Gay ’Exorcisms’ Continue--In the U.S.
Science has found several provocative indications that homosexuality is a matter of physiology rather than choice--but some religious factions have another theory: evil spirits make people gay. The cure: "deliverance," known also by an older and more terrifying name: exorcism.
It's nothing new for religious groups to claim that homosexuality is a pathology, or to similarly claim that gays can be "changed" or "cured." While there is evidence that some people who have identified in the past as gay have "changed" to become heterosexual, what is not clear is whether people who have "converted" to heterosexuality have really altered their fundamental sexual orientation. It is not uncommon for young heterosexuals to experiment with same-sex relationships; it's also possible that at least some of those who say they were once gay, but no longer are, are predisposed to bisexuality and have simply chosen to ignore same-sex attraction.
Even those who say they have "left homosexuality behind" often acknowledge that their sexual feelings have not shifted to members of the opposite gender; rather, some "ex-gays" suppress their sexual attraction to the point of feeling that they have become "asexual." Many times, "ex-gays" note that dealing with sexual attraction toward individuals of the same gender is an ongoing "daily struggle" with which they contend.
Many religions and even ex-gay groups recognize that homosexuality is a complex issue. But the phenomenon of exorcism--which relies on a belief that evil spirits inhabit a person and drive him or her to same-sex attraction--persists. Gays who have been brought up in religious traditions may seek exorcism as a last resort; but like other forms of so-called "conversion" or "reparative therapy," gay exorcism may do more harm than good to those who undergo it.
The June, 2010 issue of Details Magazine contains an article about gay exorcism that recounts how a young man named Kevin allowed himself to be subjected to a humiliating session of exorcism in a public ritual at a church in Massachusetts. Kevin became so distressed during the exorcism that he wept and passed out; his sexual feelings remained unchanged, but the attempt to drive out evil spirits "causing" him to be gay left the young man traumatized. Nor was this the first time Kevin had attempted to "overcome" homosexuality through exorcism--though the article said that the experience was so traumatic that Kevin finally determined it would be the last time he underwent an attempt to drive out "gay" demons.
GLBT youth seem to be hardest hit by the current wave of anti-gay spirituality and so-called "exorcisms." The Details article noted that, "youth workers say they regularly deal with the aftermath of these rituals." Moreover, GLBT youth growing up in religious environments are targeted with shaming anti-gay messages; Peterson Toscano, a gay Christian who is active in seeking to reign in the damage being inflicted to gay youths, told Details that, "For a young person, being told that you house evil, that you're basically a mobile home for evil spirits-that is a very, very damaging concept," says Added Toscano, "It's one of the most extreme manifestations of the anti-gay rhetoric within the church."
The article reported that religious traditions that promote exorcism promote the discredited theory that being sexually assaulted makes a young person gay; some exorcisms seek to induce vomiting or diarrhea in the belief that oral or anal sex with a man has led to the subject's "possession" by gay demons. L.I.F.E. Ministry's Joanne Highley, who performs gay exorcisms, told Details that her rituals focus on forcing evil spirits "out of genitals, of course out of anal canals, out of intestines, out of throats and mouths if there's been ungodly deposit of semen in those areas," so that vomiting or diarrhea is seen as a physically manifestation of evil; spirits being forced from a subject's body.
The article noted a Connecticut case from a year ago in which a 16-year-old boy fell to the floor of a church with seizures and vomiting during an exorcism; footage of the rite was posted to YouTube, where it created a sensation. The Associated Press reported in a June 25, 2009, article that onlookers and participants cried out for the "gay demon" they believed had possessed him to be forced out.
"Rip it from his throat!" the article quoted a woman who was present at the exorcism crying out. "Come on, you homosexual demon! You homosexual spirit, we call you out right now! Loose your grip, Lucifer!" the woman continued.
The video ran for about 20 minutes, showing the youth writhing and vomiting as the ritual continued. The footage was posted by Manifested Glory Ministries, until being taken down in the wake of the outcry that followed. Reverend Patricia McKinney claimed that the ritual did not reflect anti-gay animus, saying, "We believe a man should be with a woman and a woman should be with a man." Added McKinney, "We have nothing against homosexuals. I just don't agree with their lifestyle."
GLBT youth advocacy group True Coors reported the exorcism to the Connecticut authorities, but the law does not protect gay minors if their parents seek to "de-gay" them for religious reasons. Once case in point cited by Details: a gay teen taken against his will, in handcuffs, to a religious "reparative therapy" facility in Tennessee. Though state authorities looked into the incident, they said they had no legal recourse in the matter. At gay blog JoeMyGod.com, an article on the Details article noted, "As many of these 'exorcism' abuses are inflicted upon children, some have demanded that the government intervene. But child welfare agencies and prosecutors have cited freedom of religion protections and have done nothing."
The AP article cited Robin McHaelin, the executive director of GLBT youth advocacy organization True Colors, as saying that she knew of numerous instances of gay exorcism. "What saddens me is the people that are doing this think they are doing something in the kid's best interests, when in fact they're murdering his spirit," she told the media.