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Anything But Straight: Ignite Student Outreach

Wayne Besen, of Truth Wins Out, published a column today on the on-going issue of Ignite Student Outreach (www.igniteoutreach.org) I was the first to publicly say anything about this group when I received an invite to attend their summer camps, featuring ex-gay leaders. I quickly contacted Wayne Besen and his group, after which he also quickly went public with discussions on the group, in part fueling a web-based media frenzy (which is starting to hit the print media with Besen’s column and with my column coming out on Tuesday).

The column is available at Wayne’s site or at the site for the Falls Church News-Press:

Anything But Straight: The Campiest Summer Camp
By Wayne Besen
Thursday, 30 November 2006

I am frequently asked if the big screen comedy depicting a wacky ex-gay camp, “But I’m a Cheerleader,” accurately reflects these conversion groups. People are surprised to learn that the hilarity and hijinx portrayed in the movie, starring drag diva RuPaul, is not farfetched from reality. Sometimes it is hard to tell if the zany movie is art imitating life or the other way around.

For example, this week we have learned that Exodus International, the largest ex-gay organization, has partnered with a Christian group, Ignite Student Outreach, to produce the campiest ex-gay camp America has ever seen. The featured speaker at the summer retreat is Justin Lookadoo, a peroxide blond who looks like punk rocker Billy Idol on crack.

If you click on Lookadoo’s webpage, he poses bent over while grabbing his tush. He lists among his favorite singers “Ricky Martin, when he was still Latino and Michael Jackson, when he was still black.”

Lookadoo and other “wholesome” figures will lead four summer camps this summer in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Ostensibly, they cater to all Christian youth, but if you delve below the surface, it appears to be a thinly-veiled front for ex-gay recruitment and the indoctrination of young Christian leaders.

What is particularly disturbing about Ignite Student Outreach is that it does not explicitly claim to be ex-gay and focuses on “close encounters” with God. However, even a cursory look at their webpage reveals that it is laced with a dangerous ex-gay message, lists Exodus Youth as its only affiliate (at least until my blog publicly revealed the camp this week) and features ex-gay speakers.

Indeed, Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, is scheduled to speak at the camp, as is his hunky Exodus Youth deputy, Scott Davis.

This camp appears to be a stealth strategy for Exodus to get a foothold into summer camps and mold impressionable minds. The way they are trying to accomplish this is by appearing “cool,” utilizing trendy graphics, innovative CDs and featuring hokey hipsters such as Lookadoo. The camp is also actively recruiting gay youths at colleges in the south through targeted e-mail campaigns.

Catch the full column here or here.

Click here for the most up-to-date & past posts on Ignite Student Outreach

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Yeah… wait till next week

Last week I started up a new series, basicaly just recapping every MTV Real World episode as it relates to Davis Mallory, this season’s token gay guy.

Unfortunately, this week was all about three of the roommates and a love triangle.

So no news on Davis. BUT… next week should be a blast.

Go to realworld.mtv.com and click on the Real World Episode 4 Sneak Peek/Preview and you’ll understand why real quick.

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NC State Senate forum on LGBT Center

The NC State University Student Senate will, as alluded to nearly a month ago, hold a student forum on the issue of the proposed LGBT student center on the campus next week.

In mid-October the NC State Student Senate approved a measure in support of creating a resource center for LGBT students in an already existing building on the campus of the University. The measure’s approval quickly created a firestorm of opposition from students on the campus. The debate was, at times, productive and civil, but many students voiced their concerns with hateful and prejudiced comments; some students even went as far as to insinuate that gay people should die or be wiped clean off the face of the earth. That part of the debate was followed here on my blog, in the series, “NC State rears its ugly anti-gay face.”

The LGBT center student forum will be held on Wednesday, December 6, 2006, at 7:00pm in the NC State Student Senate Chambers. A number of University officials and other representatives will be present, including representatives from the Office of Diversity and African-American Affairs, Dr. Stafford (Vice Chancelor of Student Affairs), Dr. Swallow (faculty advocate for the LGBT community) and others.

NC State LGBT Center. The most up-to-date news right here.

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This week’s column: Int’l. students beware

Here’s this week’s column from The Carolinian (UNCG):

Studying abroad? You’ve been warned
An international student’s experience with right-wing Christians

by Matt Hill Comer Don’t Ask (I’m Telling)
Posted: 11/28/06

Michael Gromek, a bright-eyed, dirty-blonde, 19-year-old Polish student, came to study in America not too long ago. He stayed with a host family in Winston-Salem, N.C. You would have thought that Gromek’s experience would be one of a lifetime. The Triad area is a wonderful place in which to study, work, play and live. Gromek surely wasn’t alone, either; many Triad schools, including UNCG, have large groups of international students and he surely could have found some college-aged friends around the area.

Gromek’s experience was, unfortunately, a “living hell.” He was placed with a fundamentalist, radical, right-wing Christian host family. When he met them for the first time at the airport, Gromek found out immediately what was so wrong with this family.

“Child, our Lord sent you half-way around the world to bring you to us.”

According to Gromek, that is the very first thing he heard from them. As it turns out, the family had applied to be a host family for a Polish student because they had already begun to build a Baptist church in his homeland. The family wanted him to be the one to return to Poland and finish their work.

“It was God’s will, they said. They tried to slip the topic casually into conversation, but it really shocked me – I realized that was the only reason they had welcomed me into their family,” said Gromek. “They had already started construction work in Krakow – I was to help them with translations and with spreading their faith via the media.”

Gromek politely tried to tell his host family he wasn’t interested. He politely tried attempting to respect them and have them respect him in return. They tried forcing him to go to church every Sunday and the one Sunday he refused to go, the host family refused to let him have any coffee that morning, as some sort of punishment.

After four months, Gromek requested that he be transferred to a new host family. When his right-wing Christian family found out, the behavior was far from “Christian.”

Full column at CarolinianOnline.com

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NC Advocacy website crashes

The website for my political action committee, the NC Advocacy Coalition (www.ncadvocacycoalition.org), crashed on Tuesday. My friend, colleague and our Asst. Executive Director Brandon Greeson receives emails everytime something is updated on the website. Today he received an email with almost 30 new comments from a user name, “johnsmith666” or something like that. He went to check to see what it was and the site wasn’t there.

I think we got hacked, but I really don’t know. All I do know, however, is that we don’t have a website right now and that I’m not sure if we backed up everything that was on the site previously. So… Hopefully we can get this mess figured out.

On a bright side, however, I played with some of the CMS programs that we have access to and I found out that ALL of them pretty much suck, with the exclusion of Drupal and Mambo and, of course… my favorite blogging platform, WordPress.

I’m thinking we’ll use Mambo for our next site… if we ever figure out what went wrong with the first one.

Update: Ok… I’m told that the site wasn’t hacked by anyone… I’m told that it was, more than likely, a virus that hit a few sites operated on servers run by the hosting company we use. Needless to say… we’re still figuring things out.

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Ignite Student Outreach re-writes the past

MAJOR UPDATE on Ignite Student Outreach (igniteoutreach.org) since the last update.

It seems as though Ignite Student Outreach has caught on to some of the publicity it has gotten for its perceived ex-gay association with Exodus International and Exodus Youth.

Ignite Student Outreach has changed the “Affiliates” section of its website. Previously, Exodus Youth was Ignite’s only affiliate organization.

Take a look at the screen-caps of before their edit and after their edit below (click on the images to enlarge them). Be sure to notice the following:

  • “Affiliates” has changed to “ISO Friends”
  • The organizations address has changed from a street address in Casselberry, Florida to a Post Office Box
  • Two more “friends” have been added above Exodus Youth.

PRE-WEBSITE EDIT

POST-WEBSITE EDIT

UPDATE: Ignite added, later on Tuesday, another “friend.” This time it is North Carolina’s own Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (http://www.sebts.edu/). Southeastern is operated by the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, sits on the property of the old Wake Forest College site in Wake Forest, NC, and maintains an enrollment policy which prohibits open LGBT students.

Click here for the most up-to-date & past posts on Ignite Student Outreach

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Updates on Ignite Student Outreach

igniteSome updates on the program from Ignite Student Outreach (igniteoutreach.org), which I first posted about on November 24th and then on November 25th.

There are some possibilities here, although plenty of people are still looking into the program of four summer camps featuring speakers from Exodus International and Exodus Youth, the two largest ex-gay groups.

I’ve done some thinking, along with other folks around the web (at Wayne Besen’s site and Ex-Gay Watch), and it seems a little wierd to me that any camp would be able to “turn a kid straight” in just four days, the length of each camp. Looking more closely at the camp invite and the speakers profiles for Alan Chambers and Scott Davis, it seems as though this program and camp might be more about training Christian youth leaders to deal in the dogma of the un-true, harmful and, according to some, disingenuous dogma of the ex-gay movement.

The speaker profile of Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, states (emphasis added):

He offers unique insight into how homosexuality personally affects individuals and the broader culture. Alan will share advice and training with youth workers at camp to teach them how to address this epidemic issue.

The speaker profile of Scott Davis, the executive director of Exodus Youth, states (emphasis added):

Scott’s goal is to encourage the evangelical church to reach out to youth grappling with their sexual identity with God’s radical grace and unswerving truth. He educates and trains college and youth leaders on this issue and currently oversees the Groundswell Conference — nationwide training seminars that equip community leaders with a powerful, redemptive response to the growing crisis of pro-gay initiatives in America ‘s schools.

Justin Lookadoo, an author and speaker on teen dating, will also be speaking at the camp. Lookadoo, however, doesn’t have a very good track record on speaking about male-female relationships and has, in the past, used derogatory statements often used against gay boys to shame male teens. According to reviews of his book on Amazon.com, Dateable: Are You? Are They?, Lookadoo tells boys to “be a man” and not to be a “pansy.” He also portrays boys as slaves to their lust and girls as commitment-crazy.

The promotional invite to the camp, which I received last Friday, includes a focus on training youth and student ministry leaders.

So… the more one looks into this camp and program, the more that one sees this camp is more than likely one in which youth and student leaders will be receiving training from Chambers and Scott, leaders of the ex-gay movement, rather than a camp where gay teens will be packed up and sent off for “transformation.”

Although there is no real way for anyone to know exactly what will be happening at the camps right now, one thing is becoming more certain: The connection between Ignite Student Outreach and Exodus International and Exodus Youth couldn’t be more clear. Not only does this program have Exodus speakers at its camps, it’s only affiliate group is Exodus Youth. Also, Ignite Student Outreach, once according to their website (before the address was cleaned off the site) and from an address printed on the camp promotional invite, is located in Casselberry, Florida, a suburb of Orlando; Exodus International has its headquarters in Orlando.

On Ignite’s testimonials page, Alan Chambers appears yet again, along with a testimonial from Brent Crowe, a Christian speaker who stresses that Christians must “fight for legislation” agains the “homosexual agenda,” “fight for education” to keep youth from learning about respect and diversity and “fight for [homosexuals’] salvation” in order to “break the chains and shackles that enslave an individual in a lifestyle that leads to eternal destruction” (source: “The Last Marker on the Road to Destruction,” MS Word file, BrentCrowe.com)

For those who still doubt what this camp and group, Ignite Student Outreach, is about, I urge you to again look at all the overwhelming evidence stacking up against them. This isn’t just your normal, average summer camp for Christian youth; in fact, it is no where close.

As I stated in my original post last Friday, I do not believe that any good can come from this camp. Youth and student leaders will be receiving erroneous and harmful information on how to counsel gay teens and I just can’t imagine the kind of aftermath that might have for any gay teens in these leaders’ programs back at their home churches or in their communities. Hopefully, something can be planned to challenge the un-truths that will be running amok at the four camp locations this summer, one at Ridgecrest, NC.

And… I have to add: There is just something wierd about the fact that these promotional items for this camp landed in my lap. They also landed in Pam Spaulding’s inbox. Why is this group, which has a definitive ex-gay angle in its programming, targetting vocal gay personalities in North Carolina, the state where one of its camps will be held? Thereare numerous ways that they could have gotten our contact information, but more than likely I can imagine that all it would really take is a Google search for “gay youth north carolina” or something of that nature. I have to wonder if there aren’t other LGBT people or groups which have also gotten the promotional items.

More updates later.

Click here for the most up-to-date & past posts on Ignite Student Outreach

Just for more info… Here is a video put together by the good folks at Ex-Gay Watch (h/t Maria).

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The Bible & Homosexuality

Oliver “Buzz” Thomas… I love this man:

As a former “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” kind of guy, I am sympathetic with any Christian who accepts the Bible at face value. But here’s the catch. Leviticus is filled with laws imposing the death penalty for everything from eating catfish to sassing your parents. If you accept one as the absolute, unequivocal word of God, you must accept them all.

For many of gay America’s loudest critics, the results are unthinkable. First, no more football. At least not without gloves. Handling a pig skin is an abomination. Second, no more Saturday games even if you can get a new ball. Violating the Sabbath is a capital offense according to Leviticus. For the over-40 crowd, approaching the altar of God with a defect in your sight is taboo, but you’ll have plenty of company because those menstruating or with disabilities are also barred.

The truth is that mainstream religion has moved beyond animal sacrifice, slavery and the host of primitive rituals described in Leviticus centuries ago. Selectively hanging onto these ancient proscriptions for gays and lesbians exclusively is unfair according to anybody’s standard of ethics. We lawyers call it “selective enforcement,” and in civil affairs it’s illegal.

A better reading of Scripture starts with the book of Genesis and the grand pronouncement about the world God created and all those who dwelled in it. “And, the Lord saw that it was good.” If God created us and if everything he created is good, how can a gay person be guilty of being anything more than what God created him or her to be?

Turning to the New Testament, the writings of the Apostle Paul at first lend credence to the notion that homosexuality is a sin, until you consider that Paul most likely is referring to the Roman practice of pederasty, a form of pedophilia common in the ancient world. Successful older men often took boys into their homes as concubines, lovers or sexual slaves. Today, such sexual exploitation of minors is no longer tolerated. The point is that the sort of long-term, committed, same-sex relationships that are being debated today are not addressed in the New Testament. It distorts the biblical witness to apply verses written in one historical context (i.e. sexual exploitation of children) to contemporary situations between two monogamous partners of the same sex. Sexual promiscuity is condemned by the Bible whether it’s between gays or straights. Sexual fidelity is not.

This has got to be one of the best texts on the Bible and homosexuality that I have seen in a very long time. It is just so right, so concise, so easy to understand. Great read.

Read the full thing, “When Religion Loses Its Credibility” at USA Today.

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UNC & Gender-identity

A great letter to the editor in today’s Daily Tar Heel at UNC-Chapel Hill.

UNC must adopt a better non-discrimination policy

Recently, I visited UNC as a School of Medicine alumni and learned about the UNC Safe Zone program which “creates a network of allies for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, and by doing so, to make the University community a safer and more supportive place.”

Unfortunately, transgender students are not currently safe at UNC. They remain closeted and legitimately fear recriminations as North Carolina offers no nondiscrimination or hate crimes laws protecting transgender people.

Moreover, despite the fact that students and faculty called on the University to add gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policy as more than 75 American universities have, UNC has not.

Read the full letter.

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Testing the waters: Co-Blogger

Ok… So I want to find someone who would be the co-blogger here on Q-triad.

The perfect co-blogger/contributor would be a person who can offer a perspective slightly different from my own. Some of my thoughts on who may be, perhaps, a good fit for co-blogger/contributor:

  • a straight ally
  • an LGBT person of color
  • an LGBT person not from the South or living in the South
  • a person who identifies as a lesbian
  • an LGBT or straight allied person who is older and not currently a part of the 18-24 year old, traditional college-aged crowd
  • an LGBT person who identifies as more conservative or more liberal than me (I have dubbed myself a “North Carolina Democrat,” basically meaning I tend to lean moderate on a lot of issues, conservative (although with perspective) on some).

If you think you fit any of those descriptions above, awesome. If not, don’t worry about it; not a big deal.

For those who might be interested in co-blogging, please take a few minutes to look around the site and familiarize yourself with the types of things I blog about, the style of writing, my opinions, etc. I don’t expect figuring out my blogging and writing style and opinions will be too difficult for folks who are already regular readers, but here are some tips:

  • I usually stick mainly to LGBT issues, as they relate to politics, civil rights, social and cultural atmosphere, youth (high school and college), religion, the South & LGBT issues and North Carolina, the Piedmont-Triad area & LGBT issues.
  • I tend to write in a “news-y” style, at least in the beginning. I’ll start my posts off looking and reading more like a news article from a newspaper and then after all the facts are given, I’ll move into giving more of an opinion on what I think of the issue.
  • Some big issues I cover: Discrimination & LGBT youth in high schools and college; Religious discrimination (i.e. coverage of Soulforce, the Equality Ride, actions against LGBT people by religious groups and associations); government-sanctioned discrimination (i.e. marriage equality issues, anti-gay marriage amendments, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”). I know those are large and hard-to-define categories, but if you’ll look around some, you’ll get the general idea.

I don’t expect at all that the co-blogger should have keep my same writing/blogging style or have exactly the same interests in the issues as I do, but I do expect that the blog would keep some uniformity, at least with keeping to covering LGBT issues.

So… If you think you’d make a good fit for the co-blogger/contributor position, let me know. Email me at matt@matthillnc.com with the following information:

  • Your name (yes… I’ll want someone who isn’t afraid to be non-anonymous)
  • An email address you’d want to be public (if you become the co-blogger)
  • A picture (we’ll use it on the site, if you become the co-blogger)
  • A brief bio (this is different from the point below, we’ll use this one-two sentence bio to put next to your pic in the sidebar)
  • Your background (basically telling me who you are, how you identify (sexual orientation/gender-identity), your age, where you live, where you grew up, what kind of education you have or where you are at in your educational career, etc.
  • What kind of issues are important to you and what kind of issues you think you’d blog or write about.
  • How often you think you’d be able to blog (ideal, at least 1 per day, absolute minimum, 1 post every other day)
  • Your phone number & AIM s/n (if you have one): I’ll want to chat with you and, hopefully, we’ll become good friends, too, and chat all the time.
  • Any other comments, suggestions, concerns, questions.

Before I go, here are some other things to keep in mind:

  • I try very hard not to use profane or obscene language. If and when profanity is used it is used mightly sparingly and many times you’ll see me censor my own words with symbols.
  • I try to keep a civil tone on my blog. I don’t always succeed, I am human after all, but I do try.
  • I blog and write as much as possible with facts and the overwhelming majority of my posts are made out with plenty of research and consultation with other websites, resources, news gathering, etc.
  • I try my best to report things I see in the world around me as they are, when they are. I try to be as fair and as compassionate as possible when writing about issues.

Alright… I’m off. See ya’ll later.

Edit: Because I thought of this later… In case some people might be wondering or some people might need some incentive… Here are some possible perks/positives to being the co-blogger (taking into consideration what blogging has brought to me):

  • Exposure: For you, for your writing, for your thoughts. Over the last 30 days, my blog got an average of 932 page hits and 554 unique visitors each day. The weekly average is about 4,000 page hits. The monthly average of page hits since May 2006 is 11,854 and the average unique visits in that same time period is 7,102. The total statistics stand at approximately 128,300 page hits and 78,430 unique visitors since July 2005. The numbers are growing daily.
  • Connections to LGBT/straight ally activists/bloggers/writers/columnists around the country.
  • Possible forays into guest column writing (which happened for me back in Feb. 2006 for In Newsweekly in Boston, MA).
  • Possible exposure to the media/press for interviews on subjects and issues which you have addressed, or with which you are familiar.
  • And for the idealists out there… Helping little by little to change the world. Just imagine what just one writing about gay youth could do to help a struggling parent cope with a gay child coming out or what one writing could do to help an elected official understand the plight of 2nd class gay citizenship in America. Words do count for something, you know.

Ok… I’m done… Maybe there are more positives/incentives, but that is all I can really think of right now. It is late.