The world needs more people like Josh Sanders, who stands up for positive self-love and acceptance.
This Sunday, TLC plans to air a one-hour special, My Husband ‘s Not Gay, which follows four Mormon men who are attracted to other men. The majority of the men in the program are married to females while another one is actively looking for a wife. These guys live day in and day out knowing that they are gay, or at least bisexual, but are doing everything in their power to repress their desires. Why? Because their faith, family, and friends tell them that homosexuality is wrong and something that they should deny at all costs.
Upon hearing about the show, the openly gay Sanders, who is a devout Christian, took to Change.org and wrote a petition telling TLC why they should pull the show and stop it from airing. So how many people agreed with Sanders and signed his petition? As of press time, over 120,000!! And the number keeps growing with every minute.
Sanders, who resides in Virginia Beach, states in his petition that My Husband’s Not Gay “promotes the false and dangerous idea that gay people can and should choose to be straight in order to be part of their faith communities.” Sanders briefly discusses his experience with what is known as reparative, or conversion therapy, a harmful practice that aims to “turn” or “fix” homosexual oriented people and make them straight. Nearly every major medical authority has denounced the practice as unethical, immoral, ineffective, and downright dangerous. Sanders writes, “I was promised I could change, and told that I should ‘pray the gay away,'” he says. “In the end, the only thing that this so-called ‘therapy’ did was stoke a growing despair that maybe my life wasn’t worth living.” How awful is that?
GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) agrees with Sanders and supported him when he heard about the show and turned to them to consider writing the petition. “This show is downright irresponsible,” said GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. “No one can change who they love, and, more importantly, no one should have to. By investing in this dangerous programming, TLC is putting countless young LGBT people in harm’s way.” Ellis also told ABC’s Good Morning America, “It’s irresponsible to be airing a show that sexual orientation is a choice and that’s a discredited and old idea.”
In a Hot2Molly.com exclusive interview, Josh spoke more about his own experiences coming to terms with being gay, the harm caused by trying to repress his sexuality, and why TLC needs to listen to the masses and cancel the upcoming program.
H2M: Take us back to the first moment you heard about the show. What were the very first thoughts that popped into your head?
JS: My first thought was it took me back to my own personal journey, my own experience with my faith and my faith experience. I identify as a Christian and I was involved with sports ministry for a number of years, as I am a former athlete. And when I came out, there was a backlash. I was no longer able to return to the job that I was involved in. I was unable to get a reference. I was isolated by my church community and lost a lot of relationships. It brought me back to my own experience with reparative therapy – I tell people that I ‘survived’ six months of reparative therapy – and being told that there’s something unnatural about you. I grew up believing that I was an abomination. I was told I was going to hell. You experience first hand a lot of the extremists out there, and that’s heavy, extremely heavy. I also know of and thought about the background of the Mormon church and how they’ve been a strong supporter when it comes to most of the anti-gay movement. I thought about the work I’ve done with GLAAD; I work with a nonprofit called GO! Athletes, where I’m the Director of External Engagement, and I’ve worked with the LGBT Sports Coalition. So I heard about this show and I saw a trailer for it and was disgusted. I struggled to answer the same questions that these men are struggling with and I did everything I could to make myself straight. And I was told I couldn’t be a man of faith and also be gay and I think this show just sends a very exclusive and damaging message, especially to young people. Because the fact is, it’s possible to reconcile someone’s sexual orientation. I’m living proof that millions of LGBT people are people of faith and that millions of people of faith celebrate LGBT people.
H2M: How fast did you go to action writing the petition after finding out about the show?
JS: Quickly. When I was first told about it, I worked with GLAAD and said ‘we need to make this issue happen and we need to send a strong message to TLC.’ The network needs to listen to the over 100,000 people that have signed and listen to every medical professional that condemns this type of message, which has its roots in reparative therapy, and cancel the show.
H2M: How long after you posted the petition did it take until you first started noticing the amazing amount of support and responses?
JS: It took off quick. I think it was December 29th that the petition came out and quickly, within a week, we had over 60,000 signatures. To pick up as much coverage as it’s gotten has been amazing. I really appreciated the Good Morning America piece. A lot of the media outlets, I think they recognize that the show really is sending a dangerous message. We want to hold TLC accountable for turning the struggles of people into entertainment.
H2M: You are so open about going through reparative therapy in the petition. How would you summarize your experience with it and what would you say were the most harmful elements of the process?
JS: It’s a very shaming experience. For me, I was told that there was something about my sexuality that was broken, that it probably had its roots in having divorced parents, an overbearing mother, or the absence of a father. And I actually have a great relationship with my dad! People are told that there’s some type of sexual misconduct that has led them to experience same-sex attraction and that, with enough prayer and getting to the roots of those issues, you can change your sexuality. I was encouraged to think about relationships with women and date women and I think that parallels the message that’s in the show. Rather than living openly and honestly and being authentic, because people need to be who they are, I was told to repress. The process teaches you to repress your sexual inclinations and your attractions and pretend. So that becomes very exhausting. Thankfully for me, I came out later in life and I was able to question what I was being told. I think about the youth, young people who don’t have that support system. Personally for me, this is why I was disgusted, there were definitely times during my experience where I did question the value of my life. Because I was being told that I would change but what I was experiencing was that I was still attracted to men. The way I reconciled it was that I believe that we are created with the capacity to love another person, and that person doesn’t have to have an assigned gender.
H2M: I would think that that searching for a reason, looking for something to pinpoint from your past, would be so exhausting and detrimental.
H2M: One of the most moving sentences in the petition was when you said ‘In the end, the only thing that this so-called ‘therapy’ did was stoke a growing despair that maybe my life wasn’t worth living.’ That sentence is extremely heartfelt and instantly takes the reader to your frame of mind and experience during that time. What did you do to turn that despair around?
JS: I started living my life for myself. I identify as a Christian and what I believe is that there are two different types of relationships in my belief system. One is a personal relationship that you have with your Creator and I call that the vertical relationship. Then you have the horizontal relationships, which is with people of like-mind. What I have seen and what I have experienced is that, in my opinion, people within the Mormon church, which this show is highlighting, put their horizontal relationships over their vertical relationship. So rather than actually being defined by who their Creator is, they are letting other people define them. So when you have young people being bullied, being told by adults, being told by the pulpit that there is something unnatural about who they are, that there is something shameful about who they are, that they are not as good as their heterosexual counterparts, that is so damaging to a person, specifically to a young person who is still figuring everything out. LGBT are four times as likely to commit suicide.
H2M: Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. There is, happily and more than ever, frequent recognition and displays of the acceptance of gay lifestyles in the media. Is it fair to say that, for people who are living lives similar to the men on the program, this show is their opportunity to see people like themselves represented on a television program?
JS: It’s a fair question. And I can’t speak to their experience. But I know my own and I know the experiences of the many people I have spoken with, especially within a young and athletic community through GO! and through the Sports Coalition. For me, it’s no excuse. TLC is using their platform to reinforce this idea that LGBT people need to repress their sexual orientation. And the responsible thing is to cancel the show. I think they need to apologize to those LGBT people and communities of faith. If you look at the Good Morning America piece, and again, I can’t speak to what those men are going through. I don’t know them. I haven’t spoken with them. I would love to speak with them at some point. But there are two things that stood out to me. One was when one of the participants talked about being oriented to donuts. There was this comparison of being oriented to donuts with his sexual preferences. He said something like, ‘Just because I’m oriented to donuts doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and eat all these donuts.’ That’s just absurd. But I’ve heard these same types of comparisons in my own experiences. The other thing that stood out was that one of the show participants said, ‘Just like I cannot choose not to be gay, I cannot choose not to be a person of faith.’ I’ve heard that same language and was told that same thing in my experience. It sends an exclusive message that you can’t be both; You can’t identity as lesbian, gay, bi, or transgender and you also be a person of faith. That’s just a lie. So you think about young people hearing that and being told and reinforced, which is what this show is doing. For me and millions of others, enough is enough. Leelah Alcorn, the transgendered youth who committed suicide was just a week ago. It’s enough. Any time I hear that story, that another youth has taken their own life, that wears heavily on me.
H2M: One of the men on the show says ‘I’m attracted to men but I’m also attracted to my wife.’ Is it possible the men on the show could be bisexual, as opposed to repressed homosexuals?
JS: Sure! I think that bisexuality is a very real thing and I know people who identify with bisexual orientation. I know that’s not my experience and not the experience of many others but I can’t take that away from them. But I know bisexual people who aren’t ashamed to be bisexual.
H2M: Exactly! It would be different if he had said ‘I’m bi, and I’m here to talk about being bi and Mormon’ but that is definitely not the message he’s projected.
H2M: You said you’d love to talk to the men on the show one day. If you could ask the men any one question or say any one thing, what would you said?
JS: I’d want to know why they did the show.
H2M: I’ve been thinking a lot about the women on the show. Do you have anything you would ask or say to the wives?
JS: I’ve wondered what their experiences have been because I would think that that has to just feel heavy, all of the time.
H2M: They look in love with their husbands but it must be a distressing life.
JS: I don’t question that. There are three couples and one single man and I’m not questioning their love. I’m not questioning that they are attracted to each other. The issue I have is that TLC is exploiting their experiences. And that is dangerous, and it’s proven that it is dangerous.
H2M: Other than taking the show off the air, what do you hope TLC learns from your petition and this experience?
JS: I want them to learn that there are consequences to dangerous programming. And I don’t know what that looks like but they need to be held accountable. The Learning Channel put something out there that is ignorant. There needs to be an accountability, especially when people’s lives are at stake. TLC could actually make a positive different; cancel the show and put a show on the air that celebrates people, not one that shames people. Put a show on the air that is about people in healthy, loving marriages. It could be heterosexual marriage, it could be same-sex marriage. To me, there is no difference between the two. I understand that, for a lot of people within the church, a ‘normalized marriage’ is seen through gender. They’re not thinking anything beyond the sexual part of it. The reality is, I have friends of mine in same-sex marriages and their marriages and families are healthy and their kids are happy.
H2M: There are a lot of television programs that people watch to ‘get off’ on seeing other people struggle or go through pain. TLC is showing these couples’ day-to-day struggles. It’s excellent that people like you are taking stands against some of the negative programming on television.
H2M: What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation as you were in when you were struggling with your homosexuality?
JS: I would say find people who are going to support you for who you are. This is what I tell young people that I talk to: There’s nothing wrong with you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You’ve been created to be who you are, with the capacity to love another person the way you do.
H2M: You may be the first person who ever told them that. It’s so powerful.
JS: Young people need to hear that they are worth it. Those who take their lives, they don’t believe that, they don’t know that. So they need to hear that they are worth it.
H2M: Tell me more about the GO! Athletes and LGBT Sports Coalition organizations that you’re involved with.
JS: I got involved with GO! Atheletes in 2013. I was a former athlete, I played basketball, and coached and was involved with sports. When I came out, that was taken away from me. GO! is a large network of LGBT people and we work on educating and encouraging young people and people in every area of sport and work towards creating safe and competitive environments for all people. Go! Athletes is part of the larger LGBT Sports Coalition. There are other organizations that are involved in that circle and the goal is to end discrimination within athletics and create those safe, competitive environments. Outsports is another great, similar outlet.