Déjà-vu: Lisa Ling's "Closer Look" at 'Ex-Gay' Idea Still Misses the Whole Point
Yes, we've been down this road before. As of last night, three times to be exact.
On March 8, Our America with Lisa Ling featured an episode called "Pray the Gay Away?" Then came Lisa's post-show discussion with Gayle King on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Last night's episode of Our America - entitled "A Closer Look" - actually marks the third time in three weeks that the show has taken a "closer look" at the same archaic question: "[Can a person] pray the gay away?"
The answer is an emphatic "no," and the scientific community has said so for nearly 40 years now. Having been answered by virtually every respected medical and psychological organization in America, the question is no longer a question.
Asking the non-question three times in the last three weeks - and having spoken with GLAAD, it's clear that OWN and its producers still haven't gotten 'it' - with 'it' being the two consistent problems with all three "Pray the Gay Away?" related episodes of Our America:
1. A closed question is presented as an open question: "[Can a person] pray the gay away?" The answer is "no". From our blog on March 9:
It’s been nearly 40 years since the American Psychological Association (APA) concluded that being gay is not a “disorder” and is not in need of a “cure.” In the years since, virtually every respected medical and psychological organization in America has forcefully stated that attempting to “pray the gay away” is capable of causing serious and long-lasting psychological damage: the American Psychiatric Association, American Medical Association, American Counseling Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of Social Workers.
To be clear: as long as this topic is dealt with in the form of a question, Lisa - or any journalist for that matter - simply isn't being a responsible journalist.
2. An open question is presented as a closed question: Though perhaps not the show's intention, Our America has consistently presented the Bible as an open and shut case with regard to sexual orientation, and then we see people trying to live out their lives in light of that 'fact'. In none of the three shows do we meet someone like Jennifer Wright Knust - an assistant professor of religion at Boston University, an ordained American Baptist pastor and the author of Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire. Knust wrote this in a recent column for CNN:
"We often hear that Christians have no choice but to regard [being gay] as a sin - that Scripture simply demands it. As a Bible scholar and pastor myself, I say that Scripture does no such thing. 'I love gay people, but the Bible forces me to condemn them' is a poor excuse that attempts to avoid accountability by wrapping a very particular and narrow interpretation of a few biblical passages in a cloak of divinely inspired respectability. Truth is, Scripture can be interpreted in any number of ways. And biblical writers held a much more complicated view of human sexuality than contemporary debates have acknowledged."
Though it's preferable that a show that asks whether one can "Pray the Gay Away?' never air, where was the voice of Prof. Knust - or someone like her - in any of the three hours that have dealt with this archaic, long-answered question?
Why does the "Pray the Gay Away?" segment of last night's "Closer Look" focus exclusively on Christian, a 20-something young man that's being 'mentored' by Janet Boynes, the leader of an 'ex-gay ministry'? And why was it never clarified that Boynes is heavily involved with Exodus and appears all over the group’s Web site? (This was something the first show failed to acknowledge.)
We at GLAAD, our allies and most likely the show’s producers can plainly see how sad Christian’s life has become. In thinking that he must "pray the gay away," we are all able to recognize that Christian has thrown away a great talent for unique art, and that he’s wrong in thinking that being gay and faithful are mutually exclusive. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that, for people who aren’t able to read between the lines, who don’t understand the issue or who are going through a similar crisis themselves, there is a very real danger that Christian will be taken at face value and viewed as a 'success story' of these harmful programs.
Another point of concern: Why does the promo for "A Closer Look," that aired throughout OWN, only feature the voices of Janet and Christian? Why not a follow-up with Julian, the young gay Christian who attended The Naming Project's summer camp for LGBT Christian youth and their allies?
The promo for last night's show aired repeatedly on OWN, including four airings during Sunday night's highly promoted line-up which included OWN's highest-rated show (Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes). Undoubtedly lots of folks were tuned in and heard Janet Boynes say over and over again, "You can change from gay to straight." (This was the very first soundbite viewers heard while watching the promo for the show, and because the promo does not include one to the contrary, OWN spent the last several days basically giving Exodus the equivalent of free political ads.)
Three weeks and three shows later, let this be the last time OWN elevates the voice of someone whose rhetoric has the potential to be very damaging to the lives of vulnerable viewers, particularly youth like Christian. By simply asking the question, the network has already failed. But if even one person who watched any of these three shows came away with the idea that maybe they can change from gay to straight; or if even one parent of a gay child walks away thinking they don't have to love their son or daughter just as they are, then OWN will have put those individuals and families at serious risk.