Exodus International, an Orlando, Fla.-based nonprofit promoting “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ,” is holding its annual International Freedom Conference at the Ridgecrest Conference Center, 15 miles from Asheville, from July 15 to 20.
The event hasn’t gone unnoticed by Asheville’s queer community.
But rather than employ hostile tactics to oppose a program that seeks to “correct” homosexuality, a small crew of LGBTU people have been caravanning to the gates of the Freedom Conference to demonstrate just how happy they are living with their sexual orientation.
“Our goal is not to attack the people at the Exodus Freedom Conference. Many of these people mean well and have good intentions for themselves and for their loved ones,” activists Cale LeFevre and Lindsay Reed wrote in a widely circulated e-mail, addressed to “Fellow concerned and supportive community member.”
“On Wednesday, July 16th, at 7:30 a.m. we approached the gates of the Ridgecrest Conference Center holding supportive signs that said things like ‘I’m happy!’ or ‘I love my supportive queer community!’” The e-mail continues. “We were approached by several people who were more than willing to talk to us, all of whom told us we were welcome to be there, and more importantly that they supported our right to be there. They opened dialogue with us about scripture, about their lives and ours, read our signs and were very friendly.”
The goal, Reed told Xpress, is to demonstrate to conference-goers that it is possible to lead a happy life as a homosexual, contrary to what they may be told inside. On Wednesday, the activists set up a picnic breakfast outside Ridgecrest and welcomed anyone to partake. (They have received permission to be there.) “We support [the conference attendees] along their walk, no matter what,” Reed says.
The group says they’ll meet every morning of the conference at 7:15 a.m. at the Greenlife Grocery parking lot to carpool to Ridgecrest, and encourage others to join.
Meanwhile, a weeklong series events offering an alternative to Exodus is being held July 15 to 19 by the Coalition for Equality. The events are “devoted to eye-opening, powerful, and fun ways of learning about the harmful and misguided aspects of ‘reparative therapy’ (which aims to change one’s sexual orientation),” according to the organization’s Web site. Events include a seminar, films, discussions and a “Real Families Picnic.” Visit www.equalityasheville.org for more.
— Rebecca Bowe, contributing editor