By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Later, as Thomas and his friend sat together at a pancake house in Bedford, he asked, "So what do you think about us gay people now?" She was direct: "I believe it's a sin." But she added, "If God calls something a sin, that means He has something better for you."
Thomas was angry, perturbed. He believed wholeheartedly that he was born gay. But he couldn't stop thinking about her newfound faith, and two months later, while alone in his living room, he thought of a passage from Leviticus--one of the few he knew from those times when Christians had tried to convert him. "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination."
From that scripture, the word "it" stuck out. In his mind's eye, Thomas could see the first man he fell in love with, Ron, who a year after their involvement died of complications from AIDS. Even today when Thomas recalls their sexual relationship, he does so in sensuous terminology. "The Lord," he says, "reminded me of my very first lover, and the Lord was standing beside my bed of sin." Thomas understood then: God doesn't hate me, but "it," the "abomination."
"In that moment, I knew that He had seen everything that I and my partner were trying to do for each other." God had watched them having sex, and, Thomas sensed, God also knew that they both had been fruitlessly trying--in their "erotic, romantic way"--to fill an emotional and spiritual void. Thomas "felt the Lord's grief." Now, "it's one of the most liberating scriptures that I know." He finds comfort in this "non-compromising, sovereign God."
His gay friends didn't like what he had to say. "I'm a Christian," he would tell them, "and I don't want to be gay anymore."
"What you're doing is hateful," was one's response, a man with whom Thomas worked in computers at a downtown Dallas corporation. "You're being brainwashed." Other gay friends thought the same; they stopped seeing him.
These days, Thomas says he no longer harbors his "gay dream" of finding the perfect man with whom to share the twin Accords and live behind a white picket fence with a cat and a dog and some adopted kids. "I do not identify as gay or ex-gay or a straight-wannabe.
"I am a lot more than my sexuality," he says. "One part of who I am is the heterosexuality, which I'm developing. I'm also struggling with my homosexuality, which is falling away."
But he says, "My worst days as a Christian are better than my best days as a non-believer."
Thomas clearly gives the impression that he wants to shake his effeminate side. During another point in the interview, he mentions that his voice has become deeper since his conversion, though he still sounds "nelly" when he's upset. He's also begun to like football.
Eddie Traughber, his friend and, as Thomas calls him, his "accountability person," sees "progress." "His voice is deeper," says Traughber, a 32-year-old minister affiliated with a Church of Christ congregation in Garland. He's less flamboyant and doesn't gesture with his hands as often when he's talking, says the minister, who met Thomas at an Irving church seminar for "homosexual recovery" back in 1994. Married with two daughters, Traughber's been straight his whole life, but he still relates to Thomas. "I struggle with lust also," he says. They usually speak once a week, with Traughber offering prayer and encouragement for those temptations that, Traughber says, "come up from time to time" for Thomas.
Still, Thomas insists he's experienced a genuine "orientation shift."
"I'm attracted to women on every level," he says. "I have a desire to get married and have children, but even if it doesn't happen, a life lived celibately is better than a life lived gay."
He does see women, but rarely. In the last year, he's been on three dates with people he met at his church. A few years back, Thomas was briefly engaged to a young woman, a former lesbian. They never went further than holding hands. Never kissed. "But that's going to change the next time," he says, grinning. "Kissing is an important part of a relationship." Theirs fizzled, though, because "we were more in love with the idea of each other." But, he says, God continues to open his eyes "on a spiritual level" to the "beauty of my sisters in Christ." And his involvement with Living Hope, which began in 1992 when he heard about it through a worship leader at a church he was attending, is for real, he says, even though he will "always struggle with temptation."
Of course, the most famous ex-gay ministry, Exodus International, a network of ministries from which Living Hope gets referrals, has a blight on its reputation: Two of its founders, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, became lovers and left the organization in 1979. According to Newsweek, some 13 Exodus ministries have closed because their directors returned to homosexuality.
Thomas has no intention of joining them. "I have no desire to be in a gay relationship," he says. Today, as director of Living Hope, he leads many of its meetings in the Dallas area, which usually attract between 80 and 100 people a week. He won't let any member of the media attend, nor will he say where the groups meet. "It's to keep it a safe place," he says, adding that he doesn't want to spark protests or acts of vandalism. Thomas will say this, though: The inter-denominational Living Hope Ministries isn't about reparative therapy or any 12-step program. It's about finding change through a belief in Jesus Christ.