Young Activists Devise New Methods to Speak to New Yorkers about Marriage Equality

Soulforce Right to Marry Campaign Wins Hearts and Minds Across the State

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: July 25, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Haven Herrin, Soulforce Q Co-Director
Cell: 469-867-5725
haven@soulforce.org
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(New York state) — On July 14th, a group of young adults from New York and across the country set out to speak with the citizens of New York and their legislators about marriage equality. In the first ten days of the "Right to Marry" campaign, these young people have devised a variety of creative and unconventional means to engage with local communities.

But while the medium has ranged from witty t-shirts to wedding cake, the message has remained consistent: the Right to Marry campaign asks New Yorkers to envision a society in which all couples and families are protected by the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage.

The campaign kicked off with a visit to the office of State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Bruno emerged as a key figure in the struggle for marriage equality in New York when Governor Eliot Spitzer introduced a bill that would grant same-sex couples the same status, benefits, and protections that heterosexual couples enjoy. The bill passed in the state Assembly, but the Senate did not act on the legislation in the 2007 session.

When young adults from the Right to Marry campaign visited Bruno’s office, they shared their views and stories with staffers and left an unorthodox calling card: a pair of shoes. Right to Marry participant Brian Murphy left Bruno a pair of his shoes and a narrative about how marriage equality would impact his quality of life, in the hopes that Bruno would "walk a mile in his shoes."

As Right to Marry teams cross the state on four different routes, they are urging other New Yorkers to send their shoes and their stories to the Majority Leader, in order to promote empathy and understanding for the ways in which marriage equality affects real lives and families. For more information, go to: www.soulforce.org/righttomarry

But sending shoes to the Majority Leader is just the beginning. In their efforts to create a statewide dialogue about marriage equality, the young adults of Right to Marry (RTM) are using innovative approaches to connect directly with the citizens of New York:

On July 18, RTM riders on the western route handed out free wedding cake on the streets of Elmira, New York, along with fliers outlining the difficulties that gay and lesbian couples currently face in creating legal protections for their relationships.

On July 20, RTM riders on the northern route visited the Saratoga County Fair wearing t-shirts that asked "Do you believe in marriage? I do." The t-shirts inspired conversations with high school students, workers, parents, and grandparents.

On July 22, two RTM riders, Jarrett Lucas and Alex Lundy, performed at the Hardware Cafe in Buffalo. Their spoken word piece, entitled "Genesis," explored marriage equality from two perspectives. It caught the attention of a local radio producer, who invited them to record it for her show the next day.

In their efforts to create cultural and legislative momentum for marriage equality, the young adults of RTM have not overlooked more traditional approaches, including meeting with long-standing New York equality activists and meeting directly with local elected officials, including mayors and members of the state Assembly and the Senate.

On July 23, riders on the central route met with staffers for Assemblyman Tom McKevitt, who last week became a father for the first time.

"The Senator’s personal experience with family provided a tangible forum in which to discuss good public policy. We too will have families that need to be protected, and we hope that Senator McKevitt can understand that we are here not asking the state for anything other than the tools to care for those we love." said Haven Herrin, one of the co-directors of the Right to Marry campaign.


Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

Former Clients Return to Love in Action to Tell of Harm from Ex-gay Ministries

Memphis Action Is the Fifth in National Campaign to Share Stories of "Ex-gay Survivors"

Love in Action Recently Closed Controversial Youth Program

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: July 17, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Director of Public Relations and Media
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Memphis, TN) — This morning two former clients spoke out in front of Love in Action, a Memphis residential program that claims to help people "break out" of "homosexual attraction and behavior." Brandon Tidwell of Memphis and David Christie of New York told the assembled media and supporters that their experiences at Love in Action and other "ex-gay" ministries caused emotional, spiritual, and financial hardships. They then presented framed artwork depicting their stories to staff at the facility.

Tidwell and Christie are part of the Survivor’s Initiative, a national campaign to share the stories of "Ex-gay Survivors"–men and women who feel that ex-gay messages and programs did them more harm than good. To date, similar actions have occurred in Los Angeles, Colorado Springs, and Salt Lake City.

Christie, who spent thirteen years attempting to alter his sexual orientation in various forms of ex-gay conversion therapy, spoke eloquently of the mental anguish and spiritual turmoil that he experienced:

"Throughout all of this, I constantly battled feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred, and guilt," Christie testified. "This led to a chronic depression for which I had to take costly medications from my late teens until I finally came out, at the age of 28. On a few occasions, in panicked despair, I seriously contemplated suicide."

The American Psychiatric Association has identified "depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior" as possible risks associated with ex-gay conversion therapy. In fact, all of the major mental health associations have issued policy statements opposing such treatments.

In 2005, Love in Action (LIA) was investigated by the state of Tennessee for operating a mental health facility without a license. LIA has since changed its operating procedures to avoid state regulation. Most recently, LIA closed its controversial Refuge program for teenagers and replaced it with "Family Freedom Intensives," a 4-day program for parents of gay or questioning teenagers that costs $600 per person.

"I grieve for my own years of anguish, but also for the confusion and pain I caused my ex-wife, my family, and my friends. And sure, I spent a lot of money in the process, but what I want back more than anything is the time and energy I put into it," Christie continued.

At the recent Ex-gay Survivor Conference in Irvine, California, many ex-gay survivors told of finally accepting themselves as gay men and lesbians, only to find themselves in difficult financial straits after years of costly therapy and conferences. Love in Action charges $7000 for 3 months of residential treatment.

In his statement, Tidwell–who entered Love in Action in 2002–spoke about the process of accepting himself and reconciling his sexuality and his Christian faith:

"Today, I stand here as a gay man of Christian faith, a man with hopes, dreams and aspirations to live a life of authenticity and service to this world. Through Soulforce and other partner groups, I hope to be a voice among many who are calling for God’s love and acceptance to prevail in this struggle," Tidwell said.

Love in Action is part of a larger "ex-gay" movement, which continues to thrive in spite of Americans’ growing conviction that sexual orientation is not subject to change and despite a growing willingness on the part of faith communities to accept gays and lesbians as whole and valuable members.

"And to the people at Love In Action, I say to you that God loves you just as you are and that you can find hope and peace outside of the ex-gay life," Tidwell concluded.


The Survivor’s Initiative is organized by Soulforce, a national social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.

Soulforce Mourns the Murder of Kenneth Cummings Jr. and Demands Accountability for Purveyors of Religion-based Hate

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: July 17, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Director of Public Relations and Media
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Austin, TX) — Today Soulforce mourns the senseless death of Kenneth Cummings Jr., a Houston-area man who was murdered on June 4, 2007.

According to this Sunday’s Houston Chronicle, Terry Mark Mangum of Cypress, Texas, has been charged with murdering Cummings in his home after the two met at a Houston gay bar. Magnum reportedly claims that God commanded him to "carry out a code of retribution" because "sexual perversion" is the "worst sin."

Soulforce founder Mel White, author of Religion Gone Bad: the Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right, reacted by asking citizens, religious leaders, and journalists to demand accountability from the purveyors of religion-based hate:

"This death is just one more smoking gun found at the scene of another crime caused directly by fundamentalist Christian leaders whose obsessive anti-homosexual campaign leads to tragic consequences they will not admit," says White.

"Soulforce has been saying for years that their rhetoric leads to suffering and death, and now-once again-we have the sickening evidence to prove it."

According to a story in the Brazosport Facts, Mangum cited "my belief of God judging him" as justification for stabbing and murdering Cummings.

"This Bible-based fear and loathing of homosexuals was shaped in Magnum’s mind — just as it is being shaped in the minds of tens of millions of Americans — by the anti-homosexual teachings of the radio and television fundavangelists, the Southern Baptists, Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder Day Saints, fundamentalist leaders in every Protestant denomination and priests, bishops, and cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church," says White.


Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.

Young Adults Bring Marriage Equality Discussion to New York Lawmakers’ Neighborhoods

Mixed Reaction From State Politicians

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: July 10, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Haven Herrin, Soulforce Q Co-Director
Cell: 469-867-5725
haven@soulforce.org
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(Albany, NY) — From Niagara Falls to Long Island, Finger Lakes to Adirondack Mountains, communities across New York State are considering the future of family values, due to Governor Eliot Spitzer’s bill to grant marriage to same-sex couples and the NY State Assembly’s passage of that legislation.

On July 14th, a group of young adults from New York and across the country will gather in Albany before embarking on a journey to speak with state legislators and their constituencies about marriage equality. The initiative, known as the Right to Marry campaign, will bypass the state capitol and engage directly with the communities that inform the positions of the elected officials.

"We are going to have a conversation across New York State about creating a world in which two people who make lifelong commitment to each other can rest assured that their family will be protected and prosper," says Jake Reitan, one of the co-directors of the campaign.

Forty young adults will traverse the state in four distinct routes over two weeks. The groups plan to meet with Assemblymen and women to discuss their June 2007 vote on marriage equality and with state Senators to learn about the future of similar legislation in the Senate. Senator Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan) sponsored a bill similar to the Assembly legislation (S.5884), but the bill did not come up for a vote during this session.

Some legislators, like Teresa Sayward (R- Glens Falls), are already on board as allies. On the other hand, the office of Senator Tom Libous (R) in Binghamton told campaign organizers not to waste their time as there is nothing that can change his mind.

Aside from appointments in home districts, the Right to Marry young adults will volunteer with local organizations, host potlucks and picnics, participate in County Fairs, and attend religious services. Sunday, July 22nd, has been designated as the Right to Marry Townhall Sunday with events scheduled to take place in Niagara Falls, Canton, New Paltz, and New York City. For more information, visit www.RightToMarry.org

The campaign is coordinated by Soulforce Q in collaboration with the ACT OUT student organization from Vassar College and is endorsed by the Empire State Pride Agenda. "This is a necessary exercise in making democracy work at all levels, from Congress to neighborhoods, as young adults continue to the push for marriage equality across the country, not just in the vanguard states like New York and California. The future of our families cannot and will not to be decided without our consent," says Haven Herrin, another Right to Marry co-director.


Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

Soulforce Releases Video of Visit to New Life Church

Survivors of Ex-gay Ministries Visit Ted Haggard’s Former Church to Tell of the Harm Caused by Message that Gays Should Must Change

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: July 9, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Director of Public Relations and Media
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Colorado Springs, CO) — Today Soulforce released video of an action outside New Life Church. To view the video, go to: www.soulforce.org/article/1281

On Sunday, July 8, three survivors of "ex-gay" ministries and counseling — Christine Bakke, Daniel Gonzales, and Peterson Toscano — traveled to New Life Church to speak out about the emotional, financial, and spiritual harm caused by the message that lesbians and gays can and should change their sexual orientation. They told their stories just outside the west entrance of the church and then walked to the church’s World Prayer Center to present framed collages depicting their experiences.

Once inside the World Prayer Center, the three former ex-gays spoke with two New Life pastors who greeted them cordially, listened to their concerns, and indicated a willingness to engage in further discussions.

"I think that things really shifted when we explained that this is not about politics, this is about pastoral care," said Toscano.

In November 2006, former New Life pastor Ted Haggard was dismissed from church leadership after allegations that he purchased drugs and engaged the services of a male escort. At that time, the church’s board of overseers recommended that Haggard submit to Dr. James Dobson, and megachurch pastors Tommy Barnett and Jack Hayford for a program of "healing and restoration." Dobson demurred and was replaced by H.B. London, Assistant Vice President at Focus on the Family.

The New Life board’s prescribed treatment reinforced the message that gays and lesbians can and must change their sexual orientation.

In her Sunday statement, Bakke, a Colorado resident, explained how similar messages motivated her to try to change her sexual orientation.

"I believed I had to change my orientation so that I could be considered holy and acceptable by God and those in church communities just like the one here," she said.

For seven years, Bakke single-mindedly pursued change. She tried prayer, support groups, reparative therapy, and pastoral counseling. She even attended a weekend seminar at New Life Church and met with two women in Colorado Springs who attempted to heal her by casting out demons.

In the end, Bakke "felt betrayed by the knowledge that many of the people who had talked about change actually meant a change in behavior but not in orientation….I walked away feeling damaged and broken."

As part of her healing process, Bakke co-founded beyondexgay.com with Toscano. The site, which went live this April, provides a space for ex-gay survivors to connect and share their experiences.

Twenty-six year old Gonzales spoke about his experiences with secular "conversion therapy." His experiences underscore the position of the American Psychological Association, which warned in 1998 that reparative therapy puts patients at risk for "depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior," because "therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

Sunday’s press conference was organized by Soulforce and is part of a national campaign to highlight the stories of "ex-gay survivors" — men and women who believe that attempts to change sexual orientation did more harm than good.


Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.

Video from the Press Conference Outside New Life Church

The Ex-Gay Survivor’s Conference took place June 29 – July 1 in Irvine, California.

Survivor’s Initiative – New Life Church Action – Part 1 of 2

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Survivor’s Initiative – New Life Church Action – Part 2 of 2

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Survivor’s Initiative Explained

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"Survivor’s Initiative – New Life Church Action" video by Daniel Gonzales.

Former Client Visits NARTH to Speak Out About the Dangers of Conversion Therapy

Soulforce Action Features Former Exodus Leader Who Apologized on National TV

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: July 3, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Director of Public Relations and Media
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Los Angeles, CA) — On Monday, 3 survivors of "ex-gay" counseling traveled to the headquarters of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) to speak out about the emotional, financial, and spiritual harm caused by the message that lesbians and gays can and should change their sexual orientation.

NARTH is an anti-gay think tank led by Joseph Nicolosi, a leading advocate of so-called "reparative" therapy. One of Monday’s speakers, Daniel Gonzales, is a former client of Nicolosi. Gonzales said he sought conversion therapy at the age of 18 after years of praying not to be gay. In his statement, he spoke eloquently about the ways in which his work with Dr. Nicolosi "fed his cultural prejudices about gay people" and reinforced the notion that he had to change an integral part of himself in order to be happy and whole.

Gonzales’s experiences underscore the position of the American Psychological Association, which warned in 1998 that reparative therapy puts patients at risk for "depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior," because "therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

Gonzales was joined by Darlene Bogle, a former ex-gay minister who made headlines last week when she apologized for spreading the message that lesbians and gays can and should change their sexual orientation. On Monday, Bogle spoke of her own struggles and the pressures she felt to change in order "to be acceptable and accepted by my faith community."

The third speaker, Shawn O’Donnell, detailed the financial hardships he faced during 10 years of unsuccessful efforts to change his orientation. O’Donnell, who is 31 years old, estimated that he spent $50,550 on reparative therapy, ex-gay books, and ex-gay conferences. O’Donnell testified that his failed attempts to change challenged his religious faith and drove him to the verge of suicide before he ultimately accepted himself and reconciled his faith with his sexuality.

After making their statements, Bogle and O’Donnell walked in to the NARTH offices to deliver framed collages detailing all three speakers’ personal journeys.

Monday’s press conference was organized by Soulforce and is part of a national campaign to highlight the stories of "ex-gay survivors" — men and women who believe that attempts to change sexual orientation did more harm than good. Video of the press conference is available at www.soulforce.org/article/1278.

Gonzales, Bogle, and O’Donnell were in Los Angeles to attend The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference on June 29-July 1. Sponsored by Soulforce and beyondexgay.com, the conference gathered ex-gay survivors from around the world to share their healing process and to tell the world about the dangers of programs like NARTH and Exodus.


Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.