Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pray the gay away?

Portland Fellowship

"My continuing passion is to part a curtain, that invisible veil of indifference that falls between us and that blinds us to each other's presence, each other's wonder, each other's human plight.” - Eudora Welty

My role as a journalist is to introduce readers to people they may not see. Usually that means 'parting the curtain' on marginalized communities, but occasionally it also means delving into the lives of those on the other end of the fringe. Right now, Oregon and other states are considering a ban on conversion therapy for young people. As people in Oregon testified, they frequently spoke of one local group, Portland Fellowship. I called them up, and they were very open to having a story done. They shared their workbooks and personal stories. The result is a story that's a different focus for me. Check it out:

The world has changed since Portland Fellowship, a nonprofit that aims to deliver people from homosexual desire, first opened a quarter century ago.

Gays and lesbians are more widely accepted across the country. Other "ex gay" leaders have given up the fight -- and in some cases apologized for their earlier work. President Barack Obama has called for an end to conversion therapy for children.

And Oregon lawmakers are poised to ban the practice. Although the bill they're considering wouldn't impact Portland Fellowship, much of the testimony in favor of it has focused on the Southeast Portland organization.

Executive Director Jason Thompson does not care. Business remains steady, he said, and the need is still there.

"Even if the world goes completely pro-gay and gay marriage is the law of the land, people will still come here because they live according to a different system, a different faith, a different priority, worldview than the world," Thompson said.

Portland Fellowship doesn't promote hate, he said. It promotes love.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Team of Dreams

East African All Stars 16

I spent six months following a group of Somali teenagers around. They've been fighting to build a community, to do good even as bad stalks their neighborhoods. Of course, choosing the right path isn't one decision. It's a daily commitment. Sometimes they falter. The story ran a few weeks ago in the Oregonian. Here's a preview:

Mohamed Juma stormed away, memories of sand and civil war still burning inside him.

Back in Kenya, where the Somali teenager lived in refugee camps for 16 years, other boys used to huddle around a cellphone watching YouTube videos of LeBron James. They told Juma, who towered over them at 6-foot-5, that he should go to America and play basketball.

He did. Juma and his family moved to Portland in 2013, and he was soon discovered by the East African All Stars, a makeshift team of teenage boys who played on an elementary school court with rusted rims and tattered nets. Juma's new teammates bought him hamburgers and tennis shoes. Together, they won a city championship and earned support from nonprofit and civic leaders, adults who understood how easy it was for African immigrants to feel adrift in their new homeland and how disappointment can lead boys down dangerous paths. The All Stars, Portland's mayor and police believed, were an answer to the threats facing Juma and other young men.

Yet for Juma, every victory seemed to bring new frustrations. The desert should have been a distant dream, but the good fell away so easily.

This winter, after a squabble about respect and possession time, Juma decided he’d had enough. Later, none of the boys could explain precisely why they had been fighting. All Juma knew for sure was that his best friends had disrespected him.

“If this team doesn’t need me, I quit,” he said.

He trudged home to the crowded East Portland apartment he shares with his mother and seven siblings. He washed and folded the uniform Nike had donated to the team at the mayor’s request.

In the end, adults can do only so much. A boy’s friends define him and his future path. They’re the only choice a young man such as Juma gets to make.