Kevin Jennings and Brewster revisited in light of Exodus discussion

I re-visit this story of Kevin Jennings of GLSEN to see what current readers think of how Mr. Jennings handled Brewster in light of our conversation about reporting abuse. We have been over this article some in the past, but I thought of it again in light of the Youth Standards discussion. Should Mr. Jennings have reported the behavior Brewster told him about? If any of my readers have access to GLSEN’s youth standards, perhaps we can discuss them here.

More on Exodus youth standards

Recently Peterson Toscano wrote a series of posts describing his belief that Exodus International provides inadequate guidelines to protect the safety of youth involved in it’s programs.

In the first of three posts, Peterson stated:

On June 26, 2006 I initially left voice messages for Alan Chambers of Exodus International and another national ex-gay leader about inappropriate incidents that affected youth at an Exodus member ministry. I will not go into the details at this time, but I shared three specific situations that happened within the previous year. The shocking details of the third situation compelled me to contact Alan and this other national leader.

This post set bloggers to posting with headlines like: Former Ex-Gay Says Exodus Admits Mistreatment of Youth but Stalls on Safeguards and Exodus Without Guidelines.

However, some commenters on ExGayWatch and Peterson’s blog raised questions about why the “shocking incident” was not reported to the police. In Peterson’s second post, he said:

Although clearly inappropriate, the incidents that I related to Alan Chambers last July did not include criminal acts. The incidents revolved around interactions between adult and youth participants in an Exodus member ministry. Even though the incidents did not require contacting authorities at that time, the situations and the conditions that existed, (and as far as I know still exist), at the Exodus member ministry where these situations occurred, were such that minors were at risk for potential harm.

But then in his third post on the subject, he said:

Thank you to those of you who have shown concern for the youth in Exodus programs. From your comments and your questions, e-mails and calls, I see that many of you really care about these kids and wanted to make sure that if any child is at risk, that all necessary and possible steps have being taken. And they have, at least for the situations I alluded to in my last posts. Proper authorities (and parents) had been contacted, action had been taken. When faced with an immediate problem, Exodus dealt with it. That has never been the issue.

Some of the uproar over these posts may be have inflamed somewhat by the original title of the ExgayWatch post, which used the word “abuse” in the place of “misconduct” as it is now. However, I think it might have been more clear for Peterson to specify what the incidents were up front. It still is somewhat confusing to me, in that in the second post above, he says “the incidents did not require contacting authorities at that time…” but then in the third post, he says, “at least for the situations I alluded to in my last posts. Proper authorities (and parents) had been contacted, action had been taken.”

So from his accounts, readers are left in the dark about the nature of the incident(s).

I asked Alan Chambers about his view of the matter and he sent this email which he gave me permission to post:

As for the actual issue, Peterson called two other leaders and I (separately) during the Exodus conference [June 27-July 2, 2006]threatening to go to the media about an 18 year old former client of a member ministry who met a 40 year old client through that same ministry. At the time the 18 year old was 17. Once the young man turned 18, the two announced they were going to move in together.

The two leaders in question and I met and agreed that the authorities and parents needed to be called and that the leader of the group was the one to do it. The authorities and parents were called immediately and Peterson was informed that this wasn’t an issue between he and Exodus, but one for the authorities. I don’t understand why Peterson never even hinted at wanting to report it, even months later.

Prior to this, Exodus was in the process of revising its standards for member ministries to clearly state that no youth could ever be involved in adult groups or have any interaction if a ministry was to be a member of Exodus. Those standards are now being used during the annual renewal process. By February all ministries seeking renewal will be complete.

As for attempted sex between a minor and adult that never happened. In fact, I am told that the 18 year old and 40 year old didn’t actually end up together.

I also was sent the guidelines that are currently in place for Exodus member ministries which seems to address many concerns that have been raised. Some of the rhetoric over this issue could be interpreted as concern that Exodus had no standards in place; however they did have guidelines in place with revised guidelines coming in gradually. As member ministries renew membership, they must agree to these guidelines. The last of these updates will be complete by February of this year. So, it seems to me, that the upshot of this whole episode is that Exodus handled an unfortunate incident appropriately and that Exodus had guidelines in place to protect youth. Furthermore, they have an internal process that reviews them and updates them as necessary. Pretty much nothing has changed. I suspect any feedback from readers here will be taken seriously by Exodus leaders as the standards are revised in the future. Furthermore, where the guidelines are not followed, as far as I can tell, Alan and the Exodus board is committed to enforcing them. Anyone aware of discrepancies should provide that information to Exodus.

The Exodus standards for programs involving youth

I have read with interest posts on several blogs about Exodus International and guidelines for programs involving youth. I requested a copy of the standards that Exodus hold ministries to and they sent them along with permission to post them here. Most member ministries have already agreed to adhere to them. At renewal of membership, a ministry must agree to any changes. February, 2007 will complete the renewal process for all current member ministries.

Sexual Identity Therapy: How it begins

Within the next couple of weeks, Grove City College will publish the sexual identity therapy guidelines authored by Mark Yarhouse and me. In preparation for this, I am putting together materials to help describe how they can be implemented. One such paper is a narrative of an interview I conducted with David Akinsanya of the BBC. While he was in the US filming his documentary, he stopped by Grove City for a visit. This was filmed by the crew but never used in the documentary. David and Kathryn Park of the BBC gave me permission to use the transcript for training and educational purposes. Thanks to them for that. This segment will be published in a book on this subject, hopefully within the next year.

Reverend Brent Dugan: Lifelong Service, Suppression, Treachery and Despair

Many of you may know the story of Rev. Dugan. I only became aware of it this week as reported in the Post-Gazette last month. Rev. Dugan was the pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon where he had served his congregation for over 19 years. Nineteen years of sermons on compassion, worship, prayer, morality. Nineteen years of visiting the ill, marrying the hopeful, burying the dead and consoling survivors. Nineteen years of jokes, tears, confusion and devotion. A lifetime of struggle with sensations which were at odds with his values.

Like all of us. Like all of us.

Like all of us he struggled successfully for a long time. He stated in his departing note to his congregation that until four years ago he had maintained his vow not to act on his same sex attractions. According to what limited information is available, “…he became close friends with a man who claimed to love him, and with whom he had occasional sexual encounters. That man cajoled him into leaving specific kinds of sexual fantasies on his answering machine, and then betrayed him by setting up a meeting at an adult bookstore, where KDKA-TV recorded him, Mr. Dugan wrote.”

Apparently KDKA-TV ran promotional ads about the story. No doubt the sensational nature of the story would sell more Colgate and Chevrolets.

Rev. Dugan checked into a motel, ate some aspirin and consumed a large amount of alcohol. He successfully committed suicide.

What kind of culture (individual+church+politics+press+commercialism) sets the stage for this sort of pain after a lifetime of service, sacrifice and silent struggling? What kind of people patiently plan and then wait for such a person’s failure?

Brent Dugan apparently led an honorable, commendable and generous life. He deserved much better than treachery for the sake of commercialism.

We all can be sadists, all of us. Suffering people give us the opportunity to vent our rage, on the weak, on the isolated, on the marginalized; to trivialize their lives through one fact, or one event or one set of sensations or one set of religious beliefs. God help us.

No, God help them.

UPDATE: 2/9/07 – A coalition of religious groups has filed a complaint with the FCC against KDKA over their investigative reporting of Rev. Dugan.

Why do I have these feelings?

Taking a break from book writing, and inspired by the Satel article, I put some thoughts together than might be an op-ed when they grow up.

In my clinical work and on my website, I receive many inquiries from people who experience homosexual attractions. Most often, the writers are distressed by their feelings and want some advice or assistance. One of the most frequent questions I get is, “why do I have these feelings?”

The question is natural enough. Although widely discussed in the culture, having attractions to the same sex is statistically infrequent. The percentage of the population who identify as gay has been pegged at between 2-3%, so asking why one is in the minority reflects a natural human curiosity about being different.

However, what most people really want to know is what made them gay? Some questioners wonder if they inherited the feelings and many others wonder if their feelings came from conflicts with their parents.

My responses begin with an academic bent. I first inform them that there are many contradictory research findings. Some studies implicate pre-natal factors, while others point to a role for social environment, including family. I tell them that there is a group of researchers that line up on the side of biology, with others more aligned with the environmental camp, with still others (myself included) who see both nature and nurture as working together in different ways for different people to lead to one’s sexuality. However, I rarely stop there.

I ask what difference it would make to them if they knew why. In other words, how would knowing why help you in your life?

I ask because my research and experience leads me to be skeptical of two related ideas that permeate the field of psychotherapy generally and specifically, among those who help people make peace with homosexual desires. The first idea is that one can know with certainty why one feels attracted to the same sex. The second is that knowledge of why directly leads to an elimination or acceptance of homosexual attractions.

Recently Sally Satel, psychiatrist and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute covered similar ground in a New York Times essay. Writing about addictions, she says,

Reconstructing the story of one’s life is a complicated business for other reasons. What scientists call hindsight bias kicks in when we try to figure out the causal chain of events leading to the current situation. We may well come up with a tidy story but, inevitably, it will contain large swaths of revisionist history. It’s not that we bias ourselves deliberately; it happens because the mind tends to make events in the past appear comprehensible and orderly. We forget the uncertainties that might have beset us as we struggled in real time.

To be sure, humans seem driven to explain. Wondering why a co-worker didn’t say hello or why one fears speaking in public is a natural part of our mental lives. However as social psychologists teach us, we are biased observers, not only of others but of ourselves. Furthermore, human memory is far from being a tape recorder. Rather, our present memories are fuzzy reconstructions, sometimes involving events that never occurred, motivated by a need to reduce confusion.

Bias may also enter our deliberations because tidbits of our experience may conform to narratives we find in the culture or among social groups we like. About this phenomenon, Satel says,

Narratives are shaped also by a natural tendency to focus on information that confirms theories we already hold. These theories — for example, that molested children are likely to grow up to have sexual compulsions of their own — may be imbibed from the media, self-help books or therapists.

Dr. Satel’s illustration about child abuse is reminiscent of the frequent narrative offered by many conservative groups that homosexual attractions derive from detached relations with same-sex parents or from childhood abuse. However, pro-gay therapists may gravitate toward the media fueled narrative that regards homosexual attractions as being invariably inborn and immutable, despite weak evidence to that effect. Complicating the search for many people I work with is that they can scan their lives and find evidence for both narratives. Research has demonstrated that many therapists selectively ask questions and respond more favorably to information from clients that fit therapists’ theories. Thus, certain events may seem more meaningful when trusted advisors and conventional wisdom unite to provide a coherent story.

So people are biased observers and we really don’t know for sure why anyone feels attracted to the same sex. Doesn’t psychotherapy rely on psychological investigation to get results? Surely people feel better when they learn why, don’t they?

Dr Satel addresses this question well, writing,

If our own accounts of our actions are often so slanted and embellished, is composing them simply a misbegotten quest? Surely not. To a therapist, the attempt signals that patients are aware that they have a problem worthy of attention. And the narratives themselves can help them make sense out of confusion. This, in turn, can diminish anxiety and exaggerated guilt. Such relief might be sufficient in and of itself for some, or, depending on the goals of therapy, it could embolden a patient to make further healthy adjustments.

Searching for why may provide some benefit but it does not lead to a value judgment. I submit that whether one is born gay or is socialized to become gay, one still must make a value based decision about how one wants to live.

Case in point, one of my clients initially came to believe the reason he was drawn to men was due to his father’s distance and lack of love. This insight was powerful, meaningful, and full of emotion. However, even after this recognition, and an emotional reconciliation with his father, my client felt very little decline in his attractions to men. He decided perhaps he was predisposed to homosexuality. However, due to his religious convictions, he determined not to pursue gay relationships. He gained more satisfaction from therapy and his life when he stopped seeking insight and started to implement strategies to help him in the present.

So after why, perhaps, the better question is: “now what?”

I Do Exist to be retired

Can’t think of a better place to announce that the documentary I Do Exist will be no longer be available as of February 1, 2007. I am nearly out of them and I do not intend to reproduce another batch. I enjoyed every aspect of making the video, including the music and design of the DVD materials. My current work does not emphasize changing sexual orientation as much as it does achieving congruence with chosen beliefs and values (which may or may not lead to change of attractions). I think the theme of developing a valued and congruent sexual identity is an aspect of the documentary but may be overwhelmed at times by other narratives woven throughout the video. And so my incentive to incur the expense of another duplication run is not great even though I believe the documentary has enduring value.

Given the historical and documentary value of the video, the VHS and short version will continue to be available for awhile. See the FAQs for more information.

UPDATE: Since I still have stock of I Do Exist, I will continue to make it available as supplies last. I do not intend to promote or advertise it.