By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"I care for her soul," she says of the woman whom she kissed. "I don't want her to go to hell."
"I know this sounds really weird," said Thomas, who claims that the Holy Spirit compelled him to speak to the man. "I'm not trying to pick you up, but if you ever need someone to pray for you, let me know."
Blake Phillips did.
He remembers when he was 13, sitting in the pew of a charismatic church, listening to the preacher speak about Sodom and Gomorrah. As if he had just tasted a lemon, the pastor scrunched his lips when he uttered that dreaded word--homosexuality. Young Blake felt caught, as if the pastor were personally addressing him. Blake hadn't told anyone of his intrigue with the male form, of his fascination with the body that went beyond mere curiosity. But during gym class at his Plano school, the other boys always teased him. He was a faggot. A fairy boy. He was terrified.
He remembered that time when he was five, when his mother--the wife of an alcoholic salesman who spent most of his time away from the family--told Blake she had given her life to Christ. There, in his bedroom that day, he had knelt with his mother, Mary, and recited the sinner's prayer.
As he grew older, he understood that, as a Christian, he had been saved by grace. But there were also feelings--and an awakening brewing inside him--that he couldn't resolve.
When he was 20, his parents confronted him one night. They saw his late hours, the male friends who came home with him.
He was lying on his bed, listening to the Pet Shop Boys' "Opportunities," when they came in. "Are you gay?" asked his father.
"Yes," he shot back defiantly.
"Are you happy?"
But he wasn't. "Far from it," he now admits.
In the past 12 years, he has tried--with his mother's help--to overcome both his homosexuality and an addiction to cocaine. His gray-blue eyes seem tired, the dark circles beneath them alluding to lifelong pain. He has endured two suicide attempts in the 1980s--one with sleeping pills, the other with carbon monoxide--and the on-again, off-again life of a sexually abstinent Christian. There was the now-defunct ex-gay group, Emmanuel Ministry, which he attended for a year in San Antonio. "A live-in program." That's what the 34-year-old Philips, a stocky man with a penchant for silver rings, calls it. There, he lived in a four-bedroom house with seven other men. Those who ran the ministry watched his every move. His only escape came during the day, when he did administrative work for a company called Power Controls. He also found time for a "couple of encounters," full ones, with other men. The ministry asked him to leave. He didn't have the right "heart attitude," they told him.
In the years ahead, he sought out gay encounters, but he also tried another ministry, this time in Austin. Again no luck. He soon found himself in what became a two-year, "very co-dependent" relationship with a man. That same empty feeling, that spiritual void, always returned, he says. In 1994, he was with his mother at Grace Vineyard Christian Fellowship, an Arlington church, when Randy Thomas offered to pray for him.
A few months later, he started attending Living Hope. He's had setbacks since then. A few more gay encounters. But in the last three years, he hasn't had sex. And he goes to the ministry's nightly meetings every Thursday.
"People know that I'm coming out of the homosexual lifestyle," he says, his voice lowered almost to a whisper as he speaks in an Arlington coffee shop.
Asked why he's speaking so low, Philips says, "I guess it's a stigma because...OK, you're already a minority because you're gay. Then you're doubling your minority when you're ex-gay."
"This should be interesting. We have this dude on the line who claims to be ex-gay," says Larry Wachs, one of the two radio hosts. "Let's see. If I get this straight, you are a former homosexual and you say you were converted to heterosexuality."
"Well, I was a homosexual who converted to Christianity," Thomas says.
"Yeah," says one of the DJs, sounding skeptical.
"...And now I'm in the process of becoming more Christ-like," Thomas continues, "with heterosexuality being a by-product of that."
"So the voice goes last," says Wachs, alluding to Thomas' slightly high-pitched, soft-spoken intonation. "I guess that's the last thing that falls."
"Yeah," says the other DJ, "that affectation."
"Congratulations, first of all," Wachs says.
Thomas sounds a bit hesitant. "Thank you."
"So you like gals now, huh?"
"Um, I have experienced an orientation shift, yes."