Medford Suspends Funding for Nonprofit Homeless Grants Over Alleged Links to Conversion Therapy

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A row of tents at the Rogue Retreat Urban Campground in Grants Pass.

Courtesy of Rogue Retreat

The basis for the report released Thursday by the Siskiyou Abolition Project and Siskiyou Rising Tide comes from a pamphlet distributed to the Set Free Ministry circa 2018. The pamphlet, titled “Same Sex Attraction: The Problem and Solution for Men,” was one of ‘a series of booklets created by Celebrate Recovery focusing on what it calls the problem of ‘same-sex attraction’, explaining why the problem is wrong and providing advice for recovery groups on how to deal with it. talk. Celebrate Recovery is a 12-step Christian program founded in the 90s in Southern California.

These treatments are more commonly known as conversion therapy, where a therapist, pastor, or group of individuals attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Conversion therapy can be extremely damaging and harmful, especially when practiced with young people. According to a 2018 study According to the American Journal of Public Health, LGBTQ people aged 13 to 24 who participated in conversion therapy were twice as likely to report having attempted suicide. Almost every major medical group, including the American Psychological Association, the World Health Organization and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has denounced the practice which suggests that homosexuality is a mental illness and should be treated as such. Conversion therapy for minors is banned in Oregon, California and 13 other states, plus Washington DC

“It’s simply clear that conversion therapy is a devastating practice that truly harms LGBTQ people,” says Derek DeForest, a member of Siskiyou Rising Tide who helped compile the report.

DeForest tells Set Free Ministry to use materials from Celebrate Recovery, known for their history of promote conversion therapythe church and Pastor McComas actively promote conversion therapy themselves.

But according to Pastor McComas, his church hasn’t used the Celebrate Recovery materials for several years.

“We haven’t even had Celebrate Recovery in our church in years, so it’s not something current,” McComas says. “I don’t even know where they found this. It must be from years ago.

McComas says the pamphlet on same-sex attraction was not promoted more than any other material. He says they came up with a set of pamphlets on California organizational issues available at the church.

Confronted by DeForest at a housing and homelessness summit outside the Jackson County Expo on Thursday, McComas said he believes homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible. Asked how that belief might conflict with his work helping homeless people in Rogue Valley, McComas says he doesn’t let his personal beliefs interfere with his work or personal interactions.

“When it comes to Rogue Retreat, they don’t have those beliefs,” McComas says. “We are only here to help homeless people find a safe place to live and get the help they need. We are not here to judge them or tell them what kind of behavior they should have.

In a statement released Thursday by Rogue Retreat, the nonprofit denied that it was advocating for McComas’ religious beliefs on behalf of guests.

“Rogue Retreat is not a faith-based organization and does not promote or support conversion therapy and we do not require religious affiliation for services.”

According to DeForest, McComas’ religious beliefs could affect Rogue Retreat and create a dangerous space for homeless LGBTQ people. Rogue Retreat is the largest shelter provider in Rogue Valley, operating 12 homeless shelters in Jackson and Josephine counties with a combined capacity of over 500 beds.

“I think groups like Rogue Retreat have taken a strong hold,” DeForest says, explaining why there aren’t any LGBTQ-focused homeless shelters in the area. “They’re the ones getting all the public money right now in the valley.”

The City of Medford responded to the report on Friday, calling on the Rogue Retreat board to conduct a full investigation into the advocacy groups’ claims.

“All of these programs are established through operating agreements that contain non-discrimination provisions with the goal of ensuring that all members of the community have access to these services,” the city’s statement reads.

Until the end of the investigation, the city is withholding the $11,550 grant allocated from its general fund in 2021 for various services at Rogue Retreat, including the pantry and showers.

McComas acknowledged the possible appearance of religious influence at Rogue Retreat because he runs the Set Free Ministry and because a shuttle bus regularly takes guests to the church in Medford. But he says these services are not intended to proselytize but to give guests access to a shower trailer in the church parking lot.

DeForest says the report highlights possible dangers associated with the presence of religious homeless-serving organizations in the area, and the possibility of conflicts of interest between the founder’s personal beliefs and the organization’s mission. .

According to McComas, his personal beliefs are kept out of his work at Rogue Retreat, and he says their programs remain open and inclusive to anyone who needs help.

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