★★★★ | This Is What Love In Action Looks Like

When evangelicals try to forcibly make gay men straight.

In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. Later that same year Love In Action was founded by an evangelical Christian ministry specifically ‘to restore those trapped in sexual and relational sin through the power of Jesus Christ’ i.e. to forcibly make gay men straight. As the oldest established ‘ex-gay’ organisation in the US, it based its whole creed on lumping pornography, sex addiction and homosexuality together but the latter was considered by far the worse sin of all.

In 2005 their Refuge Program specifically designed to ‘cure’ young teenagers of their ‘gay addiction’ hit the national headlines when 16-year-old Zach Stark’s heartfelt cry for help appeared on his MySpace Blog. Zach had ‘come out’ to his parents and in return, they sent him against his will to be an inmate at the Camp. His plea hit a real nerve and quickly became a rallying cry for a small group of other young people, both gay and straight, who’s regular protests outside the Campus started a snowball effect and very soon caught the attention of the national and local media.

On one hand, Pat Robertson was preaching his usual hate-ridden rhetoric, whilst on the other, more mainstream TV channels Zach ‘s story and the whole Love In Action oppressive authoritarian regime was covered by the likes of Diane Sawyer and Paula Zahn. Most of them quoted L.I.A. Executive Director John Smid, an ex-gay now married (to a woman). who bitterly defended his organisation tooth and nail not conceding to any of the real concern now being raised about these young men’s welfare.

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Stark was released after 8 weeks and initially obeyed his parents’ instructions to delete his blog and make no public comments to further fuel the fire. But by the time this documentary was made, Stark was now 18 and ready to speak up and to confirm that despite all that he went through he is now a happy and reasonably adjusted gay young man.

In 2007 the Program was halted and not only did the Rev. Smid resign his post, but he actually took the unprecedented step of publishing a public apology to anyone who may have been harmed by the program.

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Morgan Jon Fox’s film bears witness to this shameful time in recent history and is most compelling when the interviews are with ex-patients/inmates and you can see the real pain that they were forced to endure in what are essentially the most crucial years in their growing up. It’s a testimony to their strength that they survived the ordeal, and equally a credit to the determined band of protesters who proved that standing up to be counted on when one encounters an injustice, does really work. And it’s a witness to all those poor souls that the disbandment of this whole movement came too late for.

About the author: Roger Walker-Dack
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