More than 75 LGBT-rights activists gathered in Wheaton, Ill. last week to protest against Exodus International, one of the world's predominant voices promoting the correction of homosexuality through Christianity.
LGBT advocacy groups from across Illinois and as far as Bloomington, Ind. participated in the July 14 demonstration, which was organized by Chicago's Gay Liberation Network ( GLN ) . Picketers gathered on the Wheaton College campus as Exodus International kicked off a five-day "Freedom Conference"its largest annual recruiting event.
Members of GLN, the Stonewall Association of Illinois, DuPage NOW, Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches, Chicago Bi/Queer Meetup and various Illinois PFLAG chapters were among the many voicing their antipathy toward the organization.
"Our main aim is to counter those lies that they're telling us," said GLN co-founder Andy Thayer. "If your thing is about saying a whole class of people are less than good, that's bigotry, we don't care how you dress it up."
Exodus International is one of the foremost champions of the "ex-gay" movement, which believes that same-sex attraction is a disorder that can be healed through prayer and proper counseling, known as reparative therapy.
Among the protestors were LGBT individuals who had personally experienced the Exodus program. One Chicago native, Brother Michael Oboza of the Orthodox Catholic Church, said the protest was the first time he came forward publically about his time with Exodus.
"I was told I was sick," Oboza said. "I was told to go through electroshock therapy."
Shock therapy is no longer common practice, but other highly controversial ideas have surrounded Exodus in recent months. Last March, Exodus board member Don Schmierer traveled to Uganda, where homosexuality is criminalized, to attend a conference organized in part by prominent European neo-Nazi Scott Lively, an advocate for homosexual "re-education" camps.
Lesbian protestor Lillie X, president of the Bloomington, Ind., group Gay Recruiters, created an image of Holocaust prisoners wearing upside-down pink triangles on their uniforms to express her fears. She made the long trip to Wheaton as a statement against complacency.
"What I'm here to inspire people to do is to go out and recruit other people to come to events like this and show them it's not unreasonable to drive four and half to five hours to come," she said.
Thayer said he was ecstatic at the high turnout and number of organizations present, especially considering the distance most had to travel to attend the early evening weekday protest.
"There were certainly some people that had to make a fair sacrifice in order to get here tonight on a weekday night and you have to respect that," he said. "A lot of people had to take off work early."
Thayer said the networking opportunities created by the wide array of Illinois groups present should help the state's gay rights movement immensely.
"If we're going to win legal equality in Illinois it's got to be much more than just Chicago that does it," he said.
Thayer said GLN will continue to fight Exodus whenever it is in the area, and the hope is that the protest will create a greater awareness among national LGBT activist groups and inspire them to do the same.