Focus on the Family’s “Day of Dialogue” has a limited audience, but this year, the organization has created a lot of new materials for it, begging the question of what it still hopes to accomplish. The Day of Dialogue is an attempt to counter GLSEN’s Day of Silence every April, which is when students refuse to speak to raise awareness about the bullying LGBT people experience. Though Focus on the Family (FOTF) has mastered the art of coded language, parsing all of its materials reveals an attempt to encourage students to not only condemn homosexuality in their schools, but promote ex-gay therapy as well.
The Day of Dialogue materials — of which there is quite the disorganized smorgasbord — dedicate more time and attention to justifying the event than actually promoting its intended message. Touting the “free speech” event, FOTF’s resources promote “Let’s Talk!” wristbands, conversation cards, and of course, the Alliance Defending Freedom memo that students can present if school administrators try to squelch the event. What FOTF really wants students to promote with these conversations is harder to discern.
For example, in this new video targeting recipients of Day of Dialogue conversation cards, a student suggests a “better way to approach dialogue” about gender and sexuality that is modeled by Jesus in the Bible. The bigger question behind these issues, he suggests, is how to have a relationship with God, without specifying what that means:
Other resources similarly reference the Bible’s teaching on sexuality without clarifying what that teaching is. For example, a Powerpoint presentation for pastors suggests some vague responses if Day of Dialogue students are challenged about their participation. If a student is petitioning to allow same-sex couples attend prom, for example, a Day of Dialogue participant could respond, “I choose to follow what the Bible says about relationships and sexuality, so I can’t in good conscience sign this.” If accused of being discriminatory, a suggested response is, “I believe God has outlined the best plan for human relationships and sexuality in the Bible.”
Though it’s sufficiently buried, parsing through the materials does reveal what ideas FOTF really wants students promoting in schools: the idea that not only should homosexuality be disavowed, but that people can pray the gay away. One resource on “God’s Design for Sexuality” suggests that if someone isn’t interested in man-woman marriage, that person’s sexuality is “broken.” The article, written unsurprisingly by FOTF’s resident ex-gay Jeff Johnston, describes how these people have been “deeply wounded and hurt through the misuse of sexuality, through such wrongs as abuse, unfaithfulness, pornography, lust, rape or casual hookups.”
On another resource, “Responding to Challenges,” Day of Dialogue participants are prompted about how to respond to someone who insists that they didn’t choose to be gay. “There is no proof that it is purely genetic,” the site instructs, linking students to a 2010 page called, “Are People Really ‘Born Gay’?”, which cites debunked and disavowed “research” to blatantly promote ex-gay therapy. Then, students should tell their peers that through a relationship with God, “we learn to manage our feelings, desires, and behavior according His best plan for us.”
Among the new resources available this year are student testimonial videos, one of which presents the most obvious evidence of FOTF’s motives. In the clip, a student named Cole discusses realizing that he had “unwanted same-sex attraction,” and the associated fears he had about losing his friends and his relationship with God. “I knew I couldn’t pursue a homosexual lifestyle,” he explains, and describes how his friends connected him to a “ministry that could help.” Cole’s message is that people shouldn’t be defined by their sexual attractions. Watch it:
Though FOTF repeatedly claims that Day of Dialogue is opposed to bullying, these messages communicate a kind of psychological harm that is arguably more dastardly. Studies have repeatedly shown that students fare worse if they don’t feel comfortable with themselves or safe and accepted at school, including higher drop-out rates, poorer academic outcomes, increased suicidal thinking, and declines in health. Moreover, not only has ex-gay therapy proven to be ineffective, but survivors of it overwhelmingly report that they were convinced into the treatment when they were young and experienced harm as a result. The talking points also erase a growing community of people who identify as both Christian and LGBT.
It’s unclear how many students actually participate in the Day of Dialogue, but those who do are helping spread FOTF’s most harmful myths — and they might not even realize it.