As Jo shut the door behind her, something on the bulletin board across the hall caught her eye. The perfect Caucasian family smiled from a poster: mother, father, son, and daughter with bright white teeth and perfectly groomed features. Above their heads the poster read “And God created them in His own image. Male and female he created them.” The words below the model family were “Empowered Identity Workshop: Wednesdays @ 6 p.m.” In smaller print was a notice that the cost for attending the workshop series was $200. The sessions were open only to girls aged twelve through sixteen.
The workshop, and many of Martin Oberhaus’s words, reflect a real pastoral interview I found while researching the subject of gay conversion techniques.
“Did you have questions about the workshops?” someone asked from down the hall.
Jo turned to see Martin Oberhaus smiling widely. His teeth were as white and well ordered as the lion’s mane of hair on his head. He could have been the grandfather of the family pictured on the poster.
“You don’t look old enough to have a daughter to participate,” he continued as he walked toward her. “But if you have concerns about some other young woman, I would be happy to talk to the parents about the benefits of having their child attend.”
“This is only for girls?” Jo asked.
He had stopped in front of her and stood with fingertips tented in front of him. He bowed slightly, still smiling. “We are hoping to offer a similar series to young men sometime in the future. The intent is to offer an environment where the girls feel free to express themselves.”
“What is this, exactly? A support group for gay kids?” Jo was pretty sure the idea was the exact opposite of that. The age restrictions seemed odd to her, and the bible verse quoted inferred otherwise.
Oberhaus’s face creased with anxiety. “Oh no. We specifically gear the workshops to girls who are too young to really grasp the implications of their sexual identity. This is the age where young people may begin to question their sexuality and they often need guidance to make the right decision.”
“And the right decision is …” Jo paused, waiting for him to fill in the words, “To walk the straight and only acceptable path.”
Instead, he hesitated, his smile a bit brittle but only for an instant. “We offer conversation without condemnation. No one demands they make a particular decision. Participation is totally voluntary. I mean, think about it. Who would agree to be counseled or mentored by someone trying to shove an opinion down your throat?”
Someone troubled and lost, Jo thought. Someone looking for a strong role model because of their own low self esteem. Someone like Lilly.