Love Won Out: When My Conservative Mom and I Attended an Ex-Gay Conference

by: Shelly Phillips

My mother and I have always been very close, but there are some things that we completely disagree on.  She is a strong, very conservative Christian who faithfully watches Fox News and is a proud member of the Tea Party.   So you can just imagine how she would react when I told her this summer that I was finally going to explore a side of myself that I’d run from for years by dating women.

She didn’t disown me or shun me or anything like that.  I’ve never hid the fact that I am sexually attracted to women and have been honest about this with my mother for the past ten years.  But this summer was the first time I actually really started acting on it, and I don’t think she quite knew what to do.

Her first reactions were not surprising.  She expressed disappointment, stated how it was wrong and against the Bible and how she wished I would just “meet a nice Christian man.”  She asked me quite a few times, “But don’t you want to have a family?”—family meaning the typical, heterosexual nuclear type.

It was hard not to hang up on her every time we talked on the phone.  But I was pretty blunt in that I disagreed with what she said and how her comments were only making me feel worse.  Then she started sending me books about homosexuality from the Christian perspective—the sort of books where ex-gays and lesbians (as if they really exist) share their past struggles with homosexuality and how they were able to be “cured” through the disgusting, farcical practice of reparative therapy.  I know my mother was only trying to help, but every time I received one of these books in the mail, I wanted to scream or set them on fire.  “Do you think these help?” I wanted to yell.  They only brought back the years of self-hatred and the internalized homophobia it has taken me so long to work through—and that I am still working through.

Then came the absolute kicker—my mom told me that she had signed up to go to a Love Won Out conference.  For those of you who haven’t grown up in Christian circles, Love Won Out is

an ex-gay ministry launched by Focus on the Family in 1998. It was founded by John Paulk. Its stated purpose is “to exhort and equip Christian churches to respond in a Christ-like way to the issue of homosexuality. . . .

Love Won Out’s stated objective is to help men and women “who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions”, believing that “same-sex attractions can be overcome”, and asserting that “there are no conclusive studies supporting any specific biological or genetic cause for homosexuality”. It is the opinion of Love Won Out that “the foundation of society for the family is marriage of a man and a woman for life… Scripture is very clear in its condemnation of homosexual conduct, for such sin is a deviation from God’s creation and design. Dr. James Dobson adds that God loves the homosexual as much as any other person.

Love Won Out believes that the Bible regards homosexual conduct as sin.

Love Won Out says that “The media and others have misrepresented male homosexuality as a pre-determined, biological condition”, and that “Contrary to the popular myth that homosexuality is genetic, same-sex attraction is a preventable and treatable condition.” The conferences focus on what it terms “the family dynamics that can lead to the development of same-sex desires”,stressing that homosexuality is abnormal, claiming, “The goal of gay activists is to “overhaul” America with the message that homosexuality is normal and healthy.”

Love Won Out wants to help people who want to understand factors that lead to homosexuality and assist those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions. They teach that the root cause of homosexuality is a gender-identity problem.According to their belief, homosexuality in males is caused by a “dominant mother with a quiet, withdrawn, non expressive and/or hostile father, and an introverted, artistic, imaginative son.  They also believe that this is accompanied by poor communication between the mother and the father, and the son having a closer relationship with the mother and an antagonistic relationship with the father.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Or, in laymen’s terms, complete, total fucking bullshit.

I couldn’t even convey my utter rage and revulsion when she told me this.  I was talking to her on my way to work, and all I really remember is my voice rising and growing heated before I hung up on her.  I refused to discuss this with her afterwards.  I knew she knew how angry it made me, and all I could think was how it was only going to make things worse.

Then, to my surprise, it actually didn’t.  In fact, by attending the Love Won Out conference, many of my mother’s beliefs about homosexuality were radically challenged and simultaneously shattered.  This is not to say that they didn’t preach that homosexuality is a sin that stems from a bad childhood and that no one is truly born queer.  But for the first time, I think she saw what the big picture is.

She came to visit me in July, and as we were walking back from the beach to my apartment, she started sharing some of the revelations she’d had.

“I know that getting married can’t ‘cure’ you,” she said.  “And I learned that some people are born with a predisposition for same-sex attractions.” She talked about all of the people she’d spoken with and heard at the conference.  And suddenly, I felt as if, for the first time in her life, she got it.  She understood how incredibly complex sexual orientation is and how therapy can’t necessarily “cure” someone and that people don’t just “turn gay” out of nowhere.  She had seen how the negative attitudes that many Christians have about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people can be incredibly damaging, isolating, and often lead to depression and in some cases, suicide.

Now, we are at the point that I tell her about the women I go on dates with and recall my interesting experiences at the local gay clubs.  I know she still doesn’t agree with my choices, but the fact that I can discuss such things with her makes our relationship all the more closer.  So thank you, Love Won Out; while I still think a lot of what you espouse is complete bullshit, you at least helped repair one of the most important relationships I’ll ever have.

Shelly Phillips is an Ohioan who doesn’t really care about the Buckeyes, but is just a little too obsessed with all things British.  She also enjoys traveling, reading, Chai tea lattes, and late-afternoon naps.

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3 responses to “Love Won Out: When My Conservative Mom and I Attended an Ex-Gay Conference

  1. Then come see my British blog!

    The claim “there are no conclusive studies supporting any specific biological or genetic cause for homosexuality”. It is true, and it is interesting how narrow it is. No-one has posited any specific biological or genetic cause. It is likely that there is, because being gay is innate, but no-one has found a “gay gene”.

    And- I am so glad your mother is listening.

  2. There is so much to like about this. It’s so hard to actively engage people who think differently about sexual expression and identity. It’s awesome that you were open enough to go to Love Won Out and to listen to the slow process of your mother transforming regarding her views relating to homosexuality. It seems as if you are both struggling to listen and keep listening to each other. Looks like it’s been worth it.

  3. Thank you for your comments. It was a very hard process and one that is still unfolding, but worth it in the end. 🙂

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