In making his way to Anchorage, Alaska
to confront, once again, a James Dobson Love Won Out ex-gay
conference scheduled for Saturday, Wayne Besen stands at the vanguard
of one of the most vehement battles of the gay-Christian culture war
– the Christian-based ex-gay movement which seeks to “cure”
homosexuals. Yet, the ex-gay movement he hopes to expose operates in
relative obscurity, and with little opposition.
In 2000, when Exodus Chairman John
Paulk was being hailed as the golden boy of the ex-gay movement by
such media heavyweights as Newsweek and CBS's 60 Minutes,
Besen secretly photographed him flirting with men in a gay Washington
D.C. bar and wrote about his apparent fall from grace in Anything
But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.
The revelation shocked both the ex-gay movement and the media who
had glamorized it, and Paulk was subsequently removed as chairman of
Besen has since founded Truth Wins
Outs, a non-profit organization that advocates against ex-gay
ministries, and, more recently, RespectMyResearch.org, where social
and behavioral scientists can voice their displeasure at having their
research distorted and used to prop up ex-gay claims.
Before leaving for Anchorage, Besen
spoke with us about his gay-Christian feud with Focus on the Family
Chairman, and Love Won Out sponsor, James Dobson.
OTM: How did your feud with James
Besen: I have a deep disdain for Focus
on the Family because this group is uniquely truth challenged. They
are the captains of an industry that causes a great deal of pain and
suffering for GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] people.
They are responsible for much of the hate against gay and lesbian
people in America, because they pump out huge amounts of anti-gay
propaganda, that demeans our lives and devalues our families. What
makes them a dangerous group, is that they dehumanize us in the name
of “love” and “family values.” What they do is Orwellian.
Focus on the Family began to target me
for smear campaigns after I photographed their “ex-gay” poster
boy, John Paulk, who founded their Love Won Out program, in a
gay bar in Washington. Since this time, they have tried to tar me
with whisper campaigns that absurdly call me “the Fred Phelps of
the gay community.” I guess when a massive anti-gay organization
that rakes in more than $150 million a year targets me and my small
organization, Truth Wins Out, we are doing something right.
Our feud was taken to a whole new level
when I founded, RespectMyResearch.org last year. Basically, when
Focus on the Family distorts research, we go right to the scientists
whose work has been manipulated. We videotape them demanding that
Focus immediately stop lying about their research. Our program has
been quite devastating to the credibility of Focus on the Family, so
they have upped their attacks on TWO and their efforts to tar me
personally. I could not be more pleased. The day Focus on the
Family likes me, is the day I have stopped doing my job.
OTM: You've pointed out that Dobson
benefits economically from his anti-gay rhetoric. Do you see it as
hypocritical that you have built a career – and therefore also
benefit – out of policing Dobson's rhetoric?
Besen: I don't profit off of
hatred, while Dobson does. So, we are in an entirely different
business. I'm trying to secure rights for millions of people, while
he is working to take these basic rights away. What we do is not
analogous. Indeed, he is even trying to write gay relationships out
of the Constitution, by pushing for the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Meanwhile, I'm not trying to ban fundamentalist Christian marriages.
What we do and who we are cannot really be compared.
Furthermore, this is hardly a profit
center for me personally. While there are many wealthy
televangelists, no one has ever become rich as a gay activist. I
have actually sacrificed quite a bit with my career to do what I
believe in. The moment I retire from this business, I'll make more
in the private sector. To be honest, this business is not always
glamorous and can really be a pain in the ass. It is constantly
begging for money and is hardly a cash cow. I only do this because
it is a labor of love and I want to leave the world a better place
for future generations.
Coming out was an incredibly painful
experience for me and my family. I vowed to do everything in my
power to change the world so being gay was not something stigmatized
by society. I am proud to stand with many fine leaders in the GLBT
community who have created a kinder reality right in front of our
eyes. We are winning this fight; it is quite gratifying to be a part
OTM: Do you feel a symbiotic
relationship with Dobson?
Besen: Not really. He gets up in the
morning to hurt people, and I get up to help them. My goal is to put
Dobson out of business – and thus allowing myself to close up shop.
I'd like nothing more than for my services to no longer be needed.
It is hardly enjoyable to see the incredible damage and harm that
Focus on the Family does to people.
OTM: Have you ever spoken with or
met James Dobson?
Besen: No, but I would meet with him.
I have met high-level members of his staff. I will do so again this
year. But, these infrequent meetings are private and off-the-record,
so I won't discuss what is said. I meet in an effort to lower the
temperature in the culture war and with the faint hope that progress
can be made. You can never stop dreaming and people do come around
sometimes. It never hurts to keep an open mind and be open to
I really do wish that people at Focus
on the Family would stop attacking our families and start helping all
families. They can have a positive impact on society – but they
need to get out of attack mode. By going after us, they are
accomplishing nothing in the long run. What have they really
accomplished, other than causing some gay people to be rejected by
their families or creating marriages that end in divorce, or scandal
like Ted Haggard? Their “solutions” are really the problem and
they need to take a hard, long look in the mirror and ask themselves
tough questions about the results of their war on gays. At the end
of the day, they will lose credibility and will end up apologizing –
as past religious bigots did on slavery, the rights of women, the
treatment of Jews, etc.
OTM: In the past weeks we have been
witnesses to several conservative nuts reacting violently to people
with progressive views. This Besen-Dobson feud seems to be getting
louder. Do you ever worry about it spiraling out of control?
Besen: I do receive threats and have
taken appropriate security measures and precautions. I don't let it
worry me. There is simply too much work to do – and you can't live
in fear or the bad guys win.
OTM: What do you see as the core of
this disagreement? And, do you take this all personally?
Besen: The core disagreement is that
Dobson has set up a fib factory that portrays gay people as
perverted, dysfunctional and sick. When these lies filter down into
society it causes discrimination and even hate crimes. Focus on the
Family dehumanizes us and the moment they stop, so will our feud.
This is not about me and Dobson, or Focus on the Family and Truth
Wins Out. This is about a powerful, wealthy anti-gay organization
that is committed to ruining our lives through propaganda and
transforming democracy into theocracy.
This is a fight that is bigger than the
GLBT community. What we are really fighting for is keeping America a
free country and out of the hands of religious zealots who want to
see America become a Christian version of Iran. Our community stands
in the way of this very scary vision. We are on the front lines of
this battle and we will never give up. Our very lives and love
depend on us winning – and so we will.
On the net: Truth Wins Out is at