By Taeeba Sadar
A group of gay and lesbian protesters gathered outside a Scarborough church to protest an ex-gay ministry conference hosted by Focus on Family, an organization which likens homosexuality to an addiction.
About 1,000 people convened in the Churchill Heights Baptist Church on Saturday for a series of seminars led by former homosexuals. The event was intended to counsel people whose relatives had privately ‘come out’ and who were looking for ways to cope.
But outside, men and women waved placards and flags and distributed pamphlets condemning the actions of Focus on Family.
“We are here because the people inside [the church] have an agenda of taking away our rights,” said Kevin Beaulieu, a member of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgendered of the University of Toronto, the group that organized the protest. “By using suspect tactics like intensive talk therapy, people can be convinced to change their identity.”
Paul Bowser, another group member, agreed.
“They are affiliated with the religious right,” said Bowser. “If you can convince people that homosexuality is a choice, then you convince people that gays and lesbians choose to give up their rights.”
Meaghan Derynck, a Radio and Television Arts student from Ryerson University, also attended the protest.
“I believe everybody deserves the same rights,” said Derynck. “This is who I am and I don’t try to change anyone else.”
Although peaceful, several police cruisers and uniformed officers patrolled the front lawn and entrance of the church and stayed the length of the protest.
“It’s the first time that Focus on Family has been to Toronto,” said Sergeant Jeff Howell. “They didn’t know what kind of reception they would receive.”
While Derek Rogusky, vice-president of Focus on Family, admits that some of the organization’s beliefs are controversial, he dismissed accusations that the group is homophobic.
“We do love all people,” said Rogusky. “But our Bible and our scriptures tell us that there is a right and wrong. We’ve heard stories about people whose lives have been dramatically reformed.”
Rogusky was referring to a handful of keynote speakers at the event, including Melissa Fryrear, who said she used to be a lesbian but now identifies as a heterosexual. Sheworks as a gender issues analyst with Focus on Family.
“It’s been a process and it hasn’t been overnight,” she said. “I did not choose to be a lesbian because it isn’t a choice but I also know it’s not genetic because there are no scientific studies that prove homosexuality is genetic.”
Drawing from her own experience, she believes that some specific and traumatic experiences trigger homosexuality in people.
“In almost everyone there is a broken relationship with their same-gendered parent creating a same-sex deficit,” said Fryrear. “Sexual abuse runs rampant among women dealing with lesbianism. I haven’t met one man or woman who hasn’t been violated in some way.”
Rogusky stressed that the group doesn’t aggressively try to recruit and convert gays and lesbians. Instead Rogusky said that the group works with other ex-gay ministries in to community such as Exodus International and New Directions to offer support and help people who want to leave homosexuality.
“We are not going down Church Street and asking people to follow us,” said Rogusky. “No one is forcing anyone to make changes they don’t want to make.”