How powerful is Google? The tech company’s name becoming a verb should answer that. The first sentence of its parent company Alphabet’s code of conduct is “act honorably.”
But Wayne Besen, the founder of Truth Wins Out, said that’s not the case [the company acting honorably] and he’s leading a fight against Google and swears he’s going to win — and it’s hard to doubt him with his decades-long track record.
Besen founded Truth Wins Out, an organization that targets anti-gay religious extremism – especially the ex-gay movement — and he recently relocated the operation to Philadelphia.
He’s worried about a religious organization’s app that “targets 11- and 12-year-old kids (talking about sixth graders) with horrible anti-LGBT messages.”
Apple, Microsoft and Amazon removed the app after learning of its hateful contents, but Google still offers it and the company refuses to comment, Besen said.
“They better start answering some questions fast because the day is ending when they can claim they’re there for the LGBT community and diversity, and keep an app with such heinous messages,” Besen said. “It’s fundamentally incompatible and undermines the very core of who they say they are.”
The Change.org petition he started to get Google to act has more than 136,000 signatures.
Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims (D-182nd District) told Besen, “I have introduced legislation to ban conversion therapy in Pennsylvania so the Commonwealth can join the 15 states that have done so to protect youth from this abuse that leads to significantly higher rates of depression, substance abuse and suicidal ideation. Google’s continued failure to remove this app demonstrates it is on the wrong side of history, science and medicine.”
Florida-born Besen looks younger than you’d think, considering all he has done.
Besen came out after high school and studied broadcasting at the University of Florida, but studied the former newspaper “TWN” after sneaking into the now-closed Copa Bar in Fort Lauderdale before security guards arrived, since he was underage. He spent hours learning about the LGBTQ community and how even having sex was against the law.
At UF, he started his first LGBTQ organization, Sons and Daughters of America, to create visibility. A professor told Besen that he’d have to choose between news and advocacy, but he’d already learned he could change minds.
“I chose advocacy and it was a scary thing to do, but also exciting at the time with the debate over gays in the military, and groups like Queer Nation and ACT UP.
“I was worried this would not be a sustainable job but I underestimated how there will never be a world without an endless reservoir of hate and discrimination against LGBT people, against racial and religious minorities, and I would need to fight back. The biggest fallacy I ever had in my career was thinking there was a finish line, and one day you cross it.”
He started to focus on conversion therapy when his parents bought him a subliminal self-hypnotic tape called “Gay and Unhappy?”
“It showed them how harmful this could be, because as a non-religious Jewish family, it was still appealing to my parents. Imagine being born to a fundamentalist family. I knew it was a fraud from the very moment I listened to it because I was very close to my parents, and they blamed my bad relationship with my parents which didn’t exist, so I’m like, ‘This is a total fraud and I was very pissed off. They had ripped off my parents, took their money in a moment of fear and exploited them.’”
He lost a reporting job in Bangor, Maine. It was hard to research without the internet and his boss turned out to be a right-winger. Besen went to a gay bar on a night the guest DJ was straight. Word got back to his boss and he was fired.
“Luckily, one of the last people I interviewed was running for U.S. Senate and I got on that campaign as the openly gay press secretary. With me being out in the open, the Human Rights Campaign noticed. So after a year of working in PR, I got the opportunity to work as an HRC spokesperson. A couple months in, 15 anti-gay groups launched their million-dollar Truth and Love campaign with full-page newspaper ads supporting the ‘pray away the gay’ conversion therapy. We countered that.”
A big moment happened during that job in Washington. He heard John Paulk – of the ex-gay ministry, cover of “Newsweek,” “Oprah” and “60 Minutes” – was at the gay bar Mr. P’s.
According to Besen, “I’ve never run so fast in my life with my camera and by God it was him. And it was a photograph that just went around the world. It was like the first big relief anybody had fighting the 1998 Truth and Love campaign that showed it was complete bullshit and it’s probably one of my favorite moments in my activism career.”
He wrote a book called “Anything But Straight” and on his book tour, “These people that I never met and literally were going to commit suicide came and thanked me. The photograph of John Paulk, him running away from the bar made people know this was not going to work.”
Ironically, Besen and Paulk became friends after Paulk spoke out against these groups.
Besen is happy in Philadelphia, between the nation’s capital and the media’s capital with a lower cost of living.
He said since November, “We’ve had one major story breaking after another, which is great because that’s what you’re here for, but I really do need these hypocrites to keep their peckers in their pants for at least a few months so I can do some organizational work.”
His undercover investigation outed Miami reparative therapist Norman Goldwasser.
“Basically, we were able to show that he was hooking up with men. By day, he was trying to cure kids and by night, he was ‘Hot and Hairy’ on Manhunt and we exposed this creep.”
As for what’s next, Besen said, “All we can do is fight and scratch and claw to move the baton forward, and hand it to the next generation. From there, they will have to do the same because this is a never-ending eternal fight for decency and goodness versus evil.”
And getting the ex-gay app off Google would be a step in that direction.
Read about more of Besen’s accomplishments and sign the petition against Google at https://truthwinsout.org/.