One of the reasons I left the news business nearly ten years ago was because the media’s idea of “balanced” reporting had become increasingly neurotic and, well, unbalanced. Our modern media believes that balance means finding one example of a story it has decided to pursue on one side of the issue, and then find another single example on the other side of the story then simply compare and contrast. Voila! Balance.
That’s what NPR has done in this morning’s report about “reparative therapy” for gay and lesbian people. The report took someone who claims to be “cured” of his homosexuality, Rich Wyler, and juxtaposed his story with that of Peterson Toscano, a man who went through “reparative therapy” and says he was deeply harmed psychologically by the experience.
While the NPR piece does have moments of clarity, to call it balanced is a bit of a stretch. First, the reporter never tells us exactly who Rich Wyler is — the founder of an “ex-gay” ministry, People Can Change, whose practices, writes Warren Throckmorton, are even marginalized among the “ex-gay” industry.
By omitting this deeply relevant fact, the NPR story glosses over the true story here: those who become “ex-gay” are usually those who are making a living off of their new status as “cured” homosexuals. They are professional “ex-gays” who have their entire livelihoods bound up in maintaining their “ex-gay” status. One slip can be deadly to a career, as John Paulk discovered years ago after being caught leaving a Washington DC gay bar.
Wyler’s “balance” in this story is questionable. While it’s true that the other man featured in the piece, Peterson Toscano, is an artist and performer who has made a living off of plays written about his “ex-gay” experience, the difference is striking. Toscano is not invested in drawing people into being gay or lesbian in the same way Wyler is working to get people out. Wyler charges people for “therapies” that can destroy them psychologically, while buying tickets to Toscano’s shows might result in some good belly laughs, but no pressure to convert.
What makes this story so shameful, though, is how the true message is completely glossed over in the pursuit of finding out who is “right” and who is “wrong.” Both Wyler and Toscano are Christian men who were given the message early on in their lives that being gay or lesbian was a shameful thing, hated by God, and something that would condemn them to an eternity in hell if they did not repent of it.
This should be the true focus of the story: where these men, and millions of other gays and lesbians get the message that their sexuality is something that is shameful and in need of changing or repressing. I have met plenty of non-religious gay and lesbian people who have not had to endure this kind of struggle. Certainly, they felt some societal pressures and prejudices, but for those who have not had to slay their image of God as a gay-hating bigot, their acceptance of themselves, for the most part, has proven easier.
In reality, the only reason anyone is talking about “reparative therapy” is because religious beliefs have convinced far too many people that God will damn them for eternity if they pursue their natural inclinations toward the same gender. Here’s an idea: instead of fighting about how to change gay people into straight people, let’s shift the focus on how to end homophobia and religious intolerance of gay and lesbian people. Scholars have come a long way in this battle, revealing why the Bible has nothing to say about the idea of homosexuality as we know it today. This is where the focus must continue.
The truth is, those who traffic in “reparative therapy” are using religion to build this industry. They use the religious shame already present within people to convince them that they have an “unwanted same-sex attraction.” Why is it “unwanted”? Well, you can’t get to heaven with it, the preacher says, so it must be “unwanted.” An entire moneymaking industry has been built on this religiously induced shame and then these “ministries” capitalize on that shame by promising that religion can also be the cure — all for a price, of course.
The true sin in this battle over “ex-gays” and “reparative therapy” is that religion has been allowed to instill such deep shame, humiliation, and self-hatred within the hearts and minds of so many of its followers. That sin is further exacerbated when religion is used as a tool to try to “cure” the shame it created. The shame should lie not with gay and lesbian people, but with a church, and an “ex-gay” industry peopled by professional “ex-gays,” that continues to repeat the lie no matter how many lives are ruined by it. Shame on NPR for letting that lie travel on its airwaves in some misguided attempt at “balance.”