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A Time for Healing, Prayer and Remembrance

Congregation Kol Ami memorial service TONIGHT

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RABBI DENISE L. EGER. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

I didn’t think my heart could break into smaller pieces but Saturday’s mass murder at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during Sabbath morning services has left me crying and my heart in shards. I am scared for America.

Tree of Life synagogue is a vibrant place on Saturday morning, hosting three different congregations. It is in the heart of Squirrel Hill, a leafy neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where the Jewish community is centered. But it is a diverse neighborhood as well, with lots of different ethnic and religious groups. Mr. Roger’s home is a mere few blocks away from the synagogue.

Eleven people murdered in cold blood as they sang of peace and welcomed a new baby into the covenant of his ancestors and many people injured including 4 police officers. What was supposed to be an uplifting morning worship service turned into one of the bloodiest mass murders in a house of worship.

The murderer, now in custody, is a vociferous Anti-Semite whose social media pages is filled with anti-Semitic screed, brought his AK47 into Tree of Life Synagogue and opened fire. He told police “All Jews must die”.

Anti-Semitism is real. It’s always been here in the United States. But since Donald Trump’s ascension to politics and the Presidency, his rhetoric has given new permission to the Anti-Semites to air their ugly lies and untruths about the Jewish people and the Jewish community and foster violence and murder.

The rise of the American Nazi party, right wing hate groups like the Proud Boys, and other right- wing extremists have used anti-Jewish code words in their materials, rallies, and publications. Fox news commentators, The President and his cronies have picked up on those words as he tries to signal his base that all those who aren’t white straight Christian Americans have no place in the good ole’ US of A.

And there is growing Anti-Semitism on the left as well. Often in the form of Anti-Israel or Anti-Zionist hatred, Jews long part of coalitions to welcome the stranger, stand with the poor, march for civil rights for brown and black people, and our LGBTQ community have been increasing told you are not welcome.

The Jewish community has been a part of and shared in the suffering, been victims of violence along with other minorities in America. There were redlines that prevented us from buying homes in certain neighborhoods, clubs that exclude us and university quotas keeping Jews out. That is why Cedars-Sinai Hospital was founded because Jews weren’t allowed into medical school at one time and were prevented from serving as doctors in hospitals. Or worse, Jews have been told that we are not an oppressed hated minority in America as if our pain and suffering and losses and oppression are not real. Tell that to those that lost family in the Holocaust.

Anti-Semitism is a cancer eating away at our society. It is rising here and in Europe. In Los Angeles county this past year 72 percent of all hate crimes were directed at the Jewish community. In Pittsburgh where the shooting took place, there has been a 50 percent increase in Anti-Semitic hate crimes since January 2018! And the Jewish community which only a generation ago, saw 6 million of our family members systematically murdered by the Nazis in death camps of Europe are being re-traumatized by what is happening around us. When Anti-Semitism rises it is like the canary in a coal mine, something is terribly wrong with our country.

The shooting on Saturday coupled with the increase in vandalism of synagogues with swastikas, Jewish community bomb threats, online anti-Jewish poison and Nazi’s marching through the streets of Charlottesville. Virginia and other places with menacing chants like “Blood and Soil” (which were the chants of Nazi is Germany during the 30’s and 40’s) and “Jews will not replace us” has the Jewish community on high alert. And it should have everyone of good conscience on high alert as well.

This last week saw the wave of terror attacks upon CNN, Democratic party leaders and those who are vocal critics of the President. The bombs that were mailed and delivered to CNN, the Clintons, President Obama, Vice President Biden and philanthropist George Soros could have resulted in a mass assassination. And last week in Louisville, Kentucky another white supremacist tried to enter a black church to kill people found it locked and went to the local market and killed two African American seniors. And the Administration tried to destroy the lives of our transgender family through a heinous policy that would erase their identities.

Words matter. And these words of hatred are leading to actions. The environment of hate fueled by Fox news, the president’s rhetoric and the deep divisions between red and blue America is stoking this violence.

For many in the Jewish community, we are reliving the nightmares of our parents and grandparents and who were victims of the Holocaust. It is beginning to feel like the early 1930’s in Germany when duly elected, Hitler rose to power targeting all who weren’t “Arayan” which was code for white Christian Germans. Each day of the hatred, the targeting, the code words that for those in the know are Anti-Semitic in origin, activates the trauma we hold in our Jewish communal psyche.

To those who say it can’t happen here, we are already watching as the government locks up innocent refugees and their children who are escaping the drug lords and violence in their home countries. We are already seeing the mass incarceration of black and brown people by law enforcement and white people getting away without conviction for the same crimes. The erosion of our civil rights and the purposeful disenfranchisement of voters yet another blatant reminder of the tactics of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.

We see the policies of the administration trying to erase LGBTQ people and our civil rights. Attacks on the free press and the murder and targeting of journalists who try to report the truth and point out the hypocrisy of the administration’s policies and the greed of our elected officials of every party have all the markings and trappings of a government that is no longer by the people, for the people.

This is the challenge to cross the lines of identity politics and join together to defeat at the ballot box those who espouse such heinous bigotry that fuels and inflames the angry backlash of the MAGA crowd.

Only by going to the ballot box can we defeat the UnAmerican and Unpatriotic thread that is Trumpism.

As a rabbi, my ethical teaching in the Torah are built around two key ideals. First that all people are created in the Divine image. Regardless of our race, or gender, or sexual orientation or gender expression or nationality or religion. We are all reflections of the Force that Sustains the Universe.

And I also turn to this phrase: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. For in my neighbor I see the Divine and all that is holy.

If only we would live by these maxims and truths we could strengthen each other, lift up each other and pray for the best for our neighbor and have their back. These teaching help build empathy for one another. This is the America I once believed in and hoped for. I remain committed to working for it to once again. Let’s start changing America by loving each other enough to care for one another and by getting out to vote!

This is how I will sew my shattered heart back together.

— Join Rabbi Eger and Rabbi Chaiken for 45 minutes on Tuesday evening October 30 at 6:45-7:30 pm at Congregation Kol Ami for a time of Prayer, Healing and Remembrance for the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue Terror Attack.

Congregation Kol Ami,
West Hollywood’s Reform Synagogue
1200 N. La Brea Ave
West Hollywood, Ca 90038
#KOLAMISTRONG

Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, CA, a long time LGBTQ activist and the immediate past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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News Flash: LGBTQ teens don’t use litter boxes at school

Michigan Republican Party leader pushes outrage for political gain in ridiculous anti-LGBTQ+ claim against a school system

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Photos of LGBTQ teens and litter box licensed from Adobe Stock.

By James Finn | BAY CITY, Mi. – “Let me be clear in this communication,” wrote Michigan school superintendent Michael Sharrow. “There is no truth whatsoever to this false statement/accusation! There have never been litter boxes within MPS schools.”

Sharrow, who runs Midland Public Schools near Bay City, Michigan, told reporters he felt embarrassed and astonished he had to email parents, some of whom were outraged about false reports that LGBTQ students who “identify as cats” were being provided litter boxes to relieve themselves on school premises.

When I saw this story in MLive the other day, I laughed, but when I dug down, I lost my sense of humor pretty darn quick, especially when I realized the co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party is validating this crass falsehood.

The false reports began when Lisa Hansen showed up, “furious,” at a January 18 school board meeting saying some students were using a litter box in at least one of the unisex restrooms made available for transgender kids: “I am really disturbed by that! I know it’s going on nationwide. I know it is. It’s part of the agenda that’s being pushed. I don’t even want to understand it.”

You can listen to her ravings at the 32:49 mark of this video:

Go to 32:49 to hear Lisa Hansen say she “knows” schools nationwide are providing litter boxes for cat-identifying students

Going by Hansen’s comments, she’s conflating stories about “furries,” people who roleplay being animals, with LGBTQ identities. While it’s true LGBTQ teens are somewhat more likely than cis/straight teens to be involved in “furry” subculture on the Internet, “furry” is not an identity, it’s a game.

People identifying as cats and demanding rights is not a thing anywhere outside the fevered imaginations of folks who can’t wrap their minds around the fact that trans people and experiences have been part of the common human experience for millenia. Conservatives often object to transgender equality by claiming people might eventually identify as animals and demand to be treated as animals.

When we LGBTQ people hear that, our jaws drop.

Newsbreak: The world is not ending because trans people are finally winning a little dignity and equity. To misquote Bill Murray’s laugh line in Ghostbusters, dogs and cats are not about to start living together in sin. That ought to be the end of this discussion. I shouldn’t be writing about this at all, but the Republican Party blew it up on purpose to enrage parents.

Why is the Michigan Republican Party amplifying Hansen’s falsehood?

Somehow, Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock heard Hansen’s wild accusation, and without contacting Superintendent Sharrow or doing any investigation, posted it on January 20 to her Facebook page as a fact:

Kids who identify as ‘furries’ get a litter box in the school bathroom. Parent heroes will TAKE BACK our schools.

A few people on Facebook laughed at her for being gullible, but she quickly disabled comments. Her post received wide distribution, and some conservative parents are even more outraged over LGBTQ equity in public schools than they were before.

What did Maddock do after Sharrow sent out the (obvious) news that no MPS schools offer litter boxes to kids?Apologize? Retract? Take the false post down? Nope, it’s still up, still getting distribution, still pissing off “hero parents” responding to her call to arms.

That has to be what she wants.

She’s a powerful, educated, sophisticated woman with a long history as a state Republican official. She knows her post is enraging people; she doesn’t care that it’s false, only that it furthers her agenda: demonizing LGBTQ people for political gain.

Parents all over Michigan, like in most of the rest of the country, have been storming school boards demanding the banning of books that address race, LGBTQ people, or other marginalized communities. Just this morning, The Guardian revealed that the trend is accelerating, that is centrally funded by deep pocket donors, and that the Republican Party sees anti-LGBTQ sentiment as a principal political haymaker this year.

US conservatives linked to rich donors wage campaign to ban books from schools

Conservative groups across the US, often linked to deep-pocketed rightwing donors, are carrying out a campaign to ban…www.theguardian.com

LGBTQ books are disappearing from schools and libraries

For now, conservative forces that want to erase LGBTQ people in public schools are winning. Parents are circulating lists of books they say are objectionable or “pornographic,” and those books are vanishing. School boards are ordering them removed from shelves “for evaluation,” and promising parents to consult them before putting them back.

Sadie Seroxcat has just published a comprehensive summary of the situation in Counter Artswhere she lists specific books being banned and discusses successful efforts in Texas to remove them from schools.

Most objectionable to me and other LGBTQ advocates is that books being branded as pornographic or inappropriate are nothing of the sort. Conservative parents seem to find any mention of gay or trans truths unacceptable, no matter how tasteful, positive, or uplifting.

One book topping the list of bans is Lawn Boy, which I bought and read after parents all over the country condemned it as “pornography” that promotes pedophilia. I found nothing of the sort. Jonathan Evison’s novel isn’t even, properly speaking, gay themed.

I wrote this about Lawn Boy in a review for The Book Cafe:

This novel is neither liberal nor conservative, neither Red State friendly nor Blue State friendly. Whatever you might think about race and class, good ole Mike Muñoz probably shatters a few stereotypes. Capitalism might not come off looking beautiful in this novel about a young man on the fringes, but that ending … if it’s not a celebration of the “by-your-bootstraps individualism” Ronald Reagan praised, nothing is.

So what’s the controversy?

Somebody. In. The. Book. Is. Gay.

School Boards Want to Burn This Sweet, Uplifting NovelCharges of “pedophilia” and immorality are bizarremedium.com

Parents all over the country are storming school boards, furious over a sweet, positive, uplifting book they obviously didn’t bother to read. The charges of “pornography” are as silly and sensationalized as kids using litter boxes in school restrooms. But people just keep on pushing the outrage.

Why?

Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock could tell you. Pushing outrage engages voters. Demonizing scapegoats energizes the base. The midterms are coming up, and truth gets in the way of Party strategy, especially when you’re the Party of Trump still pushing the Big Lie about a stolen election.

LGBTQ people are among the scapegoats du jure this election season, so queer teens who deserve respect, representation, and a little common human decency are watching senior political leaders push lies about them instead.

No wonder the crisis-prevention folks at Trevor Project say their help lines are swamped this year and demand is rising.

No, LGBTQ teens don’t use litterboxes, and schools aren’t being asked to provide them. But you already knew that, didn’t you? Enough demonizing for political gain.

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James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a frequent columnist for the LA Blade, a contributor to other LGBTQ news outlets, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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United Methodists use anti-LGBTQ+ law to stop Jewish couple adopting

Here we go again with taxpayer-funded bigotry- Denying state services because of religious affiliation is unquestionably unconstitutional

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Courtesy of Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram

By James Finn | DETROIT – A Christian adoption agency that’s part of a progressive denomination just used a Tennessee law to stop a Jewish couple from adopting a child, who now languishes in state care. The same agency had already used the law for its intended purpose — to refuse to work with prospective LGBTQ parents. The agency is partnering with one of most notorious anti-LGBTQ hate groups in the United States. How did a progressive Christian denomination end up in bed with extremist Evangelicals associated with the Trump movement? Depending on your perspective, that’s either a cautionary tale or a horror story.

Two years ago, responding to demands from Christian constituents, the Tennessee General Assembly passed House Bill 836, which “prohibits, to the extent allowed by federal law, a private licensed child-placing agency from being required to perform, assist, consent to, refer, or participate in any child placement for foster care or adoption that would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions.”

Lawmakers made clear during debate that the “convictions” they meant were Christian “convictions” that LGBTQ people are unfit to foster or adopt children.

Denying state services because of religious affiliation is unquestionably unconstitutional, a direct infringement on the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.

This year, Holston United Methodist Home for Children used that law to turn away Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram because they are Jewish. And now, a boy who should be part of a loving forever family is stuck in the “system.”

Anti-LGBTQ+ foster agency discriminates against married Jewish coupleLast month, some parents and other community members railed against creating a GSA at a Lakeland School Board meeting…www.losangelesblade.com

The couple were unable to adopt because Holston United Methodist was the only agency where they lived that could provide mandatory state-certification services. The couple just sued the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services in state court, alleging they are being denied services by a taxpayer-funded agency solely because of their religious affiliation. Click here for the full text of the legal brief.

Anti-semitism and anti-LGBTQ bigotry walk hand in hand

I don’t know what part of this story makes me more angry, that Tennessee passed a law designed to make it hard for LGBTQ people to foster or adopt, or that an agency affiliated with the mainline United Methodist Conference (UMC) stirred in anti-semitism to hurt a child.

Jaw-droppingly, this story is not about Evangelical Christians, but about a denomination widely viewed as on the cutting edge of progressive Christianity.

Apparently, the Christians at Holston United Methodist Home never got the progressive memo. The agency’s status within the UMC is unclear. A spokesperson for the Holston UMC Conference told knox news the home is “no longer an arm” of the Conference, but did not respond to questions asking if the home and affiliated church are members of the Conference. Neither the Holston Conference, the UMC, nor the adoption agency responded to my inquiries yesterday asking if the agency remains affiliated. Going by the agency’s web page, the answer is yes:

“Holston Home is proudly affiliated with the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church, an area that covers all of East Tennessee, the western-most 17 counties in Virginia, and a little bit of territory in North Georgia. In that area, more than 873 United Methodist Churches make up the Holston Conference.”

Holston Home United Methodist Home for ChildrenHolston United Methodist Home for Children provides hope and healing for a brighter future by sharing the love of Jesus…www.holstonhome.org

Holston UMC Home is partnering with a hate group

Last December, the Holston United Methodist Home sued the Biden administration over HHS rules that do not allow them (as the recipient of federal funds) to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

In both legal cases, Holston UMC Home is being represented by lawyers with Alliance Defending Freedom, certified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. ADF is notorious for championing extremist Christian hate, on the record claiming a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. Among other things, the Alliance pushes:

  • False notions that LGBTQ people are more likely to sexually abuse children.
  • The recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad.
  • State-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad.
  • “Religious liberty” legislation and case law to allow denial of goods and services to LGBTQ people in the U.S.

This isn’t the ADF’s first rodeo with anti-semitism

I’ve written before about the Miracle Hill adoption agency in South Carolina that fought successfully in 2019 for a federal waiver to allow them to turn away Jews, Catholics, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists. When Lydia Currie sued, saying she was turned away for being Jewish, ADF jumped into the thick of the fight, championing Miracle Hill’s right to discriminate against Jewish people.

Trump Trashes Adoption Equality Rule excludes LGBTQ parents as National Adoption Month begins medium.com

Lydia told reporters at the time that, “Boys with a history in the system are hard to place in families because of the assumption that they might be violent… We decided that we wanted to give one of them a home.”

Because of where she lived and the fact that Miracle Hill had a near lock on child-placement services, Lydia was unable to care for the hard-to-place boy she had already identified. She eventually fostered but was unable to help the child who needed her.

Elizabeth and Gabriel face exactly the same problem. They want to adopt a boy from Florida who desperately needs a home, a boy they identified and stepped forward to help, but they can’t, because Holston UMC Home won’t certify Jews, and the couple have no other local options for training and certification.

Let’s be clear about the true freedom interests in this case

The Alliance Defending Freedom say they are vigorously defending religious liberty, but is that true? Holston UMC Home bid for and won a state contract to train and certify foster and adoptive parents as an agent of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.

This is the standard model for child placement in the United States, which in many ways is an historical accident. Before about the mid-twentieth century, most homeless children were cared for by private religious agencies funded mostly by church donations. Uneven levels of service that often led to neglect and abuse sparked reform, roughly coincident with President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiative.

Today, private agencies contract with the state to spend taxpayer dollars to provide the bulk of services to children in need. Many of the agencies remain religiously affiliated, but all of them are primarily or exclusively funded by the state, supervised by the state, and required to meet minimum state standards of care. They are, for all practical purposes, agents of the state.

Many of them, like Miracle Hill and Holston UMC Home, hold monopolies or near monopolies in the areas they serve.

So when they insist they must have the “religious liberty” to turn away prospective parents who don’t share their religious views, they are acting as agents of the state discriminating against people on sectarian religious grounds. This ought to be a no brainer. Denying state services because of religious affiliation is unquestionably unconstitutional, a direct infringement on the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The people having their freedom snatched away are Lydia, Elizabeth, and Gabriel. The people having their freedom snatched away are LGBTQ people, many of them practicing Christian. The people having their freedom snatched away are children denied loving parents.

Holston United Methodist Home has no liberty interest at stake, contrary to the ADF’s tortured arguments. Holston United Methodist Home is not a person with religious beliefs. It’s a legal entity that bid for and won a state contract to spend taxpayer dollars to perform state services.

If the people who run the agency believe LGBTQ people and Jews are unfit to be parents, they are perfectly free to step aside in favor of people who do not hold those views. They are perfectly free to not bid for state contracts in the first place, especially if their religious views preclude them from fulfilling their duties as agents of the state.

Some adoption agencies in the U.S. have closed for that reason, and in every case, neutral players have stepped forward to bid for and execute state contracts, to care for needy children without religious bias.

What’s happening in Tennessee violates American values and Christian values

Denying services to people because of their religious beliefs is antithetical to American values. We as a people have a sad and sometimes brutal history of racism and anti-semitism, a history with deep Christian roots. As a gay man, I’m far too personally aware of our history of oppressing LGBTQ people. But these sad facts stand in opposition to our ideals of liberty and individual freedom, ideals we most fight to advance.

As for Christianity, I’m certain I don’t need to quote any words of Jesus for Christians to understand that denying families and homes to children in need stands in direct opposition to the message of the gospel. Two children in this story lost the chance to join a loving family because Christians denied it to them. Two children ended up stuck in “the system” because Christians denied them love.

I have no idea how any member of the progressive United Methodist Conference can look a the name of the Holston United Methodist Home for Children and not feel great sadness and shame. Would Jesus deny a loving Jewish home to a child in need?

Of course not. But United Methodists are doing it right now, in his name.

If I were a United Methodist or a citizen of Tennessee, I’d be blasting out messages to my religious and political leaders. Since I’m neither, who can help me do that work?

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James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a frequent columnist for the LA Blade, a contributor to other LGBTQ news outlets, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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Alana Chen’s suicide shows Canada did not outlaw Christianity

For as long as LGBTQ young people keep suffering and dying, laws against Christian conversion therapy will be critically needed

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Joyce Calvo (L) and her daughter Alana Chen, who killed herself following years of conversion therapy. (Screenshot: KMGH-TV ABC7 Denver )

Editor’s Note: Frank discussion of LGBTQ mental health crises and suicide follow. If you’re a young person in crisis, please reach out to Trevor Project, where trained counselors are waiting to help you around the clock. Or call the National Suicide Prevention LGBTQ Lifeline.

By James Finn | DETROIT – Canada just outlawed conversion “therapy,” making it a crime to “provide or promote services intended to change or repress a person’s sexual orientation or gender expression.”

The law is probably the toughest on the globe, much tougher than any state ban in the U.S. It leaves little wiggle room for religious exemptions, and many Christians are furious. Thousands of pastors across Canada and the U.S. spoke from pulpits last Sunday in a coordinated condemnation of Canada’s new law.

Canada outlawed Christianity and nobody noticed,” screams the headline of a popular podcast on iHeartRadio . . . As if engaging in counseling and pastoral practices guaranteed to produce severe mental health crises and suicide are a necessary or desired part of Christianity.

Let’s talk about Alana Chen, a young woman dead by suicide

I’ve followed Alana’s tragic story since her death in Colorado in 2019, but her family made headlines again last week as Christian leaders lined up to condemn Canada’s conversion therapy ban. Alana’s mother, Joyce Calvo, just shared portions of her daughter’s journal in a wrenching column for the National Catholic Reporter as she works to shed light on the tragedy, point out that similar tragedies are unfolding right now, and urge Catholic Church leaders to leave LGBTQ adolescents alone.

Joyce makes several important points:

  1. Contrary to popular belief, Catholic dioceses in the U.S. often promote conversion therapy and even sponsor conversion therapy organizations like Desert Streams Ministries. She writes, “My goal for this essay is twofold. I hope it will alert Catholic parents to beware the devastating impact the church can have on their LGBTQ+ children. And I hope it will persuade people speaking for the church to abandon their misguided and dangerous attempts to alter what God has made.”
  2. Nuns and priests encouraged Alana for years to use conversion therapy techniques to suppress or eliminate her attraction to other teenage girls. These nuns and priests met with and counseled Alana in secret, subjecting Alana to what her mother calls, “rules and regulations, spiritual/mental abuse … shaming and degrading her.”
  3. Nuns and priests urged Alana to hide the counseling from her parents. When Alana was 14 and first admitted to a priest that she believed she was a lesbian, he urged her not to tell her parents because he was afraid they would affirm her. Instead, he counseled her for years to confess and suppress or eliminate her attractions.
  4. Nuns and priests continued to urge Alana to suppress or eliminate her attraction to women after she was hospitalized over plans to kill herself in church. Alana told her sister then that she felt “defiled” and “impure,” terms she learned in her pastoral counseling, during which she was instructed to confess any particular incidents of attraction to women before receiving the sacrament of communion.
  5. Nuns and priests referred Alana to conversion therapy programs like Desert Streams and to a licensed psychologist who specialized in conversion therapy.
  6. The Catholic Church in Colorado continues to promote and practice conversion therapy for adolescents, in spite of a state law banning it. They deny their efforts to change/eliminate “unwanted same-sex attraction” amount to conversion therapy and they claim pastoral counseling is not subject to the law.

Of course pastoral counseling is conversion therapy

Desert Streams Ministries, whose staff provide training to Protestant and Catholic clergy and lay people across North America, say they, “help Christians suppress or extinguish sexual/romantic attraction to people of the same sex.” That is the definition of conversion therapy, and the results are as tragic as they are predictable.

As Alana’s private journal reveals, the counseling she received, to extinguish her same-sex attraction or suppress it to the point she no longer noticed it, is the definition of conversion therapy. The fact that she received the toxic counseling from nuns and priests doesn’t make her any less dead.

This old, toxic story just won’t go away

For decades, ever since we LGBTQ people started standing up and telling the world we no longer consent to being silenced, shamed, suppressed or oppressed, Christian organizations have insisted we’re “choosing” our attractions, have insisted we can un-choose them through counseling, prayer and faith practices.

For decades, the Christian organizations making these claims have collapsed, closed up shop, and even apologized for misleading people. The only verifiable outcomes of services organizations like Desert Streams offer are severe mental health problems and a high suicide rate.

Alana Chen is not the exception, she’s the rule.

The harder LGBTQ people sincerely try to eliminate “unwanted same-sex attraction,” the more likely they are to try to end their lives. Data show that teens forced into conversion therapy are actually more likely to emerge mentally healthy than teens who enter programs because they want to. Neither subset of teens emerges with any change in how they experience sexual attraction.

Conversion therapy is like snake handling

When I was a kid in rural Alabama, my Baptist preacher dad met a family who attended a fringe Pentecostal church where people didn’t just “speak in tongues” and engage in “faith healing,” they brought live rattlesnakes to church and passed them around in a show of faith.

Dad took me to visit one of the families, who for Christian reasons refused to allow their kids to be treated with antibiotics or blood transfusions. They believed if people got sick, they should have enough faith to pray for healing, and if they didn’t heal, then their death must be God’s will.

Dad’s voice shook with emotion on the ride back home. He told me, “If any of those kids die, from a snake bite or because they got sick and their parents wouldn’t take them to the doctor, watch me do everything in my power to see the parents put in prison. You don’t hurt kids. You just don’t.”

Generally, in the U.S., the law has come to mostly agree with Dad. Christian faith does not excuse putting kids at risk. If you take your kid to a snake-handling service and they get bit, you’re in big trouble and your faith won’t legally extricate you. Ditto if you deny medical treatment to your child on Christian grounds, like the Pennsylvania parents whose two-year-old died in 2018 of an easily treatable bacterial pneumonia.

Hurting people on Christian grounds doesn’t make the hurt acceptable

We have enough data to be certain the kind of conversion therapy nuns and priests subjected Alana Chen to is as dangerous as snake handling, with outcomes as predictable as withholding antibiotics from a sick toddler.

That’s why Canada’s federal government passed a criminal ban on conversion therapy ban so tight some Christian pastors are afraid it will criminalize pastoral counseling.

News flash: it’s supposed to.

Pastor James Coates, a Canadian pastor jailed last year for refusing to comply with covid-19 public health guidelines, told Fox News that the Canadian ban is “anything but loving,” claiming it will “shut the LGBT community off from the saving and transforming message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Coates doesn’t get it. Like thousands of other Christian pastors last week, he apparently refuses to look at data that shows Jesus’s transforming message has zero track record of changing sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s almost like Jesus is telling people they don’t understand his message. Coates could open up his eyes and see if he chose to. So could the nuns and priests in Colorado who falsely insist they can help teens like Alana Chen stop being gay.

For as long as LGBTQ young people keep suffering and dying, laws against Christian conversion therapy will be critically needed. But that doesn’t mean Christianity has been outlawed, just like laws criminalizing Christians for withholding medical care from their children do not outlaw Christianity.

As a matter of fact, contrary to Coates’s assertion, the U.S. and Canada are bursting with Christian churches that share Jesus’s love without condemning LGBTQ people, without falsely claiming that faith can change or suppress same-sex attraction. Want to find a church like that? Check out Church Clarity, a crowd-sourced database of thousands of LGBTQ-affirming Christian congregations: https://www.churchclarity.org/

Christian practices that cause severe mental health crises and death deserve no respect or protection at law. You don’t hurt kids. You just don’t.

Christian conversion therapy is as dangerous as snake handling. Pass it on.

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James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a frequent columnist for the LA Blade, a contributor to other LGBTQ news outlets, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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