“Gay Cures” – Were LGBT activists right about Desert Stream?

Two Views: All Out (left) and Desert Stream (right)

This summer the LGBT rights charity All Out launched a campaign against the activities of Christian ministry Desert Stream in Europe. In an email sent out to their supporters in July they claimed that Desert Stream was on a “global tour” touting “gay cures” in ten countries. The tone of the language they used in this email and a later follow-up email in August was sensationalist and the claims they made against Desert Stream were very serious indeed:

They’re coming to the UK. This Sunday, an extremist religious group is holding workshops for gays and lesbians on how to hate themselves for who they are. These types of “therapy sessions” collect cash for one purpose only: to sell the idea that people who are not straight should stifle it.

[…]

We’re setting off a global domino effect to shut down these sessions and ban “gay cures” for good. Will you call on the British government, and the governments at every tour-stop, to stand against gay “cures”?

www.allout.org/endgaygures

These dangerous practices pretend to “cure” people’s sexuality when they actually inflict serious psychological harm. The upcoming session planned for London is part of a global tour of gay “cures” that All Out members have been following around the world. Right now, our record is 2 for 2 and the UK is up next.

We have no time to lose – the next session starts on Sunday. Will you add your name now?

Email sent to All Out Supporters July 2012

Many of my LGBT friends signed the petition against Desert Stream, as did nearly 70,000 people around the world.

As the attention escalated, the Gay Star News reported that the Christians had moved the “gay cure meet” to “a secret location.” They gave further details – that the group running the “gay cure meet” was actually called Living Waters (although affiliated to Desert Stream) and that it was, in their words “a meeting which will allegedly train people how to carry out discredited “cures” for homosexual and trans impulses,” adding that “The Living Waters approach to LGBT people may be surmised from their inclusion of ‘healing of the masculine’ as a course module.” Comments at the bottom of this article called Living Waters “grotesque” and “misguided” and suggested trying to discover the new “secret location” in order to campaign against the group.

My partner  Hannelie and I did not sign the petition.

We have both been involved in Living Waters in the UK the past and found the claims of both All Out and the Gay Star News about the ministry to be inaccurate and disturbing. Hannelie gathered up the courage to defend the ministry on a facebook page that was spreading what she considered to be misinformation. She told of her involvement in the ministry in the past and the way she felt positive about the organisation to an LGBT magazine that was specifically asking for the stories of people who had been involved in what they termed as “ex gay ministries”. They did not run her story.

Although this blog post is hard to write because it is a place of vulnerability for me, I wanted to continue in the spirit of the “disruptive honesty” I wrote about earlier this week. You see, I was at the event earlier this year that All Out described as “workshops for […] lesbians on how to hate themselves for who they are.” And I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. But first, some basic facts that All Out/Gay Star News has wrong:

  • The event that was run in the UK this summer was not part of a “global gay cures tour” by Desert Stream. Living waters runs the Discipleship Week every year and it is run by the ministry based in the UK ( it is not some American extremist group visiting the UK.)
  •  The Discipleship Week was not a “series of workshops” for gay and lesbian people in which we were told to hate ourselves. There were people there for all sorts of reasons. Some of them were struggling reconciling their sexuality with the Christian faith. The majority were not. LW works with a broad spectrum of personal issues, from self-harm and depression to addictions and abuse and is not specifically focussed on homosexuality (NB this may not be true for Desert Stream as a whole, but I have no comment on that)
  • The “healing of the masculine” part of the week was not about being cured of homosexuality, but, along with the “healing of the feminine” was about the harmful gender stereotypes, including misogyny, that damage individuals in church and society.
  • The week did involve a training element, but again it was not about training people in how to “cure” homosexuality, but rather training on how to run similar weeks on various relational issues in local churches.

My experience of the week was one in which I was respected as an individual, cared for and listened to. The leaders were well trained and non judgmental. A lot of emphasis was placed upon letting go of (rather than taking up!) the shame placed upon people by churches and society.  I did not go there to deal with or cure my sexuality, but with other issues (that I won’t be sharing here) that I had been carrying around for a long time, and the team dealt with these in an appropriate and relevant way. No-one told me I should stop being gay. Hannelie also had positive experiences in her long association with the ministry, and indeed it was she who recommended that I go.

It dismays me beyond belief that All Out, a charity I previously trusted and supported, is capable of inventing such lies about another organisation. I want to believe that human rights organisations value the truth and would make the effort to verify their claims before launching such a campaign.

What All Out needs to realise is that there are a lot of people caught up in the middle of this. If they had showed up to protest the week who would have suffered? Who would have felt unsafe? Probably the very people they think they are trying to protect.

If you are interested in knowing more about what really happens during the week there is a good article here.

For the record, I have no problem with anyone signing petitions, protesting etc, but I do believe that we should seek to know the facts before doing this.

Also for the record, I am not defending Desert Stream as such, but rather Living Waters and specifically the Discipleship Week.

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4 thoughts on ““Gay Cures” – Were LGBT activists right about Desert Stream?

  1. Sarah D says:

    With a view to getting a more rounded perspective on this, I had a conversation with Hannelie about her experiences. Although you both may have had positive experiences with Desert Stream, I hazard to guess that this might not have been the case for every individual who walked through their doors. I do think it’s important to survey peoples’ positive experiences as well as peoples’ negative experiences but by the same token a positive experience shouldn’t provide a means of counteracting a negative experience. Is it true or not? I don’t know but what I do know is that it mightn’t be the case that All Out was inventing lies just because it didn’t happen to you.

  2. Hi Sarah. Thanks for your comment.

    I guess the first point is that I did not claim to be speaking of Desert Stream, but of Living Waters (UK), and specifically about the week that I attended. I do not pretend to be able to speak for the experiences of everyone who has ever attended anything affiliated to Desert Stream in all countries since it began. I have no doubt that there are individuals who have had negative experiences, and I believe these are well documented elsewhere.

    However, this swings both ways, does it not? Does a negative experience cancel out a positive one? Should I be quiet about this and not be heard because someone (in a different context) had a bad experience? Both Hannelie and I have experienced this “silencing” before – she has been told that she must be deluded for defending LW, for example – and I find it unhelpful and, to be honest, patronising, to be told that I must be wrong when I was actually there!

    At my own church, which is tolerant, liberal and gay-friendly, people have had bad experiences and left. If you talked only to them you would get the idea that the church was unhealthy, unhelpful and damaging. I experience it as freeing, Spirit-filled, dynamic and healthy. Who is right? Isn’t it a case of context?

    The problem that both some Christian groups and some LGBT groups like All Out face is that they both want the other side to be the big evil monster under the bed – always evil, twisted, wrong. We both know that this is not true, that the situation is usually more nuanced. All Out and the Gay Star News in their wake made a grave mistake with their inaccuracies about the Disclipleship Week – and this is fact, not opinion – taking a cursory glance at the LW website and cherry picking and purposefully misinterpreting, leaving out facts (like the fact that it isn’t just some “ex gay ministry”) and actually lying (it was not part of some “global tour” of American fundamentalists, for example.) A tiny bit of research on the part of All Out would have been helpful, and then they could have objected to the truth, rather than making up some sensationalist spin.

    Your point about All Out and lies and my personal experience is a little unfair since All Out were in this instance specifically campaigning against the Discipleship Week, not the whole of Desert Stream, and that was also the event I attended. Perhaps you don’t believe me, but honestly I have rarely been in a room where everything was so prayerfully considered, so thoughtful, so respectful of personhood and boundaries. This, of course, doesn’t “fit” with All Out’s “monster under the bed” – so really, it is a case of choosing who to believe.

  3. Just to add, All Out have not replied to my emails and tweets to them about this. I am hoping they will, at some point, have time to respond. If they do, I will post their response here.

  4. […] was wrong. We had a heart to heart. I owned up to some issues and found myself applying for the healing week at Living Waters. I started this blog, thinking it would help me to write about my academic work in a less formal […]

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