Readers will recall my June 18 post ("Young Zach Among the Philistines") about Zach, a gay Tennessee teenager whose parents shipped him to a brainwashing facility run by an "ex-gay" ministry called Love in Action.
Now the New York Times has picked up the story and the Christian Broadcasting Network has published an interview with Zach's father, who admits to his abusive actions regarding his son, using the smarmy language of compassion usually employed by liberals who advocate a rights-constricting law because it is "for the children".
In his interview with CBN, Joe Stark -- who apparently is brash enough and so lacking in shame that he uses is own name -- says:
“We felt very good about Zach coming here because… to let him see for himself the destructive lifestyle, what he has to face in the future, and to give him some options that society doesn't give him today,” Stark said. “Knowing that your son... statistics say that by the age of 30 he could either have AIDS or be dead.”One of the survivors of the Love in Action program told the New York Times:* * *
“Zack has got a mind of his own, and that's a God-given gift,” Joe said. “And Zack will have to make those choices when he is an adult as to what exactly he is going to do with his life. But until he turns 18 and he's an adult in the state of Tennessee, I'm responsible for him. And I’m going to see to it that he has all options available to him.”* * *
“A lot of things that Zach spent a lot of his time doing were taken away,” Stark said. “And I can see why they do it now. It's because, if you're not doing those things, then what are you doing? Sometime or other, you have to communicate with your family. And that's a big thing that has happened in our family – Zach is communicating a lot more with us.”
CBN was fair enough to interview Tidwell, as well:
"It's like checking into prison," said Brandon Tidwell, 29, who completed the adult program in 2002 but eventually rejected its teachings, reconciling his Christian beliefs with being gay.
“Rarely in life will you ever live that closed off from the world,” Brandon Tidwell, a former client of “Love in Action,” said. “It's very, I think, deceiving, or misleading, or creates a false hope for people, to help them to create change in that very isolated environment, and then move out into the real world and try to continue to…understand themselves in a whole different way.”The Times notes that
Critics of programs that seek to change sexual orientation say the programs themselves can open a person to lifelong problems, including guilt, shame and even suicidal impulses. The stakes are higher for adolescents, who are already wrestling with deep questions of identity and sexuality, mental-health experts say.Fortunately, Zach is going to be released into the real world soon. We can only pray that his keepers have not lobotomized him (metaphorically speaking). The Times ends its article with a quotation from Zach's blog, suggesting that, despite his youth, he has the fortitude to overcome this terrible episode:
"Their identities are still in flux," said Dr. Jack Drescher, the chairman of the committee on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues of the American Psychiatric Association, which in 2000 formally rejected regimens like reparative or conversion therapy as scientifically unproven. "One serious risk for the parent to consider is that most of the people who undergo these treatments don't change. That means that most people who go through these experiences often come out feeling worse than when they went in."
Two weeks ago the Tennessee Department of Health sent a letter to Love in Action, saying it was suspected of offering therapeutic services for which it was not licensed, a department spokeswoman said. Mr. Smid insisted in the interview that his program is a spiritual, not a counseling, center, and he is removing references to therapy from its Web site.
He said he does not track his success rate. Mr. Harwood, who graduated from the adult program in 1999, said that of 11 fellow former clients he has kept track of, eight once again consider themselves gay.
Zach is due to leave the program next week. His June 4 message expressed thanks for the more than 1,700 messages on his page, many voicing support. "Don't worry," he wrote. "I'll get through this. They've promised me things will get better, whether this program does anything or not. Let's hope they're not lying."Perhaps that last sentence is simply a manifestation of youthful naivete.