On December 13, an anti-gay speaker named Tommy Vallejos spoke in opposition to my proposal for the City of Clarksville to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the City’s internal hiring nondiscrimination policy. During his five minute scripted speech, he laid out a series of distorted facts, misapplied laws (including a clear confusion as to just what Tennessee’s Equal Access to Interstate Commerce Act really covers), and outright falsehoods.

One of the most egregious twists is his ridiculous claim that “people can and do change their sexual preference and practices,” noting that he, a Latino, can not change the color of his skin. I’ve written on the topic of conversion therapy and “ex-gay” mindsets extensively, so my regular readers will cringe at his obvious ignorance to reality. He told me in an email that “we have married couples that were members of our church who were both gay, but now have two kids and happy serving God.  So yes it can happen.”

Clearly, Vallejos is confused as to what sexual orientation is, and how it differs from sexual identity and sexual activity. The problem with this is that so many within the anti-gay crowd do not understand that gay people get married to people of the opposite sex all the time — even having children — in order to better fit in to their religious environment. Often, they do so, assuming that it will be “proof” that they have truly changed, or that they have been shamed into leaving behind their gay past so that they can live “right” by living a lie.

The fact is that just because couples in his church have gotten married — does not mean they are no longer gay. Sexual activity does not define sexual orientation. It simply means they have gotten married. Nothing more, nothing less.

If being married was proof that they have truly been changed, then why did that not work for John Paulk, the celebrated ex-gay leader who resigned in shame after being photographed in a gay bar? Why did it not work for John Smid, a man who has not only been married for quite some time, but was director of the country’s oldest ex-gay ministry? Smid is now openly gay, still very much of a Christian, and has written a spiffy new book on his journey. Even Alan Chambers, current president of Exodus International, the country’s largest ex-gay ministry network, admits that people can not change their sexual orientation.

It didn’t work for Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, two of the founding members of Exodus International. The two men left the group after realizing they had fallen in love with each other. Add to that the hundreds of people that went through Love in Action without being changed, and the thousands of still-gay men and women who went through other Exodus International. With “success” rates like this, would a drug rehabilitation program still be supported?

Here’s a taste of reality: Ex-gay ministries are more for the those who send people to them than the people who are sent. They are little more than the carpet under which the Church sweeps their gay “dirt.”

The fact is that people know what their sexual orientation is long before they have sex. But if anyone is interested in knowing whether or not a person’s sexuality is innate, ask the mother of any gay man. They’ll tell you. When I came out to my own mother a few years back, she thought about it for a few minutes, and said, “okay, that explains a lot.” How many “coming out” conversations go like this:

“Mom, I’m gay.”

“Hell, I’ve known that for years. Now pass the butter.”

The fact is that sexual orientation is indeed a core part of a person’s psyche and research has shown time and again that it is immutable. We don’t know for sure if people are “born” gay, but what we do know is that these core attractions are formed at a very early age:

According to current scientific and professional understanding, the core attractions that form the basis for adult sexual orientation typically emerge between middle childhood and early adolescence. These patterns of emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction may arise without any prior sexual experience. People can be celibate and still know their sexual orientation-–be it lesbian, gay, bisexual, or heterosexual.

Indeed, Vallejos’ comment about “sexual preference” is a twist of words that plays down the reality — and the importance — of a person’s sexual orientation. In every case, men who are “ex-gay,” will eventually reveal that the “fine print” says that they are “still tempted” (read: still gay). The fact that someone chooses to live a lie — to themselves, their spouse, and to their church — only shows the level of shame that some within the church, including Tommy Vallejos, still heap on their gay and lesbian neighbors.

If the leaders of ex-gay ministries say they don’t work, then why does the Church still buy into this nonsense? Easy answer: because lies are more comfortable and shame remains the Church’s greatest weapon.

Maybe we should start shaming the lies.

The proposal is to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the city’s internal nondiscrimination code. Not “sexual preference.” Those four words will add to the dignity and well-being of all of the City’s employees, and it’s time for us to stop letting shame and distortion keep us from doing the right thing.

Let’s get it done.