|Tom Cole: The GLSEN Workshop||tidh home|
|I talked to the teachers afterward and told them who I was and what it is I do as a director of an ex-gay ministry and told them of the brutality that I experienced as a child. I then asked how I could work together with them in the fight to stop violence against gay or perceived gay youth. We decided to talk later in the conference.||Tom
Cole: Report on the 1998 Midwest GLSEN Workshop
by Tom Cole, Director
Reconciliation Ministries of Michigan
April 8, 1998
I think to start the report I would have to convey some of my feelings before the conference. As a conservative Christian who has experienced significant change in gender attraction, and no longer identifies as gay, I felt that I should be nervous and somewhat fearful attending a pro-gay conference. People would ask me how I felt about going and I just responded by saying "I'm fine." I felt peaceful and at ease about going, even felt that I was supposed to be there.
Maggie, Sandi, Carla, and I walked into the conference to register and found we had a little time to eat. A woman standing alone asked if she could join us. I think that God intended for us to meet. At the dinner as we got to know each other and found out Deb was an out lesbian psychotherapist who would be presenting a workshop on being yourself. We told her what our workshop was all about and she thought it was great. She said there needed to be ex-gay ministries for those who felt that the gay path wasn't for them. I almost fell out of my seat. The first person we meet at the conference and she doesn't think I'm evil and out to destroy her. Wow, that was awesome.
That evening Bonnie Tinker, a lesbian, mother and grandmother shared her life story and the fight for civil rights in the area of race, women's rights and finally working toward making schools a safe place for gay children and children of gay parents. I heard a couple of statements about the religious right and felt that if each side would quit demonizing the other camp, we might just get something done. She also stated that ALL our voices should be heard and I wondered if when she said that, she meant my voice should be heard as well. [note: Bonnie Tinker is execuctive director of Love Makes a Family, in Portland Oregon]
The next day began with a speech by Kevin Jennings, founder of GLSEN. He was very humorous if not a little racy in his language. Again I agreed with much of what he said about making schools a safe place. However, again I felt that all conservative Christians were demonized in some of his statements.
The first workshop that I attended on Saturday was on the GLSEN/Detroit 1996 report entitled "Bruised Bodies, Bruised Spirits". The two presenters were very good and went through the basic questions asked of school administrators, counselors, and psychologists. To quote the study "For consistency, GLSEN/Detroit has chosen to use the terms "gay, lesbian and bisexual" or "gay" to describe gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth, and youth whose dress or behavior does not conform to gender expectations. The report also include youth who are heterosexual and have gay, lesbian and bisexual family members or friends and youth who are "perceived" by others to be gay". I was glad to see the "youth perceived by others to be gay" included in the list. As they spoke I began to get a vision for both sides of the divide working together to make schools a safe place for ALL children.
I flipped to the back of the report I read an example of a Student Anti- Harassment Policy and realized that no one should object to such a policy being introduced to their school. I say this realizing that many would object, but my understanding of the objections is unclear. Here is the policy as stated in the report:
An environment of mutual respect for the rights of others must prevail if the schools are to fulfill their educational purposes. Students are encouraged to form, hold, and express their own beliefs and opinions. However, a student's exercise of free expression must not interfere with the rights of other students, and all students must be able to learn and grow and in an atmosphere which is free from any form of harassment.End of example policy.
So my questions is: Why would anyone object to such a policy?
I talked to the teachers afterward and told them who I was and what it is I do as a director of an ex-gay ministry and told them of the brutality that I experienced as a child. I then asked how I could work together with them in the fight to stop violence against gay or perceived gay youth. We decided to talk later in the conference.
The next workshop was presented by Deb the lesbian psychotherapist. I have to say that I love Deb and her excitement and love for others is obvious. She presented a high energy pep talk about being yourself and not taking on labels. She shared her own story of coming out and cried several times. Her sincerity was refreshing. At the end of the workshop she had us all stand in a circle and listen to a song and look around the room at each other's faces. It was uncomfortable at first, but I began to really look at the people in the room. Afterward I went to the restroom and cried, thanking God for each individual in that room and the love He placed in my heart for each of them.
The rest of the day was for relaxation and preparation for the our presentation the next day. I slept horribly that night in anticipation of the next day (sleep deprivation does wonders in breaking down resistance to the Holy Spirit).
Our workshop was well attended as Maggie Heineman, Mike Jones, Carla Harshman, Sandy Wiggins and I shared about ourselves and how we came to be involved in Bridges Across. We held questions and answers until the last segment of the workshop. The atmosphere during the Q&A segment started out with healthy dialogue until a PFLAG representative got up and made some false statements about me he had heard. I interrupted him (which I shouldn't have done) and defended my position. From that point the atmosphere became tense and somewhat hostile. I thought the whole thing was going to go down the tubes when a young man got up to the microphone and said he felt that we had gone from dialogue to debate and that we had gotten off the subject of safe schools for all students. He shared about his involvement with ex-gay ministries and his choice to not follow that path. He also shared that the people involved were sincere loving Christians who cared for him and who did not damage him in any way. The entire feel of the workshop changed from that point on. I think it interesting to note that when I shared this with my wife she asked what the time was when this occurred. I told her around 10:00 am and she told me that she and other women from our church had a prayer time in the ladies restroom at that exact time and felt that something had been accomplished in the heavenlies. Isn't God amazing?
Afterward, several of the attendees came up and thanked us for our presentation and more than a few wept and hugged us. The experienced lifted me up and set firmly in my heart a love for all of God's handiwork. I think I will never be the same again!!!
In His love,
Maggie Heineman reports:
We had made 50 copies of the handouts, and it was the right number.
Two one-sheet handouts were distributed prior to the workshop,
At the beginning of the Q&A we distributed
Gays and Exgays: Sharing the Pain of the Past