NCLR exploits tragedy with guilt by association tactic

confused manTragedy affects us all.  Whether it was the nearly 3,000 Americans who perished on 9/11 or a child whose sexual innocence is damaged by an abuser, ultimately as a human family, tragedy affects us all.

Unfortunately, almost every time there is a tragedy there are those who take advantage of it to manipulate public opinion or to capitalize on it for political and personal reasons. That’s why it was deeply troubling to read of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) using the sexual abuse of a confused young man as a jump off attempt to discredit sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).

According to an August 27th press release, the NCLR announced that it was “filing a complaint with the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department on behalf of a former student of Bethel Baptist School in Walls, Mississippi who says he was sexually abused for three years by a teacher attempting to “cure” his sexual orientation.”

First, any feeling American can agree with the NCLR in that no child, no person should ever be put through the horror of sexual abuse, molestation or violence of any kind. Likewise, no person, whether gay or nongay should ever be the perpetrator of such vile injustice.  If the facts of this case bear out against the defendant, the penalty of the law should be applied justly.

Its also important to remember that at this point, this case has not been adjudicated in a court of law, thus the claims are simply that: claims.

God only knows how many men and women who have been scarred by childhood sexual violence –including Ellen Degeneres, Corey Feldman and Cindy Lauper— understand and believe that its a tragedy no one should exploit for personal gain.

But that’s exactly what the NCLR is doing when it claims, without evidence, that there is a connection between the heinous crime committed by the defendant and voluntary sexual orientation change efforts shepherded by trained and caring professionals.

“The former student, Jeff White, now 32, alleges that, shortly after coming out in 1996, his parents turned to the local church, which ran a school it promised could “cure” their son and stop him from being gay. Beginning his freshman year, according to White, teacher Steven Barnes began subjecting White to weekly “counseling” sessions in which he regularly raped and sexually assaulted the teenager to convince him that being gay was more painful than suppressing his sexual orientation.”

If this is indeed what happened to Mr. White, it has no relationship to the scenario of what happens between an adult therapist and his or her adult client. With no evidence to support its theory, NCLR simply made an incredulous assumption of guilt by association. Guilt by association is the attempt to discredit an idea based upon disfavored people or groups associated with it.  Because NCLR dislikes the work of credible SOCE practicioners, it seeks to dishonestly make the case that any instance of sexual orientation change gone awry is the fault of credible SOCE representatives. Such accusations have little value except for self-serving rhetorical effect.

Here are the facts:

  • There has been no concerted effort or practice among SOCE practitioners to use sexual abuse or rape as a means of facilitating the process of change. I challenge the NCLR to put up or shut up.
  • There is no documented evidence conclusively proving that voluntarily changing how one chooses to sexually express themselves is dangerous to the individual’s mental health or spiritual well being. Thousands of people who have done so are perfectly normal, mentally healthy and stable members of society. That’s not to say that no one has been dissatisfied with either the results of their attempts or the process itself.  Perspective remains the key arbitrator of success.
  • White’s alleged abuser Steven Barnes never made any claim to be a representative of any SOCE organization. The comparison is about as ludicrous as saying Jeffrey Dahmer was a representative of the Human Rights Campaign. Steven Barnes was the employee of the church who took advantage of a broken and sexually confused young man. Those are the actions of a sexual predator. The church believed (like millions of other orthodox Christians) that homosexuality (like many other spiritual maladies) could be changed by faith and prayer to God and Steven Barnes betrayed that belief by his alleged actions.

Americans are still largely divided as to whether  homosexuality is not some fixed, hard wired genetic condition. Rather it is fluid, changeable and subject to the individual’s level of determination to do so.

A 13 page statement  entitled Legal and Ethical Concerns About Change in Sexual Orientations authors Tia Powell and Edward Stein, representing the American Association of Law Schools, said in part:

“[…] we question what seem to be presumptions undergirding laws banning sexual orientation change efforts,namely that sexual orientations are always innate and immutable and do not reflect choices. We suggest that such presumptions about sexual orientations are not only weak starting points for laws like California’s and New Jersey’s, but, more generally, that immutability, innateness, and lack of choice are poor arguments for the rights of LGB people. In sum, such claims about the nature and origins of sexual orientations are neither good science nor good politics and are not an appropriate foundation for prohibiting sexual orientation change efforts or for LGB rights generally. Instead , support for LGB rights should be grounded in an intellectually rigorous and appropriately humble approach to science and the limits of scientific knowledge .”

Its sad that homosexual activist organizations want to take away the power of choice given to every man by God. What if Mr. White were told he had no choice but to continue submitting to his alleged abuser? What if he were told there was no way he could ever be anything other than a victim?  If the choice to change undesirable factors of one’s life isn’t valid for all, its not valid for any.  Such a universal truth made rich with diversity cannot be refashioned into some monolithic edict because of the biased  perspectives of groups like the NCLR.

The NCLR is right to stand up and fight against sexual abuse of any kind. But we have to call this what it is.  Its a shallow, attention-getting stunt which exploits Mr. White’s horrific past and cheapens the suffering of many Americans who have been similarly damaged.


Pastor Darryl L. (DL) Foster is the Co-Founder of Voice of the Voiceless and an ordained minister, husband, father, and self-described abolitionist pastor. In 1990, he left homosexuality to follow Christ and subsequently founded Witness Ministries, Inc. a prominent Christian outreach focused on helping people of color gain their freedom in Christ. In 2010, he also founded and organized the Overcomers Network, an Atlanta based EXGLBT empowerment organization with chapters in 18 US cities.