PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) has issued a statement concerning Zach Stark (pictured left), the gay 16 year old Tennessee boy who blogged about being sent to an ex-gay camp by his parents.

I have followed this story for a while now, in fact, I have followed it since practically the beginning. Zach was supposed to be released from Refuge on Friday, July 29, 2005. I have not seen any news reports concerning his release on Friday and it is still not yet known what kind of effect the camp might have had on Zach.

I keep him in my prayers and hope that he has come through this journey okay. I also pray that he has not given in to the hate-filled and bigoted beliefs of the radical religious right. God loves all of His children. It is my belief and the belief of so many others that our loving and merciful God cares more about our love and devotion to Him rather than who we love. I also firmly believe that we will all be judged on how we loved and not who we loved in this earthly life.

To see the PFLAG statement: Click Here

From Sovo.com,
http://sovo.com/blog/index.cfm?blog_id=1819

Reporter Eartha Melzer returned this week from a stint in North Carolina, where she covered last week’s Exodus International conference for gays and lesbians seeking to change their sexual orientation.

For those who live in predominantly gay neighborhoods in the Northeast between Washington, D.C., and Boston it is tempting to dismiss the “ex-gay” crowd as fringe crazies bent on derailing the gay rights movement.

But a very different picture emerged from last week’s conference.

The crowd, about 1,000 people, mostly men, came to attend panel discussions on resisting masturbation and creating a sexual relationship with a member of the opposite sex, among others. They attended prayer sessions and were addressed by Jerry Falwell, longtime enemy of gay rights advocates.

But there was a noticeable absence of anti-gay malice among the ranks of attendees. Most of these people are desperate to repress and deny their homosexuality because they don’t understand it and long to be accepted by their communities. They’ve long been subjected to anti-gay rhetoric from their families, friends and church leaders. They fear being ostracized for being different and many of them no doubt live in fear of physical violence. Being gay in a rural area can be a frightening prospect, as evidenced by this week’s arson attack on a gay couple’s home in Florida.

The ex-gay ministries are cruelly preying upon the Exodus conference attendees, feeding them false hopes of living a “normal life” with a member of the opposite sex. These people are largely from rural areas; they are isolated from other gays and the resources that many urban gays take for granted. They may be poor — one attendee told of saving money from multiple jobs to make the journey to the ex-gay conference — or uneducated.

And those factors make them prime targets for the fundamentalist Christians, who know something about exploiting the vulnerable. Whether it’s preying on the elderly for donations to shifty televangelists, indoctrinating alcoholics with fundamentalist dogma or convincing gays they can choose to be straight, fundamentalist Christians know how to manipulate and take advantage of vulnerable people.

Reports from the conference make it clear that the ex-gay business is booming. Their message — that prayer coupled with avoiding pornography and masturbation can help change a person from gay to straight — is silly, simplistic and not grounded in anything approaching science or even reason. But it’s wrapped in a slick package, complete with rock music, light shows and promises of salvation. Sadly, many rural gays are being taken in and they’re buying it.

See Earlier Posts on the MattHillNC.com Blog:

‘Two tid-bits: Falwell at ex-gay conference”

“Gay teen to be released soon from ex-gay camp”

“Western NC Mountains become hotbed of debate concerning gays and religion”

According to an article on 365gay.com, a Methodist pastor in Virginia has been removed from his position for a period of one year for denyingmembership in his congregation to a gay man. For more details, read the article

According to an article on Express Gay News, Lamar Advertising Company in South Georgia has refused to do business with Georgia Equality, which had wanted to put its “We are your neighbors” billboard campaign in South Georgia. Georgia Equality’s billboard campaign is similar to that of The Triad Equality Alliance. Gay.com billboard ads were also pulled in Massachussetts. For more, see the article

According to an article on Express Gay News, international watchdog groups are disputing claims made about the execution of two Iranian teenagers (see earlier blog post, “Two tid-bits”).

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch claim that the two teenagers were convicted and executed for sexually assaulting a 13 year old male, not for having consensual gay sex.

The Human Rights Campaign sent a letter last week to Madame Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking her to condemn the executions. The executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission welcomed the HRC’s work on international gay-rights abuses but noted that this was “the wrong case” on which to take action.

The Human Rights Campaign stands by their original request for a condemnation of the executions. The HRC is not willing to give Iran, a country full of LGBT-rights abuses, the benefit of the doubt and believes that the charges were trumped up.

Although Madame Secretary of State Rice did not condemn the executions, the US State Department did release the following statement on the Iranian judicial systeM:

“We remain concerned about Iran’s judicial process. Defendants are not receiving due process of law, and trials lack procedural safeguards.

“As noted in our country reports on human rights practices, the judge and the prosecutor are the same person, trials are frequently held in closed sessions without access to a lawyer and the right of appeal is not often honored.

“We call upon the government of Iran to vigorously pursue prison reform, cooperate with international investigations of human rights cases and respect international human rights law and practice.”

Although the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch have decided that the teens were not excuted for having consensual homosexual sex, they are still alarmed and concerned about Iran’s execution of teenagers.

Other high ranking officials around the world have either condemned the executions on the grounds that teenagers should not be executed or on the grounds of the belief that the teens were executed for having gay sex.

In today’s edition of the Raleigh News and Observer, Zach Wynne, President of The University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments (www.uncasg.org) spoke out against the budget provisions harmful to the UNC System included in the proposed North Carolina Budget. He has written both an editorial and a Point of View column in today’s paper.

To read the editorial: Click Here.

To read the Point of View column: Click Here.

According to an article on Express Gay News, the Reverend Jerry Falwell (pictured left), founder of the Moral Majority and Liberty University, has endorsed the forcing of gay teenagers into “reparative therapy” at centers such as Refuge in Memphis, Tennessee. The Refuge center is run by Love in Action, an affiliate of Exodus International, an organization that bills itself as the largest ex-gay organization in the country.

At the 2005 Exodus International conference, which is currently going on at the Lifeway Ridgecrest Conference Center (run by the Southern Baptist Convention) near Asheville, North Carolina, Falwell compared letting children identify as “gay” to allowing children to play on the interstate.

According to the article Falwell also “dismissed psychologists’ claims that consent is fundamental to a healthy counseling relationship and that parents should not force their gay kids into therapy.”

This year’s “Freedom Conference” was attended by more than 1000 and took on a higher profile after the controversy surrounding Love in Action and the experiences of Zach Stark (pictured right), a gay 16 year old Bartlett, Tennessee, boy who blogged about his parents forcing him to be sent to the camp and “turn” straight (see earlier post Gay teen to be released soon from Tennessee ex-gay camp).

There has been no more news regarding the release of Zach Stark and no new information is available regarding the affect which the ex-gay camp might have had on him.

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Falwell has gone and done it again. After opening his big, fat mouth after September 11th, blaming the tragic events on gays, feminists and the ACLU, Falwell is going about his old tricks again.

Who should know better about therapy and forced therapy upon youth: The Reverend Bigot Falwell or the American Psychological Association? Also, who knows better about sexual orietnation and the science surrounding it?

Just because some people may believe homosexuality is choice does not make it true. The Church once insisted that the earth was the center of the universe, despite science’s claims to the contrary. I wonder when the Church will have to apologize for the actions of bigoted leaders like Falwell in the future just like it has apologized for the actions of the leaders in Galileo’s day?

How much proof do you need people? Do we have to wait five hundred years before we realize, “Ooops… Looks like we were wrong… gay people are born that way.”

Wake up and smell the coffee!!! While you’re at it, start treating ALL of God’s beautiful children equally and fairly.

I read a letter to the editor in the July 19, 2005 issue of The Winston-Salem Journal and I just had to respond to it. Below you can read the original July 19th letter and my response which was published in the Journal today, July 25, 2005.

“HERITAGE” July 19, 2005

We should not trash our heritage for the abyss of pluralism because the Muslims in Greensboro want to use the Quran and not the Bible in the courtroom (“Group requests that courtroom oaths cater to various faiths,” July 7). The Bible has given the Muslims and others freedom in this country, whereas the Quran has not provided likewise to others in theirs.

The Bible, with its high morals and absolutes of right and wrong, coupled with mercy, forgiveness, acceptance and a savior for eternal life, which brings consolation and coherence, has been America’s historical foundation and source of common law. Without a high moral standard to lead, we are lost in the abyss of unknowns and searching instability. We can be proud to have had, connected to our common law, virtues of moral purity, faithfulness, trustworthiness, righteousness and justice. Maybe that is why in the 1776 North Carolina Constitution, only Christians were allowed to handle the affairs of the state.

E.A. TIMM

Walnut Cove

“USED TO DISCRIMINATE” July 25, 2005

I found the July 19 letter “Heritage” to be very distasteful, arrogant, prejudiced and bigoted. The Bible is not what gave our nation’s citizens the freedoms we all enjoy (and sometimes take for granted). Instead, the Bible has been used to discriminate against countless groups of people in our nation’s history and it continues to be used to justify discriminating against certain groups of people because of their “sin.”

The Bible has been used to discriminate against Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians. People have also used the Bible (and also the holy name of God) to discriminate against blacks, women and people who are gay or lesbian. How righteous is it to own another human being, or hold your wife as inferior or discriminate against others just because they may be different from you? The Bible should be used to promote love, mercy, forgiveness and equality, but I guess our mortal, inferior minds will continue to use the name of God and his book to justify our own sins.

I pray that God would have mercy on us all, for we have sinned against him by using his unending good to do nothing but evil.

MATTHEW MORRELL HILL

Winston-Salem

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There have been other responses to the original July 19th letter published on the Opinion page of The Winston-Salem Journal. All of them, so far, have been in opposition to the original letter writer’s position. One letter said something like (and this is not a direct quote), “The original North Carolina Constitution also gave voting rights only to white, privileged, land-owning males. I doubt that is the type of North Carolina we all want now.”

I did not have room in my letter to the editor to give a full response to the original letter. I wish I had. I see no problem, whatsoever, in allowing Muslims to use the Quran to take courtroom oaths. Why does it matter… won’t they still be saying the same oath? The only thing that might change is the “so help me God” part and in that case only the word “God” would be changed to the Arab word for “God,” which is “Allah.”

If there truly is a separation of Church and State in this country (which there is, although some people still don’t realize it and even I have still have a problem reconciling God and Country) then why is there even a controversy over the Quran and its use in court? If Church and State are separate, then all religious people should be able to use their own holy texts and God(s) to take courtroom oaths.

This whole debate is ridiculous. I wonder how much money the officials over in Guilford County will use in trying to keep Christianity above all other religions in our court system?

As most of my friends and acquaintances know, I am a staunch Democrat… I have been ever since I became politically aware and active. Living in Winston-Salem and being in a relatively conservative high school, I thought I was a “liberal.” As I went off to college though and found out through my first year at UNCG, I’m really not all that liberal. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say it… I am a conservative. About the only things I am “liberal” on are the separation of Church and State (maybe), gay rights, civil rights and the all-important monetary and financial issues.

I was looking around online today and found the Platforms of the North Carolina Democratic Party (Platform)and that of the Young Democrts of North Carolina (Platform). It came as no surprise to me that LGBT issues were not even once mentioned in either of the documents.

You have to admit, although North Carolina tends to vote Democratic for all of our state offices, such as Governor and Council of State, we are in a pretty conservative state. For God’s sake… we went to Bush in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

I really do think that the NC Democratic Party and the Young Democrats of NC would be better off placing LGBT issues in their platforms though. With such a high number of LGBT persons active within the party, it just makes sense to recognize our issues, our problems and our concerns.

Hopefully LGBT issues will be added in the next time they get around to revising the documents. The United States is heading toward a major internal conflict over LGBT rights and North Carolina Democrats would be smart to take an early lead in setting up their platforms to be in favor of treating LGBT citizens as equally and fairly as straight citizens.

On Saturday, the Reverend Jerry Falwell spoke at the 2005 Exodus Conference at the Lifeway Ridgecrest Conference Center, which is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention. I wrote an entry on the conference previously, <a href="http://www.int

erstateq.com/archives/30/”>Western NC Mountains become hotbed of debate concerning gays and religion

The article concerning the Reverend Jerry Falwell can be found online on the Asheville Citizen-Times: Falwell encourages ex-gays at Ridgecrest

In other news, a Nobel Peace Laureate has condemned the hanging of two gay Iranian teenagers (see my earlier blog post, HRC pushes Secy. Rice to condemn executions of Gay Iranian Teens). According to an article on Express Gay News, news has surfaced that the boys (pictured left) were charged not only with committing homosexual acts but

also with raping other boys. The British group, OutRage!, and other gay groups across the globe believe that the rape charges were trumped up in order to decrease public sympathy for the executed teenagers. relevant domains

According to an article on 365gay.com, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to condemn the execution of two gay teenagers in Iran.

On Thursday, July 21, news about the two teenagers, one 18 and the other said to be 16 or 17, came to light. According to the Iranian Student News Agency, the two teenagers were found to be guilty of the “crime” of homosexuality by a religious court in Iran. The English langauge Iran in Focus also reported about the executions, saying that the two were executed by hanging in the public square of the city of Mashhad July 19 and had been held and tortured before their execution. It is reported that they also received 228 lashes.

According to the article:

“This crime warrants an immediate and strong condemnation from the Department of State,” said the Human Rights Campaign in a letter Friday to Rice.

“Atrocities committed by foreign governments against all people must be condemned swiftly and forcefully by the world’s greatest democracy. We urge you to do so.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed by the UN General Assembly in 1948, declares that every human should be guaranteed the fundamental right to life, liberty, and security of person and every human should be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Tragically, this guarantee of basic human rights does not exist for GLBT individuals in certain regions of the globe.”

The letter, signed by HRC President Joe Solmonese goes on to say that research done by organizations such as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International, shows that human rights abuses are perpetrated against the GLBT community in all corners of the globe.

“As we have seen in recent weeks, the barbarous punishments for sexual acts in these countries run contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For that reason, these acts must be condemned,” the letter from Solmonese said.

The State Department said that it had not seen the letter and would not comment on it until it had been studied.

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With all that is happening in American society surrounding the issue of LGBT rights and abuses of those rights, it is easy for us to forget about the abuses which LGBT persons across the globe face on a dialy basis. In many parts of the world, the abuses which LGBT Americans face are nothing compared to the abuses of others, such as the executions of the two gay Iranian teenagers.

Our world has a very long way to come in order for LGBT people to be treated equally and fairly. We have much further than that to go before LGBT people will not only be treated equally and fairly but also respected and valued as equally as straight people.

May God help our mere mortal souls to know the difference between right and wrong and may He also guide us to love our neighbor as ourselves and treat others the way Christ Himself treated us.