance of this college and will put aside any individual agenda to address the real issues of education and the viability of this college.” Over the past several years, Ryskamp has appeared at board meetings and consistently criticized the school for its policies.

We wrote a detailed piece about his politics, but it’s worth noting a further substantiation of his anti-gay views. Earlier this year, Ryskamp submitted a letter to the editor in the Grand Rapids Press weighing in on the controversy over WOOD TV 8’s decision not to air an anti-gay television special. Not surprisingly for Ryskamp–who has criticized gay speakers at GRCC–ranted against the “radical homosexual agenda” and “radical gay activists.”

We’ll keep an eye on Ryskamp and what he advocates. It’s unfortunate that a school that is known for taking serious steps to promote diversity and LGBT inclusion, now has such a man serving on the board.

Richard and Helen DeVos Give $10 Million to Christian Schools; Media Ignores Ideological Goal


Yesterday, a $10 million dollar donation to Grand Rapids Christian Schools from Richard and Helen DeVos made it onto the front-page of the Grand Rapids Press.

The story was covered in other Grand Rapids media as well, with WZZM 13, WOOD TV 8, and WXMI 17 all reporting on the donation.

The coverage was similar across the four media outlets. It focused on the generosity of the DeVos gift with little else of substance. The Grand Rapids Press cited Grand Rapids Christian Schools Superintendent Tom DeJonge who said that the donation was “absolutely astounding” and “incredibly generous.” WOOD TV reported that the DeVos family “was not seeking any personal glory.”

By focusing exclusively on the “altruism” and “philanthropy” of the donation, the local media missed an opportunity to address a much bigger story–how the DeVos family has used its vast fortune to undermine and delegitimize public education. Over the years, Richard and Helen DeVos have given millions of dollars to private schools and political efforts aimed at increasing state support for private schools. Their family–particularly Dick and Betsy DeVos–have also been active in this effort.

While it may be true that the two were “not seeking personal glory,” their donation is certainly motivated by a specific ideological goal. This is rarely mentioned in the media, instead we are told to see the DeVoses as simply generous and selfless billionaires. However, how they have used their money–from supporting Christian schools to Republican politicians–clearly shows that they have specific political goals.

AFA Claims they are being Silenced as TV Stations Refuse to Air Anti-Gay Propaganda

AFA Anti-Gay Program Pulled from Ohio Station

In response to WOOD TV 8’s decision not to air an anti-gay program produced by the American Family Association (AFA), the group is charging that they are being silenced by “homosexual activists” who are opposed to religious freedom. The group is upset not only that the program was pulled from WOOD TV, but also that it will not air in Columbus, Ohio on WSXY. Additionally, WSPA in South Carolina aired the program but then ran an apology from the station manager.

It is also important to remember that this program was produced as part of a coordinated effort aimed at fighting civil rights legislation aimed at protecting LGBT people:

“Make no mistake: this is the opening salvo in a coming battle over pro-equality legislation.

Just as we are on the cusp of historic change – a federal hate crimes law, protections for LGBT workers against job discrimination – extremist groups like the AFA are launching a well-funded national campaign of hatred and fear to halt our progress.

This program recycles familiar lies: that hate crime laws will “do away with our freedom of speech,” or that pastors will be “criminalized for sharing the love of Jesus Christ.” (In fact, the proposed federal hate crimes law explicitly states that it only applies to physical violence – not speech.)”

WOOD-TV May Air Anti-Gay Paid Program on “the Radical Homosexual Agenda”

WOOD TV 8 May Air An Anti-Gay Program Produced By The American Family Association

According to reports in the Grand Rapids Press and online, WOOD-TV is considering airing a paid program produced by the American Family Association that purports to expose “the radical homosexual agenda” and “its impact on the family, the nation, and religious freedom.”

The special–titled “Speechless”–was originally supposed to air on WOOD TV an hour before President Barack Obama’s news conference Monday. However, the program was pulled because the station believed that it was not the appropriate lead-in to the news conference. WOOD TV 8’s General Manager released a statement saying:

“The scheduling of the show slipped through our filters…

We don’t pre-judge people’s ideas or opinions…

However, we have restrictions on controversial programming and key time periods. We are willing to sell a paid program time period during traditional paid program times. We have offered them Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009 from 2-3 p.m. We have not heard if they have accepted that time period. If the show airs, we will have disclaimers at the beginning and end of the show stating that these are not the opinions or views of this station.”

WOOD TV is clearly intending to run the program–lets not forget that it will make them money–thereby ignoring the anti-gay nature of the program. Critics have pointed to the American Family Association’s history of anti-gay activism as well as inaccurate claims made in the film as reasons for the station not to air it.

Colette Beighly of Grand Valley State University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Resource Center called the program “irresponsible programming” in The Grand Rapids Press stating:

“If an organization came into Grand Rapids and wanted to air biased programming slamming the Asian community, West Michigan would send a message that that puts Asians brothers and sisters at risk.”

Organizing to Stop the Program

A Facebook group been created to organize against the program and people are being encouraged to contact WOOD TV 8:

“Please contact WOOD TV8 to let them know this kind of irresponsible broadcasting is biased, unprofessional and leads to hate violence against the gay community.

Last year, hate violence against the LGBT community in Michigan increased 133%. Join us in standing up against homophobia and saying “NO!” to hate in our state.

Contact WOOD TV8:

Craig Cole, Program Director WOOD TV8