Marc Adams is a powerful speaker. The son of a fundamentalist Baptist preacher and a former “ex-gay,” Marc is the executive director of a volunteer organization that ministers to gays and lesbians educated in religious schools. He had me in tears when he spoke to our Santa Rosa PFLAG group recently.
Adams is crackling with anger—the kind of anger that demands action. In Marc’s case, he founded HeartStrong, the only organization of its kind in the world. After 10 years HeartStrong has helped nearly 1,000 students who were abused, harassed, intimidated, or isolated by their religious school experiences.
Marc’s father was so conservative that he considered Jerry Falwell liberal. Marc and his siblings were allowed to watch only religious programs on TV and only the beginning of the Jerry Falwell show, which featured music and readings. When Falwell sermonized, the TV was shut off.
When Marc was 15, he was watching the beginning of the Falwell show when Falwell himself appeared and started to talk about homosexuality. Instead of condemnation, Falwell spoke of help for those willing to change. It was the first time Marc had experienced hope.
Marc’s life was so filled with religion as a child that his point of view was narrowed. He describes religious fundamentalists as people whose mission is death- oriented; they live a life worthy of earning jewels for a heavenly crown, which upon death they present to God. Nothing else matters, Marc says, so they kill every human inclination within them until they are incapable of empathy and compassion for others.
It was this description that brought me to tears. I thought of my son who became a Mormon, married a convert from Chile, and, partly because of my gay activism, hasn’t spoken to me in eleven years. I lost the chance to see grandchildren grow up. It is heart-wrenching to think that my son may have killed every good loving instinct for his ticket to heaven.
When Marc said that his family had forbidden contact with his grandmother because she was a sinner, and that in her later years she met with Marc and became a loving force within his life, I was overwhelmed.
How great the pain must be for young people who are gay and lesbian and in schools that won’t acknowledge them as they are—who preach against their very humanity and call it perverted—who, worse, humiliate them by insensitively outing them to parents and punish them with expulsion if their secret is found out.
Because Marc’s organization is on the Internet, more youth are being helped. Marc has heard it all. He told us of a young girl whose mother severely burned her hands because she found out the girl was lesbian. HeartStrong at is there to comfort and advise youths like her.
Because of Falwell’s words, Marc decided to go to Falwell’s Liberty College. There, at age 16 he didn’t find an ex-gay ministry but he did find a boyfriend for the first six months. Terrified that he would be found out if he talked too openly, he sought an outside organization for treatment. He found out that he would have to fight his nature daily—that he would still be gay, but he couldn’t act on it. After 3 ½ years at Liberty College, Marc left, knowing he didn’t want a diploma with Jerry Falwell’s name on it.
During his time there, Marc worked on himself, stopping thoughts in his head that told him he would go to hell if he were gay or that he was a bad person. Bit by bit, he convinced himself that he was a good person and that being gay was not an evil thing to be, that he could love and accept himself just as he was.
He moved to Los Angeles, and it was there that he and his grandmother came together. At their first meeting at dinner, he could not bring himself to tell her he is gay. She wrote to him afterwards and told him that she knew from the time he was a little boy that he was gay and that she loved him just as he is. When Marc changed his name, he took his grandmother’s maiden name as his own.
Marc today is a man with a mission. He has a partner who travels with him when they go on national tours to educate people and sell Marc’s books. His most popular book is The Preacher’s Son, his autobiography, which discusses his struggles with being gay and being religious—“the only way I could live was to die,” he wrote. His new book is (lost)Found, essentially an essay on love. Reading it, I was struck by the hunger for love, how difficult love is to accept, and how wonderful love can be. Love, I know, is validation and acceptance, particularly for those whose lives have not been blessed with parental love.
It is good that Marc is still angry. With the energy created by that anger, he does important work in helping others to validate and accept themselves as they are. Maybe, too, his work takes some of the mystery out of religious fundamentalists and their opposition to living the abundant life on earth that many religion works promise.
©2006 Kay Mehl Miller. Kay is the author of Talking It Over: Understanding Sexual Diversity, Email

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