As I write this, my heart is as burdened as it is elated at the country’s response to a young teenager named Zach Stark. It’s a testimony to the power of words, and it’s a message to all of us that we must stand up for who we are as Americans, gay or straight.
Young Zach thought he was just writing in his ‘blog’ as any teenager would. He vented. He cried out. Like most gay kids, he struggled with whether or not to come out to his parents. Once he finally got the nerve to tell his parents that he’s gay, he said things got even worse. They shipped him (at their church’s recommendation) to a division of Love in Action, called Refuge. It is a ‘ministry’ that has one sole purpose, to ‘fix’ gay kids and ‘help them to live a more normal lifestyle.’
It is, in short, the psychologically brutal and damaging practice known as ‘reparative therapy.’
Sadly, this kind of ‘ministry’ or ‘counseling’ is not only widely embraced by those in conservative circles, churches promote them as ‘an answer to the homosexual agenda.’ The questionable tactics and outright oppressive nature of this kind of ‘therapy’ has been repeatedly denounced and rejected by the American Association of Psychology and nearly every other professional and medical organization that has an invested interest in the issue.
Zach’s story even prompted the Tennessee Department of Human Services to investigate Love in Action for possible abuse. Thankfully, DHS found no overt abuse in its programs. But the story doesn’t stop there. His story has reached ABC News, CNN, and other major national outlets. It has resonated across the country, as a message for help, and a message of the dangers of this kind of ‘ministry.’
The psychological damage to people who are forced to endure Refuge’s propaganda is staggering. Under the banner of “Christian love,” gay teenagers are told horror stories about their perception of gay life. They use long-discredited and debunked statistics such as a lifespan of around 40 years, rampant HIV and AIDS infection, nonexistent long-term relationships and common psychiatric disorders. Each of these ‘statistics’ are rooted in mean-spirited pseudoscience that was designed to demonize the GLBT community. What’s worse, church leaders and ministers are the first to quote these violent and hateful stats.
Their selective silence speaks even louder. They will of course never mention the single-digit success rate of such programs. Nor will they ever discuss the fact that so many high-profile ‘leaders’ in the ex-gay movement leave the fold to embrace their sexuality completely. Will they talk about John Paulk, who met with public disgrace after being photographed coming out of a notorious gay bar? Of course not. And Gary Busse and Michael Cooper, Exodus International founders who left the group to pursue their relationship with each other, are treated as though they never existed.
Groups like Exodus International and Love in Action will even go on record to say that they can never fully change a homosexual to be heterosexual. Their specific claim is that their therapy is directed at ‘behavior.’ Its sole basis is on a deeply flawed misunderstanding of sexual orientation. They operate under the assumption that same-sex attraction is a learned process that was taught either directly or indirectly. The reality is that sexual orientation is awakened, and is rooted deeply in the individual’s psyche and humanity.
Those of us in PFLAG simply MUST stand against such inherently abusive and psychologically damaging ‘therapy’ that does nothing more than teach a person to operate in complete denial of their God-given sexuality
Even more importantly, we must continue to offer support, love, and HOPE to those who have been told they’re not worthy. The only true way to respond to sadistic programs like Love in Action, Exodus, and others is to embrace people fully for who they are, and who they love. We know that there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people just like Zack Stark who are crying out for help and genuine love. We simply must respond to their cries with a deep, warm, welcoming hug. “I love you.”
After all, it’s the Christian thing to do.
The next meeting of the Clarksville PFLAG chapter will be held at 7:00 on August 11, 2005 at the UU fellowship on Madison Street. We have much to discuss! I hope to see everyone there.
David W. Shelton