NCLR Representing Conversion Therapy Survivor who Alleges Sexual Abuse by School Leader After Coming Out

DeSOTO COUNTY, Miss. (August 27, 2014)—Yesterday, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) helped file a complaint with the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department on behalf of a former student of Bethel Baptist School in Walls, Mississippi who says he was sexually abused for three years by a teacher attempting to “cure” his sexual orientation.

The former student, Jeff White, now 32, alleges that, shortly after coming out in 1996, his parents turned to the local church, which ran a school it promised could “cure” their son and stop him from being gay. Beginning his freshman year, according to White, teacher Steven Barnes began subjecting White to weekly “counseling” sessions in which he regularly raped and sexually assaulted the teenager to convince him that being gay was more painful than suppressing his sexual orientation.

After more than a decade of emotional turmoil, White heard about NCLR’s #BornPerfect campaign to end conversion therapy in five years. He found the courage to come forward because he wants to ensure that what happened to him will not happen to other children and to raise awareness about the dangers of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation.

“After growing older and witnessing so many who are still harmed by the church and by efforts to correct homosexuality through traumatic and damaging tactics like the ones used against me, I finally realized that it is my duty to stand up against those who have harmed me,” said White. “By speaking out against the wrongdoings that were committed within the walls of Bethel Baptist School, I hope to shed light on the darkness that is so easily hidden within the church, and to help ensure that no one else suffers the pain that I had to endure. I am extremely grateful to NCLR staff attorney Sam Ames and the NCLR team for assisting me and so many others who have been hurt by the immoral practices of conversion therapy.”

White is now the executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center, the first LGBT center in the state. Barnes is now the Assistant Pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Walls, MS. NCLR is joined in this case by Hawkins & Gibson, PLLC, a law firm with a long history fighting for the rights of children abused by adults in positions of authority, including members of the clergy.

In June, NCLR launched the #BornPerfect campaign to protect LGBT kids from the harms caused by attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. NCLR has been at the forefront of the effort to protect LGBT kids from these practices for more than 20 years, successfully working to help draft and pass California’s Senate Bill 1172 in 2012, the nation’s first to protect LGBT children from the dangers of conversion therapy. The following year, NCLR helped New Jersey pass a similar law and is now working with legislators and LGBT leaders in more than a dozen other states to bring protections to LGBT kids across the country.

Through #BornPerfect, NCLR provides state legislators and LGBT leaders with comprehensive resources and a solid foundation to build statewide campaigns; works closely with state legislators and LGBT leaders throughout the legislative process, including drafting legislation, coordinating hearings with key witnesses, and gaining support to pass legislation; raises awareness about these dangerous practices and the lasting harm they cause in the lives of LGBT children by empowering survivors and providing them with the support to speak out about their experiences; and fights in court for the safety and well-being of LGBT kids.

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