Published July 23, 2009
EXCLUSIVE: A 23-year-old pre-med student who "got caught up with friends who were pulling him" toward homosexuality is well and undergoing Christian counseling, his family says.
But a gay activist who created a Web site to locate the "missing" man says Bryce Faulkner's silence speaks volumes, claiming that the young man's religious parents are controlling his every move in an effort to "cure" him of his homosexuality.
Debra Faulkner, of El Dorado, Ark., denied the Web site's reports that her son was forced against his will to undergo reparative therapy for homosexuality at Exodus International, a nonprofit Christian organization that seeks "freedom from homosexuality" through Jesus Christ.
"He's fine," Debra Faulkner told FOXNews.com. "All the stories you've been told are not true."
She said Brett Harris, who created the "Help Save Bryce" Web site, had posted her phone number and home address, resulting in dozens of harassing calls and threatening letters to her home.
"Our family wants privacy," Faulkner said.
Harris has removed the personal information due to threats of a lawsuit. He told FOXNews.com he created the site to give others the ability to decide if they wanted to "associate with these people."
Faulkner said her son, a recent graduate from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, is free to do as he pleases following what she called a 2-month-long Internet-based relationship with a 24-year-old Wisconsin man named Travis Swanson.
"[Bryce] got caught up with friends who were pulling him that way," she said. "He just wants to take some time and figure out what he wants to do with his life."
Through a family representative, her son denied being coerced into attending counseling.
"Every decision that I've made has been based solely upon my beliefs and I have not been manipulated or coerced by anyone to do anything," Bryce Faulkner's statement read. He declined further comment.
Swanson, of Oshkosh, Wis., told FOXNews.com that he met Faulkner at a bar in Panama City, Fla., during spring break in March. The two quickly hit it off, he said.
Swanson left Florida just two days later, but he and Faulkner kept in touch via Skype "every single night" in the following months. Swanson said their chats were so frequent that he notched a whopping 9,700 minutes on his cell phone in May alone.
"Things started getting serious in the months of April and May," said Swanson. "He told me that he loved me."
In late May, Swanson said he and Faulkner met in Little Rock, Ark., for what turned out to be the last time.
"Bryce said he'd take me on the most amazing date of my life and definitely fulfilled," Swanson said. "Dinner, candles, flowers — he went all out."
He said the relationship flourished until mid-June, when Debra Faulkner gained access to her son's e-mail account and discovered Bryce's secret.
The next time they spoke, Swanson said, Bryce was inconsolable.
"He was crying really, really bad, I mean, like uncontrollably crying," he said. "He said [Bryce's parents] made him read quotes aloud from the Bible and said that he's going to hell."
The following day, Swanson said he received a text from Faulkner indicating that his parents wanted to take him to a "place in Pensacola" to address his sexuality. Swanson would later call the Union County Sheriff's Department to say that Faulkner was being taken against his will by his "fundamental Baptist" parents.
A spokeswoman for Union County Sheriff Ken Jones said the department had no information on Faulkner.
"He's being economically blackmailed, that's what it is," Swanson said, referring to perceived threats that Bryce's parents would take away his car and privileges if he declined to seek help. "They say they're going to cure somebody for something that's not treatable."
Frustrated, Swanson contacted Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) for help. An e-mail describing Faulkner's story soon reached Harris, a self-described "minister" and gay rights activist from Ohio.
Harris said he created the Web site both to locate Faulkner and to shed light on "conversion therapy" and the emotional damage he says it causes a person who is dealing with complex sexuality issues.
Harris says he won't take down the site — complete with a counter tracking the days and minutes Faulkner has been "missing" — until the Faulkner goes to Wisconsin to personally end his relationship with Swanson. He said he believes Faulkner's parents are controlling their son's every move.
"We're not hearing anything at all from Bryce," Harris told FOXNews.com. "If he wants to be straight ... that would be the finality of it."
Faulkner's mother is threatening legal action against Harris on slander accusations, but the gay advocate says he's in the clear because he acted without ill intent.
'I don't mean him any malice at all," Harris said. "I don't want to hurt anybody."
Meanwhile, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, says roughly 250 local ministries affiliated with the Orlando-based organization continue to counsel people who are struggling with homosexuality. Chambers is aware of Faulkner's story, but as a matter of policy, he declined to confirm or deny whether Faulkner has attended Exodus' programs. (According to its Web site, Harvest Outreach Church in Pensacola, Fla., is an affiliate church to Exodus International.)
"We believe that [homosexuality] wasn't God's design," Chambers told FOXNews.com. "We have a decision to make when it comes to how we steward our sexuality."
Chambers, who is married with two children, says he continues to be "tempted" by homosexual urges, but said he's decided that it wasn't something that matched his faith.
"My life and my struggle is very common," he said. "But having lived both sides of this hotly contested debate, I don't want anything else."
Asked if he had any advice for the Faulkners, Chambers replied: "We meet with so many people who, as parents, are struggling with their children's decisions. Your number one goal is to stay in a relationship with your children, regardless if you agree with their decision or not. Tolerance is a two-way street."