The LGBTQIA+ community and religious groups at University of Wisconsin–Stout have been stirred up after a miscommunicated message–accused of promoting conversion therapy–unintentionally aired in the Memorial Student Center (MSC) on Tuesday, Sept. 12.
Conversion therapy is an unregulated practice, which aims to change the sexual orientation of an individual.
The video in question was associated with Street Level Ministries (SLM), a UW–Stout religious student organization. The video was intended to be a preview of their latest issue of Word on the Street, the org’s college Christian magazine.
The minute-long video featured issue seventy-one of the magazine and a preview of the contents within. For a few brief seconds the screen framed a logo for Outpost Ministries, an organization based in St. Paul, along with their slogan: “Offering freedom from unwanted same-sex attraction.”
SLM said that the message was intended to preview an article in the issue titled “Loving God, Declaring Freedom.” The informational article was a review of another ministry. The phrase “conversion therapy” was not mentioned in anywhere in the article text.
Word on the Street quickly became the word on campus. The university’s Gender and Sexual Alliance (GSA) and the Qube, both LGBTQIA+ community allies, both quickly took action.
A member of the LGBTQIA+ community notified students of a “triggering video” playing in the MSC and worked with faculty to remove the content. The conversion therapy message was considered by many in the LGBTQIA+ community as a threat to student safety.
“For somebody to advertise that they will have [these conversion] therapies to correct same-sex attractions basically reiterates a lot of the experiences students have had with family members, community members, friends and loved ones saying ‘you need to change,’” said Samantha Scribner, two-year Qube staff member.
Scribner said that the individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community that have suffered from conversion may have also suffered from internalized homophobia and/or transphobia.
“Sexuality and gender are not choices,” Scribner said. Scribner also noted that the preview had “retraumatized” students who worked to escape conversion.
Following the incident, Word on the Street posted an “open letter to the Stout community,” emphasizing their respect for the LGBTQIA+ community.
A section reads: “We are against hatred, bigotry and prejudice. We believe in equal rights for all people no matter the political or religious affiliation, nationality or sexuality.”
Street Level Ministries said that the preview was not intended to be an advertisement: “We don’t believe-in conversion therapy. We don’t promote it. We don’t teach it in any way. Our organization is about pursuing God and offering a community of people that do it together.”
Scribner said that the Qube wishes to speak with SLM, as both sides of the incident are important. However, SLM said that they have not been contacted by any UW-Stout org or the LGBTQIA+ community.
“I think [SLM] is seeing our push back and our protection of students as us fighting them, and us thinking that Christians are against us, which isn’t the case,” Scribner said. The LGBTQIA+ community is supported through various Christian organizations on campus. UW–Stout religious organizations welcome students identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and others into the faith and encourage them to participate in Christian events.
Outpost Ministries was notified of the events occurring at UW–Stout through multiple inquiring students. Nate Oyloe, director of Outpost, said, “We do not work with anyone who does not want to. We simply exist for the faith community who would desire the kinds of services that we have to offer.” Oyloe went on to say, “We love all people, including the LGBTQIA+ community.”
Outpost told Stoutonia that they do not offer ‘conversion’ therapy, but counseling for those looking to escape unwanted same-sex attraction.
The Involvement Center digital signage regulator(s) accidentally missed the graphic, which otherwise would not have been aired on the MSC screens. The graphic only appeared in the video for a few seconds and was missed through regulators.
UW–Stout’s digital signage policies follow specific guidelines: it “Must be a recognized student organization or campus department” and “Must be advertising an event or announcement that is pertinent to the general campus community.”
Jennifer Lee, Involvement Center staff, said that the Involvement Center is in the process of reworking the digital signage policies for specificity.
An open meeting about the incident will be held in Ballroom B of the MSC tonight, Monday, Sept. 18, from 7-9 p.m.