Record low turnout for ‘ex-gays’ in Sugarland?

The “ex-gay” group Exodus International held its quarterly Love Won Out convention near Houston this weekend. The Houston Chronicle reports that about 450 people attended the conference at Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugarland:

Outside the church, dozens of protesters lined up near the Southwest Freeway to complain about the group’s message. Exodus president Alan Chambers argued the group is anything but anti-gay.

“The fact of the matter, I was gay, the people who are leading these ministries were gay,” Chambers said. “We know what anti-gay felt like. That is something we could never be. And so for us, because of our faith and because of our beliefs and because of our experience, decided we wanted something different.”

The group holds the Love Won Out conferences four times a year throughout the country. And wherever Exodus International heads, critic Wayne Besen follows, gathering locals to protest the group.

Besen, the founder of Truth Wins Out and author of Anything but Straight, has been countering Exodus International’s image of homosexuality for several years. “They present it to be a miserable life that is either going to end in death or loneliness or unhappiness and that’s not true,” he said. “You are entitled to your own opinion, you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Besen reports on TWO’s blog that it may have been a record low turnout for Love Won Out.

The event included an officer from the Sugar Land police force that deliberately harassed and ticketed me for allegedly jaywalking. It was clear that this was rogue cop with an attitude problem. The other officers on the scene had been easy to get along with. There were also a few fundamentalists who came into the protest to argue scripture, showing that they were both ignorant of the Bible and homosexuality.

While our protest was a success, Love Won Out continues its decline, with perhaps a record low attendance of 450 people in the nation’s fourth largest city. The failure of Exodus at home is one reason the hate group is increasingly pushing its destructive message overseas in nations where LGBT people are unable to defend themselves for fear of persecution and even violence.

Watch video from TWO’s protest below.

—  John Wright

And your 2011 Voice of Pride winners are …

Voice of Pride individual winner Dru Rivera, from left, and group winners Spare Parts, made up of Angie Landers and Robert Olivas. (Photos by Gregory Hayes/Dallas Voice)

On Sunday night, the Rose Room hosted the 2001 Voice of Pride finals and, with some surprises. The competition started in early June and whittled down from hundreds of entrants to a strong handful of talent. With 10 solo finalists and three groups competing for top honors, the night belonged to both new and old faces.

The competition for group contestants grew exponentially. Steelos and AMP(H) rounded out the group finalists but by the end of it all, one group rose above the rest. Spare Parts set a high bar delivering oodles of chemistry and charm. As soloists, both are fine performers, but Robert Olivas and Angie Landers brought out something in each other that I hadn’t seen from either before. Landers was letting the audience have it as she poured her heart into Jason Aldean’s “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” Olivas let her shine but didn’t disappear by solidly holding up his end of the vocals and even performance. It really was a great moment as they finished to rousing applause, and this was only their first song. They followed up with the punchier “Stuck Like Glue” by Sugarland. With simple but effective choreography, they delighted with a strong showing and even the bauble at the end of the song added charm rather than detriment.

“After six years, it’s finally happened,” Olivas said while walking to the Round-Up Saloon for a post-victory celebration. Their excitement on stage after the announcement was a genuinely sweet moment.

In the individual competition, the decision had to have been a difficult one. Each of the 10 finalists delivered strongly and feasibly, any of them could have deservedly taken it home. But in the end, Dru Rivera crooned a beautiful “Cryin'” and rocked out with “Dream On,” and he ended up with the title of Voice of Pride. I figured he’d place high, but thought the winner might have been between Angie Landers and Kristen Philips. Landers was riding high from her strong performances with Olivas, and Philips killed everyone in the room with her rendition of “River Deep, Mountain High.” But Vanessa Guzman rallied with a strong second song — a fun and engaging “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” by Etta James. But it was Rivera’s connection to his inner rock god that I think pushed him to the top. He body-slammed the audience with his take on the signature Aerosmith tune and proved that even classic rock can win over a gay crowd. The other top finalists included 4th runner-up Joel Canales, 3rd runner-up Juliana Jeffrey, 2nd runner-up Kristen Philips and 1st runner-up Vanessa Guzman.

It was a riveting moment because I think Rivera’s victory came as a surprise to some being that there were more familiar faces in the running, but the audience still roared and applauded his win. Interestingly, it was his first time to participate in the event. As the winner, he won a $3,000 cash prize, a trip to Puerto Rico and a performance at Pride in September.

—  Rich Lopez