Interview: Lisa Ling Says She Knows “You Can’t Pray the Gay Away”


AE: So you think some gay people missed who the show was meant for and what message was being sent out, and instead just focused on a question that we feel like we’ve heard too many times?

LL: I don’t want to assume that. All I can do is state what my objective was and hopefully that came true. One of my best friends is named Jamie, he’s a gay man, [and he] wrote me the most beautiful email and said that he felt like I was talking to his fourteen-year-old self when he was watching that. And he wished that places like The Naming Project existed for him.

What we set out to do was to show what was going on at Exodus but close the show with The Naming Project and see that there are these programs and these courageous young people. I wanted to show people that are involved in programs like Exodus that there are other options.

Young people can go and be themselves and pray to God, the same God that others pray to and he is just as loving and just as forgiving. A couple of times I was faced with the question of “Are these people all worshiping the same God? Are the people at Exodus worshiping the same God as the kid at The Naming Project?” And if God is just as loving as Christians say and believe he is then sexual orientation shouldn’t matter.

[A publicist told us our time was up, but Ling wanted to make sure I’d understood her point.]

Does that make sense, Michael? Did you…?

AE: It made sense. I think people will appreciate your taking the time to talk with me. But I still think there is a pretty fundamental difference in point of view as to whether or not it’s OK to ask that question. I think a lot of folks would make the point that there would never be a show like that about women or Asians that sort of asked that kind of question —

LL: You see, that’s the thing, if we asked that sort of question, “Can you pray the Asian away?” and the answer is obviously, no! And I felt the same way about that question, “Can you pray the gay away?” the answer is clearly “no.” And even Alan Chambers says you can’t change your sexual orientation. You can choose to marry a woman and live your life and have children, but it doesn’t mean that your sexual orientation has changed. I mean I think the answer to that question is undoubtedly “no!”

AE: If the question is unequivocally “no” then why was it asked in that way? Why wasn’t the title phrased, “Why are people being forced to pray the gay away?” and been more of an exploration of the damage that the kids coming out of those programs like Exodus. suffer

As you said, this isn’t a hard hitting analytical look at the issue, but more exploring how people feel and why the feel the way they do. But I don’t think GLAAD is going to turn around after reading this interview and say, “Oh, ok, we understand now.” For certain people certain questions are so offensive and we’re so tired of hearing them, that no one is very going to be ok with that. Does that make sense?

LL: Yeah. And I don’t even mean to try and take that kind of feeling away from people and obviously it’s a very fundamental feeling that people have in regards to that question and that notion and if anyone felt harmed by that, I’m sorry.
My intention was to send a message to closed minded evangelicals because even if they thought for a moment that the notion of praying the gay away was possible, all they had to do is watch the show to the end and hear people like Michael Bussee and all the kids at The Naming Project saying you know what, “That question in a way is kind of irrelevant because God loves all regardless.”

AE: I’m glad to hear that you received messages from people that came out the other side of that. I’m glad that at least came out of this.

LL: Oh, yeah and my really good gay friend said, “We don’t like to be hit over the head like Michael Moore style or Bill Maher style.” This is a very nuanced piece that really let us really think hard about a lot of things and getting the message that God loves all. We just don’t hear that enough.

I think both sides get so deeply entrenched that both sides just want to attack and name call. And I don’t think that does a damn bit of good. When people were criticizing the piece I was thinking, “Do you think that’s really helping you?”

Why not take the pieces of our show where people are actually reconciling their faith and their sexual orientation in a loving way and promote those kinds of things? I think we’ve evolved past that. I assumed me evolved past that and I wanted to take the conversation to a different place, and I hope we can still continue to do that.

AE: I think the reactions from this show showcases just how touchy these subjects are and how judged gay people still feel. I’m sure you follow the news and know that some religious conservatives just blocked gay marriage in Maryland and just yesterday they defeated a civil unions bill in Colorado. So for gay people these questions feel very fundamental and very present and very much affecting our lives.
LL: The only thing that I would say is there have been a lot of hateful things that have come out of the evangelical community about gay people. And I hope that the gay people don’t adopt that strategy and become as judgmental and devolve into that kind of betrayal as the evangelicals have. I really hope we can take this to a different level and explore with a dialogue and find compassion and try and better define that God loves you and me and I’m not even religious, so let’s put it back out there to the religious community. So let’s ask them to really redefine or really reinterpret or interpret at all what God’s love should mean.

AE: I agree.
LL: Because quite honestly it only entrenches both sides even more. It makes me want to fight harder and name call even more, but ultimately is that getting us any closer to achieving our objective rather than expanding the dialogue and letting people understand what it’s like to live in my shoes and why people might believe what they believe. Only then can people understand why people believe what they believe, and then people be able learn how to deal with it and get to a place where they understand each other better.

AE: It’s an important topic to take on.

LL: And I said to GLAAD yesterday, rather than nit picking, why don’t we all open a dialogue and do something positive? Let’s do something that changes people’s perceptions. Let’s really do something that’s really productive and the more we nitpick, the more challenging things become, I think, and it doesn’t advance our cause.






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