Joseph Sciambra was born in 1969, in northern California, not far from San Francisco. He grew up in what seemed to be a stable and loving family, while attending Catholic parochial schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. However, the dark shadow of pornography would cloud his entire childhood and teenage years. Throughout the 1990s, Joseph lived around the homosexual culture of the infamous Castro District of San Francisco, offering him rare insight into the daily lives and struggles of many homosexual men. Later, he became a pornographic film actor and escort.
In 1999, following what he refers to as a near-death experience, Sciambra returned to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Since then, he has written extensively concerning the real-life issues of pornography, homosexuality and the occult. He received his bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of California at Berkeley and his master’s degree in history from Sonoma State University.
What motivated you to reach out to help same-sex-attracted men and women?
In 1999, Our Lord Jesus Christ saved me from homosexuality. At the time, although incredibly unhappy, I had no intention of ever leaving. It was the only world I had ever known. For I entered the “gay” world as a traumatized and lonely 18-year-old young man, desperate for male affirmation and attention. What I got out of homosexuality, after over 10 years, couldn’t even begin to heal my wounds or fulfill my needs. What it turned out to be was an illusion: the shallow and momentary embrace from another man, masking the pain of childhood.
After several years of being out of the “gay” lifestyle, healed of those old attractions to the same sex, I could finally begin to mourn, though they were never completely gone from my thoughts, for all those whom I had known and who had died so young and so needlessly. To honor the forgotten victims of AIDS, I decided to head back to San Francisco. Purposefully, I spent the previous decade somewhat far away from the city where I almost lost everything; returning was difficult, but I felt it was something that I needed to do. Inspired by the patron saint of San Francisco, I simply took to the streets and met people where they were, in their everyday lives, going about their everyday business.
How and where do you approach them? How do they react to your attempts to talk to them about faith?
In San Francisco, particularly during the summer months, the “gay” community puts on a series of parades, free concerts and street festivals. In total, there are well over 1 million “gay” men and women in attendance at these events. Sometimes with the help of volunteers, I attend, with big signs and wearing T-shirts printed front and back with my two website addresses: www.jesuslovesgaymen.com and www.jesuslovesgaywomen.com. Although I have rebuked the word “gay” in my own life, as a false label and identifier placed upon me by an all-too-accepting culture that offered no alternative other than “gay” to a child with same-sex attraction, when I outreach in the “gay” community, I use their lingo in order to more easily communicate with them. Because so many generous friends and benefactors contribute to these efforts, I take along religious bracelets, rosaries and Bibles to give away. Attached to each item is a card that lists my two websites and a link to my video testimony.
At these venues, because of the noise and crowds, conversations are usually brief. Therefore, I encourage everyone, when they get home, to look at the website and to watch the video; then they can email me their reactions or any questions they may have. Sometimes I do meet someone who is seriously wondering, and they [are people who] want to talk right then and there. Immediately, I make the time to speak with them. Usually, the first thing they ask is: “Are you still gay?” I tell them: “No!” And I always add: “Also, I do not have sex … with anyone, and I don’t masturbate.” This, they find more fascinating than any details about my somewhat adventurous past. Because, for most of those trapped in homosexuality, they see the orientation as a life sentence, as something they were born with. Suddenly, some of these long-held presumptions are challenged. Oftentimes, they get immediately angry, but, in reality, they are frightened. Because, like I once thought: “‘Gay’ is all I have.” Then you start to wonder: “Who I am, and what am I going to do without it?”
Tell us about one man who changed his lifestyle after speaking with you.
After an outreach in San Francisco, I received many emails from men who either looked at my website or watched the testimony video. The majority of them are critical or dismissive about what I have to say; the words they use can be cutting and intensely personal, but I always find it interesting that they take the time to write to someone that they wholly disagree with. In my mind, it proves that something I said has struck an uncomfortable nerve.
With those who are not obscene or vicious in their language, I always send a response and try to answer their questions, along with pointing them in the direction of further reading. Interestingly enough, most are former Catholics or adults who were raised in the Church or in Catholic schools; therefore, to those who are seriously questioning the choices they made, I encourage them to seek out spiritual direction; blessedly, I know the names of several capable and faithful priests in San Francisco. One such young man, who grew up in a highly dysfunctional family and later turned to pornography, and then the “gay” lifestyle for comfort and companionship, was able to return to the Church after receiving the sacrament of confession. I am still in contact with him, and it has been very difficult for him; sometimes I do not hear from him for many months, but he keeps trying.
How can we care for and help a same-sex attracted person among our family or friends?
St. John Paul II made it quite clear that mercy or love without justice is a false sort of compassion: “True mercy is … the most profound source of justice.”
Therefore, being the parent, brother, sister, cousin or friend of a person who thinks he is “gay,” and being a Christian, places us in an awkward situation: On the one hand, we love this person, regardless of his disordered sexuality, and we do not want to seem judgmental or rejecting in any way. But we also need to stay true to what we know and understand as God’s plan for all of us — and that never includes homosexuality.
Therefore, we must endeavor to find the balance between love and that of justice, or our commitment to “preach the word … ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” Inevitably, this will frequently, if not always, drive the “gay” person away from you. But, in these moments, are we not called upon to suffer like Christ for those who had no idea the evil they were doing?
You wrote about being dissatisfied about the language in last month’s Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family document. Please explain.
Included in the paragraph pertaining to homosexuality was the term “accompaniment,” a word that several of the synod fathers were already using when proposing a new “pastoral” approach to “gay” men and women and to their families.
The danger here is that this could be easily misconstrued as a passive sort of “going along” with whatever the “gay” person may decide is right for him or her; it can become sick and facilitating. I have experience with these types of family dynamics, and where there is no challenge or pushback, the homosexual, particularly if he is young, is inevitably confirmed in the orientation — for the majority of the emails I receive are not from homosexuals, but from their families.
Most often, a parent will write to me, generally heartbroken, that his or her child has cut him or her off because he or she refused to not only accept, but celebrate the “coming out” and the relationships. On the part of the “gay” child, words are exchanged, and things get cruel and ugly.
I try to remind these parents that their children have been hurt; and they are human, and they are scared. In being “gay,” they see their only route to happiness. Anyone who stands against this, including you and me, are considered an enemy. But when the “gay” lie is finally revealed, they will crawl out of that life, utterly broken and brutalized; they will need love, compassion and hope; they will turn to you.
Leticia Velasquez, author of A Special Mother Is Born,
writes from eastern Connecticut. Her website is Cause of Our Joy.