GULFPORT, Miss. — A gay Mississippi man says a male teacher at the Baptist school he attended in the 1990s raped him each week for three years as a way to force him to change his sexual orientation.
Jeff White told the Washington Blade during a July 14 interview at a restaurant near his home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast the teacher at Bethel Baptist School in Walls, Miss., who he identified as Steven Barnes, scheduled an “appointment” with him each Wednesday in his classroom or the office where he forced him to have oral and anal sex.
White, now 32, said the incidents took place at the school, which is in DeSoto County in northwestern Mississippi, between 1996-1999.
An embargoed press release the Blade obtained from the National Center for Lesbian Rights identifies Barnes, who is currently an associate pastor at Bethel Baptist Church, which operates Bethel Baptist School, as the teacher who allegedly raped White.
“He would rape me because I was gay and because it would make me hate men and make me change,” said White.
White told the Blade that his parents decided to send him to the school after he came out to them when he was 14 and in the seventh grade.
“They [the church’s pastors] looked at Southern Baptists like they were liberal faggots, like they would say from the pulpit,” he said.
The church’s website says Bethel Baptist School was founded in 1971 and is “staffed with an experienced, stable and caring staff.”
Tuition for the 2013-2014 academic year was $3,850 per student.
“Character and patriotism are taught in the classroom,” reads a description of the school on the Bethel Baptist Church’s website. “The curriculum is Bible based and every student is taught the truths of God’s word.”
The church’s website includes a section titled “God’s way to heaven” with a number of statements that include “agree that your sin must be paid for with death and hell” and “turn from your sin and trust Christ as your saviour.”
“In general it was a cult,” White told the Blade. “Aside from all of that other stuff going on, there was a thousand other things that they were doing.”
A woman who answered the phone at Bethel Baptist Church on Tuesday described White’s allegations to the Blade as “the biggest lie there ever was.”
Church representatives did not respond to further requests for comment before deadline.
The American Psychological Association and other medical, psychological and professional counseling organizations have said there is no evidence that so-called conversion therapy can change someone’s sexual orientation.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June declined to accept a case that challenged a California law that bans licensed mental health practitioners from performing so-called conversion therapy on minors. The anti-gay Liberty Counsel and the parents of a teenage son challenged a similar law that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed last August.
Lawmakers in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, New York and other states have sought to ban the controversial practice over the last year.
Samantha Ames, a staff attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has worked with many survivors of so-called conversion therapy through its “Born Perfect” campaign, and White met with DeSoto County officials for several hours on Tuesday to discuss the allegations.
The DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the meeting took place.
“A number of the stories that we have are very disturbing and violent, this is of course a unique one,” Ames said. “It never ceases to amaze me the lengths that some people will go to to change something that has nothing to do with them.”
White told the Blade he is still angry about the teacher who he said he raped him, but he has “gotten through it.”
White earlier this year co-founded the Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center, an LGBT support group based in Waveland.
“More of what I’m able to do now is to channel that anger into the work that I’m doing,” White told the Blade. “Honestly if I hadn’t had just gotten done with it [I’d be] pissed off. I would just be sitting there whining and complaining and making melodramatic Facebook posts.”
Ames said the National Center for Lesbian Rights is “incredibly proud to have” White as a client.
“I just can’t overemphasize how proud we are to represent someone this courageous,” she told the Blade. “He’s honestly one of the bravest, one of the most determined people I have ever met and he has a unique, first-hand understanding that these attempts to change sexual orientation and gender identity are linked to a culture of hostility to LGBT people and when you combine that kind of hatred and self-loathing with a position of power, whether it’s in a religious leader or a licensed therapist, people get hurt, sometimes irreparably.”
“What’s so extraordinary about Jeff is how long and hard he fought to turn that pain into something meaningful, this LGBT center that benefits every person in his state,” added Ames. “But today he’s not just helping out other people out of the darkness, he’s shining a light on it and he knows it very well.”