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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
June 24, 2005

Memphis teen's blog sparks protests of 'ex-gay' program

Memphis, Tenn.--A gay teen�s blog has renewed debate over �reparative� therapy and sparked protests of a program that purports to turn gay teens into heterosexuals.

The 16-year-old, calling himself �Zach,� from the Memphis suburb of Bartlett, has a weblog on the MySpace website. In it, he described coming out to his parents in late May and his fears as they enrolled him in a residential program called Refuge, run by an organization called Love in Action International.

The blog�s final message, dated June 4, was linked to other blogs and has found its way around the world. There are now over 1,000 responses to it.

Zach was to enter a two-week program June 6 at the organization�s Memphis facility. Each day during the two weeks, about 20 to 30 protesters gathered outside the former Episcopal church. A total of 150 psychologists, activists and teens participated in the pickets.

The American Psychological Association shuns the use of �reparative� therapy, noting that it is seldom demonstrably effective, and can cause depression and other mental illnesses as patients continue to have same-sex longings.

Love in Action�s website says that it �exists to be a Christ-centered ministry for the prevention or treatment of unhealthy and destructive behaviors facing families, adults, and adolescents.�

�Somewhat recently, as many of you know,� Zach wrote on May 29, �I told my parents I was gay. This didn�t go over very well, and it ended with my dad crying, my mom tearing, and me not knowing what I�d done--or what to do.�

He continued, �It kind of . . . went away for about a week or two, I think. They claim it�s because they didn�t want to interfere with my last week or two of school.�

�Well today, my mother, father, and I had a very long �talk� in my room where they let me know I am to apply for a fundamentalist Christian (sic) program for gays,� he wrote. �They tell me that there is something psychologically wrong with me, and they �raised me wrong�.�

�I wish I had never told them. I wish I just fought the urge two more years . . . I had done it for three before then, right?� he concluded.

Zach�s most recent posting, at 2:33 am on June 4, said that he had run away briefly, and had his internet access and all other privileges revoked. Apparently his parents were asleep when he posted the final message.

He said that his program was set to begin on June 6, and he had been enrolled in a two-week program. However, more recent reports from people claiming to be Zach�s friends say that his parents had re-enrolled him in a six-week program.

Four days earlier, he posted a list of rules for the Refuge program, liberally interspersed with biblical quotations to justify the rules.

�All new Refuge clients will be placed into Safekeeping for the initial two to three days of their program,� one of the rules states. �A client on safekeeping may not communicate verbally, or by using hand gestures or eye contact, with any other clients, staff members, or his/her parents or guardians.�

In the case of an immediate need, the client is to write a request, but only if absolutely necessary, the rule notes.

The rules also single out Abercrombie and Fitch and Calvin Klein clothing as taboo.

�What is with these people?� Zach wrote. �Honestly . . . how could you support a program like this? If I do come out straight I�ll be so mentally unstable and depressed it won�t matter.�

While officials with Love in Action International (not affiliated with Rev. Billy Graham�s poverty-outreach program of the same name) would not confirm that Zach was in their program, they held a press conference on June 16 to explain their organization�s goals.

�We are a ministry whose mission is to assist others in living a life of self control,� said Rev. John J. Smid, Love in Action�s executive director, who claims that 20 years ago he turned away from homosexuality. �We emphasize this specifically in areas that cross over their spiritual convictions.�

�I am not bound to act on my same-sex desires,� said Gerard Wellman, a graduate of another of Love in Action�s programs. �I do not have to dishonor myself and my body with anything I do not want to do.�

However, Wellman did not claim that he no longer had �same-sex desires.

Morgan Fox, an organizer of the Queer Action Coalition in Memphis, told the Washington Blade that he had not been in contact with Zach since the beginning of June. QAC was organized to protest Love in Action and Zach�s enrollment there.

Zach�s blog can be viewed through his profile at www.myspace.com/specialkid. QAC has a site at http://fightinghomophobia.blogspot.com/ and a new one at www.qaconline.org.

 

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