'Ex-Gay' Chef Makes D.C. Lobbying Trip

Calling himself a target of discrimination as a member of the “ex-gay” community, an Annenberg cook traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to lobby on behalf of an organization that believes gay people can choose to become heterosexual.

Larry Houston said that working in the first-year dining hall is a “day job to pay the bills,” but that he originally came to Boston to join other former homosexuals as part of the “ex-gay ministry.”

Late last week he traveled to the nation’s capital with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), an organization that promotes the view that people are not born with a homosexual orientation and “can and do make the decision every day to seek help in overcoming unwanted same sex attraction,” according to the group’s website.

Houston said the group returning from D.C.—which included some people who identify as “ex-gays” and some who are friends or supporters—met with aides of more than 40 senators and representatives.

The purpose of the lobbying trip with PFOX was to educate political leaders about the ex-gay movement, since many in Washington are unaware of its issues, he said.

“Overwhelmingly people said, ‘We’ve never heard of an ex-gay,’” according to Houston.

He said members of the movement face social discrimination because they are not allowed to speak at high schools, participate in workshops and use public meeting spaces, while many gay-straight alliances are.

“We’re not anti-gay, we’re pro-choice,” he said. “Whenever someone has questions [about sexual identity], we’re asking, ‘May we be there, too?’”

Houston said he was invited to join the trip because of the publicity he received after a Crimson profile published in September 2001—and the discrimination that he said he faced as a result.

Following the profile, both Harvard’s United Ministry and Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 investigated whether Houston was actively proselytizing to students but did not take any action against him.

Deputy General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano told The Crimson in Nov. 2001 that Harvard protects the free speech of its employees and would be unlikely to restrict an employee’s contact with students.

And in response to letters from several gay students who questioned Houston’s presence on campus, Dean of Freshmen Elizabeth Studley Nathans wrote in a letter dated Nov. 1, 2001, “[Harvard] can—indeed sometimes must—also provide protection for what most in this community might find uncomfortable or offensive or even extraordinarily misguided or wrong ideas.”

Houston said yesterday that University officials have never spoken to him about the investigation—which he said is a violation of his rights.

“My treatment here at Harvard is a specific incidence of discrimination towards an ex-gay person,” he said.

Houston said that since Harvard has not given him any guidelines for his role on campus, he speaks to students “by invitation only,” meaning when they approach him.

If the students “need help overcoming homosexuality or are seeking personal help,” he said he refers them to the Park Street Church in Boston, an evangelical congregational church of which he is a member—but he said he also engages in private conversations with the estimated 10-12 students on campus who have become his friends.