About two dozen LGBTs and allies showed up to protest the Exodus International "ex-gay" conference in Rockford Saturday, Sept. 25.
Representatives from Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Gay Liberation Network, and Diversity of Rockford spent two hours outside the church, and were given honks of support from most drivers speeding by the Rockford First Church on Spring Creek Road. One man in a red pickup truck yelled "faggot" as he sped by.
Rockford First Lead Pastor Jeremy DeWeerdt came out to greet the protesters, accompanied by Lisa, who did not give her last name. But he was not there to accept them, just to shake hands. When asked what his church believes about gays, he said they follow "what the Bible says." Pressed further, he said they have church members who are struggling to overcome homosexuality, and that those people are welcome in his church. Basically, the "hate the sin, love the sinner" argument. But he quickly steered away from the media and went back into the conference.
Exodus International is a group of alleged "ex-gays," and the conference was called "Love Won Out."
"Love Won Out sugarcoats bigotry with messages of a loving god, while supporting discrimination against [ LGBT ] people in employment, housing, public accommodations," said David Kirk, one of the protest organizers and a native of Rockford, in an advance press release. "They target vulnerable young Americans with a fake 'therapy' program denounced by every major professional psychological association. It is nothing more than a textbook case of brainwashing."
As the press release for the protest stated: "And more than just gays and lesbians are hurt by Exodus's bromides. 'Ex-Gay' congregants are typically urged to stay in loveless heterosexual marriages, despite the pain that it causes their partners. Their own leaders periodically scandalize the movement by 'going off the wagon' and engaging in gay sex."
Kayt Free, former president of the Rockford College gay/straight alliance ( now called EMBRACE, Equality Means Bringing Real Awareness ) , was another organizer of the protest, along with Brent Holman-Gomez of GLN. They were joined Saturday by people from Rockford, Chicago, and a range of surrounding cities and towns, including Woodstock, Woodale, Mt. Prospect and St. Elmo.
There were two moms who brought their children, Leah and her daughter Crete, 11, of the Rockford Unitarian Church, and Amy Pirtle with her son Bobby, 15, who just recently came out to his family.