AE: Many gay people, including GLAAD, feel that just having a journalist ask “Can You Pray the Gay Away?” lends credence to a question that is not only offensive, but that has been widely debunked. What’s your response to your GLAAD’s criticism that your show did that?
LL: Well I think that’s a bit of an unfair criticism. The title “Can You Pray the Gay Away?” with the question mark at the end was supposed to be rhetorical because I think these days, most people recognize that you can pray the gay away as much as you can pray the Asian away. [laughs] Or pray the black away. It has never been proven. In fact, it’s been disproven by reputable medical associations. The title was to really inspire people to watch the show.
My intention was for people to watch this with a sense of compassion and recognize – now I’m not someone who is a religious person, but what I have learned about Jesus, it’s been my contention that if God is as loving of a God as Christians believe he is, then he should love all people regardless of their sexual orientation. That was the ultimate objective and I think that if you watch the show — Michael Bussee, who was one of the founders of Exodus, not only walks away from that organization, but also speaks out against that organization because he says it does horrific, horrific damage.
And we spent time with this gay Christian camp called The Naming Project which was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had. And you see these kids who have been condemned by their churches and sometimes they’ve been condemned by members of the gay community because, let’s face it, there are some members in the gay community that have been so burned by the church and by Christianity that they can’t even engage in a dialogue or discourse about it. So these are kids that have been burned but they continue to praise God, the same as Michael Bussee, and these people to me exemplify true faith.
And what disappointed me about some of the criticism that we got – and by the way the overwhelming response to our show has been incredibly positive – but the response I have to some of the criticism is “Why just focus on the negative, and what you perceive is the negative aspect of the show, the ex-gay movement?” How about acknowledging Michael Bussee and The Naming Project and people who have extraordinary faith? Those people have been have been deleted from the conversation which I think is a huge missed opportunity to highlight people who I think are combining the things that define them most, their faith and their sexual orientation in such a beautiful way.
Campers at The Naming Project
AE: Did you include Michael and The Naming Camp to give the piece balance then?
LL: Actually no, not at all. When I set out to do the show it was to profile The Naming Project which was sort of the main focus of the show, but I think it’s important to see what’s going on at Exodus, what’s going on there. And not in an investigative way, but in a way to find out what they are sort of preaching.
What I saw were people who were very, very conflicted and people who were hiding because they have these sort of deep pains, and by profiling these sorts of Christians. I saw a kid, who was really tortured in many ways, once by his past and now in his fight to figure out who he is. And I’m not the person who likes to beat people over the head, I feel like there is enough of that in television. I want people to be able to walk in the shoes of other people and really try to understand better why people believe what they believe.
AE: Looking back now do you understand that with the show’s title, and by even asking the question, how it makes a lot of gay people say, “Really? We’re discussing this again?” whether or not it’s a rhetorical question. Now that you’ve been through this, do you see that point?
LL: Of course. I think it’s important, and I’m a person who is never immune from criticism and I can completely see that point. My hope is that people who watched the show and heard that title can see that the answer to that question is most definitively no.
The most moving thing, I read a lot of moving things, but the number of evangelicals who felt firmly rooted in one side, which was the side that believed that homosexuality was wrong, and I can’t tell you how many emails I got from those people in those communities saying, “Wow, you really made me think differently about this issue. You really opened my eyes to what God’s love really means” and quite honestly that was my objective.
My objective wasn’t to insight a reaction from the gay community, and if it did so, I’m so sorry. My intention was to provoke really closed-minded religious folks and hope they would expand their horizons and really find out what God’s love really means.