Photo by Pedro Lima on Unsplash

For nearly 20 years, Peterson Toscano underwent a variety of treatments meant to suppress his homosexuality. Two of those years were spent at Love in Action, a residential treatment center in Memphis.

The religious-based ex-gay movements are meant to straighten gays out but often do more harm than good, Toscano said.

"Right now, people in some churches feel that they must hide the fact they are gay for fear they will be thrown out," Toscano said. "Many of us have tried to change, but instead of finding a blessing, the programs I attended nearly destroyed my faith and my life."

Toscano offered his unique perspective as part of the Our Family Matters Conference held Oct. 22 through 25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville.

God & Gays: Bridging the Gap - Official Trailer

Launched as a live version of Kim Clark's acclaimed documentary, God and Gays: Bridging the Gap, the conference addressed questions related to the relationship between God and the GLBT community. The event will include a film festival, live concerts, national keynote speakers Jack Rogers and Rev. Deborah Johnson, and three days of workshops.

Mary Lou Wallner, an Arkansas woman who lost her lesbian daughter to suicide, also spoke at the event about her experiences to help struggling parents reach out to their children. Wallner is a part of TEACH Ministries (To Educate About the Consequences of Homophobia) which works to save lives and prevent parents from losing a child to suicide because they are gay or lesbian.

Reverend Cindy Andrews-Looper of Nashville's Holy Trinity Community Church said she expected the event to be life changing for many people. She requested that Clark bring the event to Nashville.

“We’re reaching out to families and holding fast to Jesus Christ, and our affirming views bring reconciliation to both families and individuals," Andrews-Looper said. "This event will certainly change, and maybe even save some lives."

God and Gays: Bridging the Gap is a personal documentary told from the perspective of people who have and continue to struggle with reconciling their orientation and spirituality. The film has been used in colleges, churches and community groups across the country.

Reverend Jim Kitchens, pastor of the host church, said the event will demonstrate the support of GLBT people from straight members of area churches.

"There are many more affirming churches in Tennessee than most initially think," Kitchens said. "Most mainstream congregations are very inclusive and welcome everyone as they are, with open arms. Especially given the recent shooting at the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Knoxville, it's important that we all stand together to give public witness to our love for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters."

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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