Content Note for sexual & mental abuse
Christian Schizzel spent 7 years being trotted around the country on media outlets as a poster boy for the ex-gay movement. Now, after reclaiming his gay identity, Christian says he won’t be a weapon anymore.
In an exclusive interview with RNS, Christian tells about his experience with the Janet Boynes Ministries and The Bachmann & Associates counseling centers, the latter operation owned by U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann and husband Marcus Bachmann. Both entities were associated with the now closed Exodus International but are currently still in business. (No response yet for comment. Will update post if that changes.)
At nine years of age, Christian was sexually and physically abused by his step father — a missionary who used Bible verses to silence Christian into submission. He even used scripture during the acts itself to justify the abuse. Years later at the age of 18, after coming out to friends and family, Christian was encouraged to seek help at the ministry. It was there that they used this horrific experience to pinpoint the “cause” of Christian’s sexuality, although Christian said he knew about his sexuality before the abuse.
Q: Why come out publicly now as a gay man?
A: Coming out publicly and sharing is important to me because my sexuality has been exploited my whole life by the Christian community both knowingly and un-knowingly.
When I was trying to be “straight” I spoke to youth, churches, camps, on television shows (Oprah & Dr. Drew) and even shot documentaries in hopes of proving my worth to my Christian community and God. I’m coming out this second time as my true self – a gay man — louder than before so we can all learn from the mistakes made and the harmful effects of reparative therapy can be uncovered and so that people who have used my story against other gay people won’t have it as a weapon anymore.
Q: Were you able to fully participate in church activities as an “ex-gay”?
A: I tried out to be a singer at church and was immediately accepted based off my abilities. But later on, when I was given a form to solidify the position, I was mortified to see there was a check mark on the application asking if I struggled with or had homosexual tendencies. I was informed a few days later I was not allowed to sing due to my “struggles.” I was, however, asked to speak publicly concerning my “transformation.”
Q: Tell me about your experience with reparative therapy and how it works.
A: There was a psychological “breaking-me-down” and isolation process from my friends and family because they were considered unhealthy. They did this to achieve complete domination over me to build me up and mold me from there. I had to do activities that were stereotypically manly and I couldn’t have too many female friends that would encourage me to be effeminate.
I was kept from attending the funeral of the mother of one of my closest friend because, they said, the devil was using this funeral to lure me back out to become reacquainted with non-believers. I didn’t talk to my mom for almost a year and a half. [tweetable] I was told it was my family’s fault I was gay because of how I was raised.[/tweetable] They demonized my entire support system until I had no one to turn to except them. After roughly two years of the break down I was finally on the same page as them and I began conforming to their wishes all on my own. Being young and impressionable, I was unknowingly being groomed as the next leader of the next generation of ex-gays. All I was seeking was acceptance.
The most offensive thing out of all this by the Christian community was that they told me that I was gay because of the abuse. They grasped at straws for a “cause” of my homosexuality and they used my sexual abuse against me. Now that I am coming out this second time I have to finally deal with my sexual abuse almost as if for the first time, understanding it didn’t cause my orientation.
Q: Tell me about the manipulation you faced by this group.
A: One time I went on Dr. Drew to speak live about everything. In preparation for the event I was given a run down on how to answer questions. I was told I had to say I was straight if asked, even though there wasn’t an ounce of me that was interested in women. I was concerned about lying, especially since it was with an issue involving God and expressed my discomfort with this.
This was when I found out a pastor on staff had taught Janet a sneaky trick and I was being handed the baton. Certain sects of Christianity believe if you name what you want like — “I will have a car by 2016 in Jesus’ name” — you will receive it due to your faith and God’s goodness. By claiming to be straight despite the fact that I wasn’t, I was claiming it so it could come to pass. It’s a name it, claim it concept. Thus I was taught to say “I am straight” but leave off “in Jesus name.” which was the rest of the faith claim. For the general public, they just thought we were professing a real transformation.
Q: Are the individuals who ran the group still doing reparative therapy?
A: The last time I saw them was at a speaking engagement held at the largest mega church in Minnesota summer of 2013. I went to hear them speak again after I accepted my sexual orientation. I knew it would be hard, but I wanted to hear what they were telling the auditorium full of kids. Janet spotted and pointed me out of the crowd and had me thrown out of the church.
It’s ironic really. Her ministry is all about “love” and “acceptance”; training and preparing Christian parents on how to react and respond “appropriately” if a child questions their orientation. She introduced me to others as her son and even had me on her will. But when I told her I was gay and no longer going to continue in trying to change my sexuality, she told me to delete her contact information and never speak to her again.
Q: Reparative therapy is still being promoted by Christian groups. What would you want to say to them?
A: To those who still promote reparative therapy or hope it could work for them or a family member, I hope they realize this path leads to a horrid dead end. It’s harmful and excruciatingly painful. There’s no academic or spiritual basis for its promotion. I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone, not even the ones who harmed me the most in this life. [tweetable]In the end, my sexuality is a beautiful gift from God,[/tweetable] and every day, I have found, I have to make a choice to honor it in the straight man’s world.
Follow my Twitter and Facebook for all things LGBT Christian. The comment section has been closed for this piece. If you have comments pertaining to the piece please feel free to email me at eliel[email protected]. Read my follow up piece on this interview here.