Friends Campaign to Find Man Lost in ’Ex-Gay’ Netherworld

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday July 20, 2009

A young gay medical student named Bryce Faulkner had made plans to move from Arkansas to be closer to his boyfriend, Travis Swanson, who lives in Wisconsin. But now Bryce has vanished--into a 14-month program meant to "convert" him to heterosexuality, it is thought.

A July 20 Sky News article reports that Swanson last heard from Faulkner, 23, when the two spoke via telephone on June 15.

Faulkner's friends and advocates fear that the young man may have been pressured by his parents into signing up for a program with Exodus International, a group that claims that gays can be "cured."

It is thought that Faulkner might be at a center run by the religious group in Florida.

A page dedicated to supporting efforts to locate and "rescue" Faulkner at GLBT equality advocate Rev. Brett Harris' Ergonomical Ministries outlines one possible scenario leading to the young man's abrupt loss of communication with friends and with Swanson.

The site speculates that Faulkner, a student with no means of his own, might have been threatened with homelessness unless he agreed to the course of "treatment" to "convert" him to heterosexuality.

The site also reports that though Faulkner had expressed a wish to come out and live openly, his parents discovered his homosexuality by looking into his email and finding his letters to and from Swanson.

"As any person from the south, especially those whom have a conservative fundamentalist family and has come out of the closet knows, the family can become quite volatile in their reaction to the news," the site's text reads.

"Bryce is no exception to this. In order to manipulate Bryce into accepting 'treatment' for his homosexuality, they took away everything and left him the choice of becoming homeless and destitute or going into therapy. As anyone can imagine, this wasn't much of a choice.

"Being in the closet in a small town left him no one to speak to or to seek help to get him through the transition from the closet and into the light of day," the text at the site continues.

"His family took away every resource he had and left him with no phone to call for help, a car to drive to any help that might be out there and no money to even take a bus to Wisconsin to be with his lover."

Adds the text, "The program he is going into is a 14 month program, one of the most severe and intense of these kinds of programs."

The site's text is clear about saying that Faulkner was not kidnapped and that his parents, and Exodus International, have not broken the law.

However, the text suggests that moral laws may have been compromised in getting Faulker into such a program, if indeed that is where he is.

"Anyone who loves another can understand the turmoil and deep pain Travis is feeling right now," the text reads.

"Having someone you love manipulated into pretending the love you share is an affront to God and unacceptable.

"Being manipulated into being cloistered away for over a year of intense brain washing techniques that tell you your homosexuality is a choice, your love is unnatural and you will sent to a place of fire and brimstone unless you submit to their philosophical interpretation of theology.

"Anyone one who has even the slightest knowledge of programs like those offered by Exodus International (a group that believes homosexuality is a choice and can be changed through prayer and counseling) can be spiritually demoralizing, psychologically destructive and emotionally devastating," adds the site's text.

The site, which also is affiliated with a page on Facebook, issues a general plea to help retrieve Faulkner from any such program to "cure" him, reading, "PLEASE help to find Bryce and save him from the clutches of the false prophets who feel they speak for God and only they have the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

"If you see him, tell him that Travis loves him deeply," the text continues.

"If you can, help him to escape and contact me in order to get him back into his lovers awaiting arms."

A now-inactive Facebook page titled "Friends of Bryce," included an update that read, "The Faulkners have finally made contact and SURPRISE, their [sic] not happy.

"Indeed they have threatened litigation against us. (Like that was unexpected.)," the Facebook text continued.

The Facebook page text related that, according to the Faulkner family, "Bryce came to them begging to be put in treatment.

"They say reporters have talked to Bryce about how silly this site is and yet, referenced no news agency to verify their assertion," the Facebook page text added.

"Let us be very clear...Friends of Bryce nor its administration has in the past or in the future promote or suggest the Faulkners be harassed in any way," the text continued.

"If anything, they need prayers. Prayer that they find the love of God and reject the hate from Satan."

Added the Facebook text, "While they protest the facts, it is not Bryce himself who is reaching out to put and end to this."

The text went on to say, "As was told to his mother and sister, it is quite easy to put an end to this. Bryce must meet privately with Travis to tell him to put an end to the Internet search.

"A plane ticket is already bought and is waiting for Bryce as soon as he is ready to go.

"Barring this, we will not give up!"

A subsequent Facebook page called "Help Save Bryce Faulkner" serves as a resource for postings and links to related discussion topics.

According to the Sky One article, Exodus International has 230 ministries throughout North America dedicated to "converting" gays.

The Exodus International Web site offers information for adults looking to "help... a loved one" or "Looking for help for... a student," among other links.

Notes the Sky One article, "Its centers are often run by non-professional Christian ministers and some offer 'intensive live-in' courses, according to its website.

"Treatment is believed to include no speaking for three days, no phone or email access and no physical contact."

The Sky One article noted that the Web site for Exodus International boasts testimonials from "recovered" gays, but also pointed out that such results are far from 100%.

The article cited Peter Toscano of Beyond Ex-Gay, who struggled for 17 years to become straight; in the end, Toscano embraced the truth about himself.

The Web site for Beyond Ex-Gay describes the group as "an online community and resource for those of us who have survived ex-gay experiences." Like the Web site for Exodus International, Beyond Ex-Gay offers readers testimonials from its members, who found "reparative therapy" not only to be ineffectual, but potentially damaging.

Reads text at the Beyond Ex-Gay site, "Certain people who currently identify as ex-gay say they are content as such. We don't seek to invalidate their experience. For us such a lifestyle was not possible or healthy.

"Not that it was all bad," the text continues. "Some of us received positive help through our ex-gay experiences. We grew to understand our sexuality better and in some cases even overcame life-controlling problems.

"But for most of us, these experiences brought us inner turmoil, confusion, and shame," warns the text.

"We are still in a process of recovery from the damage. Through sharing our stories with each other, we find wholeness and healing."

Toscano, the article said, noted that so-called "reparative therapy" is likely to spark "depression, confusion and suicidal tendencies" in the people it is putatively intended to help.

Though there is no medical or scientific indication that any course of "treatment" can systematically "cure" gays, there is evidence that for some people sexuality is plastic enough that they can suppress their same-sex attraction and focus instead on feelings of attraction for members of the opposite gender.

Others, however, report that they simply end up quashing all conscious sexual feelings and becoming "asexual."

Many, like Toscano, struggle mightily, but never find that they are less attracted to members of their own gender. Indeed, members of the "ex-gay" movement describe their effort to become heterosexual as an ongoing and endless struggle against sexual attraction to others of their own gender.

Mental health experts worry that such "therapy" is more likely to do harm than good.

The article quoted Toscano as saying that such intervention, while not proven to be effective, is "not getting less common, it's going underground more."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.