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Posts for January, 2012

Ex-Gay Leader: “99.9% Have Not Experienced A Change In Their Orientation”

Jim Burroway

January 9th, 2012

Exodus International President Alan Chambers appeared on a surprise panel Friday night at the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference on Orlando with former ex-gay leader Jeremy Marks, Exodus critic and ex-gay bridge-builder Wendy Gritter, and former Love In Action executive director John Smid. The panel was announced with little notice on Friday, catching many ex-gay survivors at the conference off-guard. GCN has posted audio of that panel discussion (Part 1part 2). In the opening minutes of part 2, Chambers addresses the criticism that Exodus and other ex-gay ministries promise change in sexual orientation:

I think it’s a fair criticism from the past. If there are member ministries today that are promising something that I’m not aware that they’re promising, I’d want to know some specifics. I hear a lot of generalities, but I value specifics. And that’s something that does concern me because the fact of the matter is, and I feel like I’ve been very upfront and clear, both in the media, at conferences, anytime I have the opportunity to write about it, about the fact that I believe the slogan “Change is Possible,” for those of us who are Christians we do understand that when you come into a relationship with Christ all sorts of things are possible.

The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could never be tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction. I think there is a gender issue there, there are some women who have challenged me and said that my orientation or my attractions have changed completely. Those have been few and far between. The vast majority of people that I know do still experience some level of same-sex attraction.

And so that’s something, I think, I can’t be any clearer about that. …I hope that we’re coming to a place where we are a much more honest group of people, that when we talk about “Change is Possible,” we are very, very clear about what change means in our lives.

Last November, there were reports that Chambers was considering a modification of their message. At that time, I noted that Exodus has flirted with the idea of retooling its message before. The main message from Exodus has centered on changing from homosexuality to heterosexuality (however loosely defined that change may be). But there has been an underlying theme “the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality, it’s holiness,” which leaves open the idea that becoming straight isn’t the goal. Chambers has been giving variations on that theme since at least 2007. He surprised supporters and critics alike in 2009 when he told the Los Angeles Times, “By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete.”

It’s unclear whether this is a further tweaking of that theme or if it represents a marked change in message for the organization. So far, it looks more like a clarification similar to others that he has made when pressed about what change means. The only difference this time is his admission that “99.9%” don’t change. It will be interesting to see is if Chambers repeats his past pattern of clarifying his remarks in ways that bring them closer to more orthodox ex-gay messages. After all, If it does represent a marked change in message for Exodus International, it remains to be seen how this change would go down among the mostly-Evangelical churches which provide the bulk of financial support for Exodus International.

A concurrent story to Chambers’s appearance at GCN is the controversy that surrounded the surprise panel at the conference. A very large number of GCN members are ex-gay survivors, and many of them felt blindsided by the conference. According to some of them who took to Facebook and Twitter to vent their anger, many of them first found out about the panel not form GCN but from a post earlier that day at Ex-Gay Watch. No ex-gay survivors were part of the panel discussion to provide counterpoint to Chambers’s presence, a move which strikes this writer as reminiscent of examples in history where conferences and panels discussed the issues surrounding homosexuality as a mental illness without the participation of a single gay person.

GCN Executive Director Justin Lee spent the first fifteen minutes of the panel discussion addressing the controversy, incorrectly identifying XGW as among those who called him “naive” for hosting the panel discussion. He described the panel as an optional event, and urged those who didn’t feel comfortable remaining in the room to excuse themselves and attend an alternative event for ex-gay survivors. Insiders and social media commenters, some of whom say they are undergoing counseling for PTSD and other disorders as a result of having been part of an ex-gay ministry, complain that the alternative event was hastily organized by survivors themselves at the last minute after GCN failed to organize an alternative to the panel. Lee addressed the controversy this way:

I believe in seeing people’s humanity. I believe even in the midst of strong disagreement in saying you are my brother, you are my sister in Christ. I want to understand you. I want to understand where you’re coming from no matter how much I disagree with you because you’re a human being and God loves you. And I want to love you too even though I disagree with you. That’s important to me. That’s part of what I do.

…One part of me is I want to look at the world from Alan’s perspective and I want to say Alan I respect you as my brother, I respect what you’re trying to do what you think is right even though I disagree with you, and I love you because God loves you, and have this “kumbaya” moment. And there’s another part of me that’s like I’m really, really angry about a lot of things that have happened in Exodus and other ex-gay ministries.

The Need For An Ex-Gay Moral Inventory

Jim Burroway

October 19th, 2011
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John Smid, the former director of the Memphis-based residential ex-gay program “Love In Action,” appeared in MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews yesterday to talk about his observation that after more than two decades as an ex-gay leader, he never saw a an actual “ex-gay”f — someone who went from gay to straight. This appearance on a politically-focused talk show doesn’t do much to shed any new light for those of us following the story, but it is likely to heighten Smid’s profile and message. Anti-gay and ex-gay activists, who have been mostly silent so far (with one notable exception), may now decide to speak up more to try to blunt Smid’s message, while the gay community continues to celebrate Smid’s candid admission.

It’s certainly worth celebrating. The ex-gay movement has been used as a political tool against legal equality for LGBT Americans since the 1990s, with the message that gay people don’t need equal rights because all they have to do is change. Smid’s testimony puts a lie to that message. More specifically, in this case he appears to endorse some form of marriage equality as a civil issue, although he does’t get into the details. As a political development, all of these statements are both noteworthy and welcome.

John Smid seeks our forgiveness, and I’m happy to oblige. I forgive him, but my forgiveness is cheap. Meaningless really, since he never harmed me personally. It’s not about me, nor is it even about the overall gay community, especially the majority who never crossed paths with John Smid or any other manifestation of the ex-gay movement. As I said last week, I — we — cannot be the ones who offer him absolution. Forgiveness can only come from those he harmed.

I’m concerned that right now, the wrong people are forgiving him. And the message I’m hearing from former clients at Love In Action is that Smid has some very specific things, things that he personally did as the ministry’s leader, that he needs to address in very specific ways. Some of those things, we already know about:

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Everyone whom I’ve ever met from LIA had very similar stories about the notorious Friends and Family Weekend. They had other examples of extreme cruelty and emotional abuse, but the Friends and Family Weekend stands out as a common thread. The weekend in 2008 when Jacob Wilson made that video, I spent an afternoon chauffeuring a carload of former LIA clients around Memphis as they showed the city and talked about their experience at LIA. A few were really seeing Memphis for the first time; their mobility was severely restricted by LIA’s rules while they were in the program. They had lots to talk about, and much of it centered on a key part of LIA’s “therapy,” which was for everyone to maintain, on file, a copy of their Moral Inventory. The MI — one former client said that everything at LIA had a acronym or initialism, which, I kid you not, immediately sparked a debate about the difference between acronyms and initialisms — was the client’s written confession for every deep, dark sexual secret they could remember. They wrote detailed descriptions of every sexual experience they could think of, what kind of porn they liked, what their fantasies were, and anything else they could think of. Clients were encouraged to continually go over their MIs, and if they remembered any new, they were to add it to the file. When the Friends and Family weekend came around, clients were then told to pick out the most horrific, intimate, deepest darkest secret from their MI and read it aloud at an assembly in front of everyone — friends, families and total strangers alike. Unbeknownst to the clients, families were instructed ahead of time to respond not with words of love and forgiveness, but with condemnations and disgust.

It’s easy to look at this from the outside and say that everyone in the room was culpable for what happened: the clients for participating (no one had a gun to their heads; indeed, they had paid thousands of dollars for the privilege), the families for beating their own loved ones when they were at their most vulnerable moment (what kind of a parent can do such a thing?). But all of this was presented as “love in action,” — love can heal anything, can’t it? And besides, Smid was a good, moral, Christian man. He had overcome his own homosexuality, and was sharing what he learned with others at LIA. This is how you do it. And look at Smid: he was married and was nationally recognized expert! He came highly recommended by Exodus International, the nation’s largest ex-gay organization. With all of those credentials — his lack of an actual degree was overlooked — everyone trusted him to know what he was doing.

Many survivors today struggle with the guilt of inflicting this pain on their parents, others struggle with the enduring shame over the experience, while others still have never recovered from the shock of being condemned by their own loved ones in public. Many parents, too, continue to struggle with the shocking details that they heard coming from their own child’s lips, others struggle with whether they drove their sons and daughters to the depths of depravity — a core tenant at LIA is that bad parenting made gay children — and others still struggle with having gone along with LIA’s program against their better judgments. Countless families today are still fractured over those experiences.

By all accounts that I’ve heard, there was never any physical abuse by staff at Love In Action. And by some accounts, many of the staff were truly trying to do their best to help those who were paying thousands of dollars for this “treatment.” And yet the abuse happened, and it really doesn’t matter to the victims whether the abuse came as a results of misplaced “compassion” or displaced repression — which brings to mind the biblical command of “Physician, heal thyself.” At LIA, the physician was as sick as the patients, but they were all trying to treat symptoms rather than the underlying disease that none of them would recognize: self-hatred over being gay.

But there is a way forward, and Smid is to be highly commended for the brave steps he has taken so far. I think all of us should stand with him and encourage him on his journey. Based on his blog posts, he appears willing to continue the hard task at putting right was has been wronged and helping to heal what was broken. To move that process along, this might actually be a good time for Smid to take a page from his own program at LIA and undergo his own highly-detailed MI. No, I’m not talking about an accounting of his sexual failings, but a true Moral Inventory, with the same degree of detail and specificity he and his staff demanded from LIA’s clients. And to share a portion of that publicly. To stand up and say, in detail, what he did and why it was harmful.

This isn’t about revenge, nor is it about turnabout-is-fair-play, but it is about doing unto others. It’s also about repentance, atonement, and redemption — for his victims and, yes, even for himself. Imagine the healing that can come when Smid’s former clients see him taking the same brutal walk that he made them go through. And imagine the healing that can come for everyone, Smid included, as he walks a few miles in their shoes.

Ex-Gay Survivor To Former Leader: “This Is What An Apology Looks Like”

Jim Burroway

October 13th, 2011

The recent statements from John Smid, the former director of the Memphis-based Love In Action ex-gay ministry, in which he says that he has never met an actual ex-gay who has changed his sexual orientation, and that gay relationships can be incorporated into “an authentic relationship with Christ,” has been hailed throughout the LGBT blogosphere as a startling and welcome change. It certainly gives new meaning to Exodus International’s slogan, “Change Is Possible!” Smid has followed up his previous post with a new one expressing his gratitude for the response and announcing that he will be undergoing an “I’m Sorry Campaign” as part of this weekend’s Memphis Pride.

There are a couple of problems with all of that though. While it’s well and good for Smid to announce a public “I’m Sorry Campaign,” he needs to be very careful of two things. First, the announcement of the campaign with Chicago-based Andrew Marin skirts dangerously close to becoming a hey-everyone-look-how-sorry-I-am self-promotional bandwagon. If Smid’s goal is to truly demonstrate how sorry he is for all that he has done in the two decades he headed the ex-gay residential ministry, a parade (whether it be literal or figurative) strikes me as an unseemly and inappropriate setting for that.

But the greater problem could be with who he’s apologizing to. Sure, Memphis’s LGBT community deserves an apology. But as ex-gay survivor and former Love In Action client Peterson Toscano pointed out in a comment he left here at BTB, he has a lot more work to do with those he harmed directly before forgiveness can be granted and healing can begin:

I believe there is an important difference between “hating on John Smid” and critically considering his transformation, what he has said, what he has not said, and his entry into spaces among the very people he previously reviled. It is more than a simple matter of someone “doing something stupid,” offering an apology, and then being berated. There is history that cannot be ignored. There are people who have been harmed who are “in the room.”

These are big changes for Smid, perhaps part of an on-going evolution in his beliefs, perhaps first steps before many, but after years of devising and practicing psychological torture to the many men and women who suffered under his treatments and theories, he should not be just given a free pass and a full, cheerful welcome into LGBT spaces and particularly “gay Christian” spaces inhabited by many people directly harmed by ex-gay treatment. Thoughtfulness for the victims needs to be considered.

It is a complicated and delicate matter when a former abuser admits wrong and seeks to rebuild relationship.

John Smid and his staff are responsible for the pain and suffering of hundreds if not thousands of people. For over two decades he has spoken passionately in public, in the media, at conferences and churches, spreading harmful and inaccurate teaching that has set parents against children and fueled the self-hatred of LGBT people.

As a former client, I understand that John Smid provided me with weapons to go to war against my sexuality and personality. His program was abusive, cruel, and damaging to me and others. People have suffered and still suffer and have needed to spend time and money seeking recovery from the treatment Love in Action inflicted upon us. Many of us went to John Smid and LIA seeking help. We ended up harmed. Some were even forced against their will to endure these treatments.

John Smid, like all of us, needs community, and it is likely that his former friends and colleagues in the ex-gay world and conservative anti-gay church will want nothing to do with him. But his entry into the LGBT world is complicated for some ex-gay survivors.

And while his statement is yet another brick to fall off the crumbling ex-gay edifice, I believe he needs to do much more to demonstrate his regret and new found understanding. It is proper justice for John Smid to acknowledge what many of us already discovered for ourselves. It is proper justice for John Smid to begin to set the record straight. It is proper justice for John Smid to seriously and deeply consider the harm he has caused. And before people forgive John Smid and welcome him into the fold on the behalf of all of us, I believe it is essential to ask critical questions and expect much much more from someone who has done much much harm.

What will that much much more look like? How can John, if he is willing, begin to make amends for his destructive actions?

For just a small taste of those destructive actions, listen to former LIA client Jacob Wilson describe one component of the “treatment” — LIA’s “Friends and Family Weekend:

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I’ve had other LIA clients corroborate Jacob’s experience. Peterson wrote about the destructive impact that weekend had on his parents, with damage that haunted his mother right up until the day she died.

And so you can well imagine that while those of us who haven’t been personally affected by Smid’s two decades of abuse at LIA might be inclined to accept his apologies, we are not the ones in a position to do so. I do not want to diminish the tremendous and welcome journey that Smid has undertaken since leaving Love In Action, and I do not think we should dismiss the importance of his change of heart. I do believe it is worthy of encouragement and praise.

But we cannot offer absolution. We are not the ones in a position to forgive him. That can only come from the thousands who crossed his path at Love In Action. And I believe it will only come about through one personal apology at a time. Just as Smid forced everyone to undergo exhaustive personal assessments and stand up before a stage in front of their parents and loved ones to reveal each and every deep, darkest secret they can uncover, Smid will now have to demonstrate his willingness to undergo the same humiliating experience himself. When you consider the foundations of his Christian faith, it is not without precedent. Christian theology holds that Christ’s “humbling upon the cross” is the very cornerstone of forgiveness.

Which means that the act of repentance will likely end up being a lifetime of work for Smid, just as he originally saw his leadership in the ex-gay ministry as his life’s calling. And you can also imagine that it is going to take much, much more work (and I would suggest, probably much more humility on John’s part) for those thousands who walked through Smid’s door to let bygones be bygones.

Peterson has posted what he thinks an appropriate apology might look like. But by ending his re-working of Smid’s apology with questions, he shows how difficult the task remains: “What can I do further to address the wrongs I have done? How can I demonstrate just how much I regret my actions and the consequences they brought to you and to others?”

Former Ex-Gay Head Now Says Change In Orientation Is Impossible And Change In Relationships Are Unnecessary

Jim Burroway

October 10th, 2011

The former head of one of the nation’s most prominent ex-gay ministries now says that homosexuality is something that cannot be “repented,” because “repentance from something means it has to be something you can control, like actions.” John Smid, the former director of Memphis-based Love In Action, the country’s largest ex-gay residential program, now says that homosexuality is “an intrinsic part of their being or personally, my being. One cannot repent of something that is unchangeable.” He also says that in all of his years in ex-gay ministries, he never met a gay man who became heterosexual, and that he now considers himself homosexual “and yet in a marriage to a woman.”

Smid had been the director of Love In Action for nearly two decades when it became the focus of international attention in June 2005. That’s when sixteen-year-old Zach Stark announced on his MySpace blog that his parents were sending him away to an ex-gay non-residential youth program after he came out to them. Zach also posted the program’s rules that he would be forced to live under while enrolled in the program. Advocates protested for several days outside the main offices of Love In Action. That incident has become the basis for Jon Morgan Fox’s documentary film, This is What Love In Action Looks Like. Love In Action announced they had shut down their youth program in 2007.  

Smid stepped down from Love In Action in 2008 after twenty-two year at the helm. He then established a different ministry, “Grace Rivers,” while continuing to cooperate with Fox’s film, all of which coincides wtih what appears to have been a period of introspection over his role in the ex-gay movement. In 2010, Smid reportedly wrote several letters of apology to some of his former clients, and disclosed on Andrew Marin’s blog that he still experiences “erotic attractions to those of the same gender (male).” Smid’s latest blog post on his own web site continues on those themes:

I have gone through a tremendous amount of grief over the many years that I spoke of change, repentance, reorientation and such, when, barring some kind of miracle, none of this can occur with homosexuality. The article today is a great example of how we as Christians pervert the gospel as it relates to homosexuality as though homosexuals aren’t welcome in the kingdom unless they repent (which many interpret to change). But since homosexuality is not “repentable” then we put homosexuals into an impossible bind.

Smid contines bywriting of what he sees as the greater theological imperative, which is for all people to “turn our lives to God’s kingdom and away from the kingdom of the world,” and what that kind of transformation brought about by a religious conversion would mean for gay people:

Yes, there are homosexuals that make dramatic changes in their lives as they walk through the transformation process with Jesus. I have heard story after story of changes that have occurred as men and women find the grace of God in their lives as homosexual people.  But, I’m sorry, this transformation process may not meet the expectations of many Christians. I also want to reiterate here that the transformation for the vast majority of homosexuals will not include a change of sexual orientation. Actually I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.

Smid wrote that he has met gay Christians who have gone on to lead celibate lives, and otheers who have entered into heterosexual marriages. He then added, “But, I’ve also met some who experience transformation from sexual promiscuity to  a faithful gay relationship that is truly, in their experience,  a great blessing to their relationship with Christ. Oh, I understand the controversy in all of this.”

Past postings on Smid’s blog reveal an ongoing evolution in his thinking about gay people, starting a conversation he had with Michael Bussee, a co-founder of Exodus International who left the ministry to come out with a gay man and become a strong critic of the ex-gay movement. That conversation took place in 2008, at around the time of Smid’s resignation from Love In Action. Smid’s description of that visit with Bussee sheds considerable light on Smid’s frame of mind when he stepped down. Smid’s reconsideration of his previous work in the ex-gay movement continued with a conference for gay Christians he attended in 2010, where he met a number of couples who shattered his preconceived notions about gay people. In Smid’s latest reflection, he realizes that his own understanding of his faith was clouded by those misconceptions:

My dear friend, this is a very tough issue and I am trudging through some very deep waters trying to better understand God’s heart on this matter. I have now gone around the world listening to Him, listening to the stories, seeing the tears of rejection in some, and the peace of God’s love in others. This is so different than I always thought in my small world of ex-gay ministry. And yes, it was a small world because I made it small. I was completely unwilling to hear anything that didn’t fit my paradigm. I blocked out anyone’s life story or biblical teaching that didn’t match up with what I believed.

When I was at LiA I never taught a session on the scriptures regarding homosexuality that I understood. I know that sounds strange but it is true. I didn’t teach them because I really had never studied them for myself. I merely quoted what I saw that others had written on the issue. I felt an obligation to at least teach something on what the Bible said, but every time I attempted to study it for myself it made no sense to me and I just went back to the writings of others within the ex-gay subculture.

Smid now says that the example of gay people remaining honest with themselves while exploring their spirituality in an orthodox Christian context can lead to an “authentic relationship with Christ”:

In traditional homosexuality it appears that it is intrinsic to a person’s fabric of life. Nature or nurture, it is far to complicated to have a definitive answer for the origin of homosexuality.  However, I hear story after story of men and women who accept themselves as being gay, in Christ, and finally find that life makes sense to them. Many are able to then nurture an authentic relationship with Christ because they are being honest and authentic with themselves and finally are able to accept His love unconditionally which changes the dynamic of their understanding of Him. Far too many homosexuals who are seeking Christ perceive that they cannot come close to Him if they remain a homosexual. In this mindset they search feverishly for change that will not come to them.

As for whether Smid ever really changed his own sexuality in all of the years he devoted himself to ex-gay ministry, he now says:

I am homosexual, my wife is heterosexual. This creates a unique marriage experience that many do not understand.  For many years I tried to fit into the box of heterosexuality.  I tried my hardest to create heterosexuality in my life but this also created a lot of shame, a sense of failure, and discouragement.  Nothing I did seemed to change me into a heterosexual even though I was in a marriage that included heterosexual behavior. Very often when I am in situations with heterosexual men I clearly see that there are facets of our lives that are distinctively different as it relates to our sexuality, and other things as well.

There is no question, I love my wife. God has worked powerfully in and through our relationship.  The fact that she married me in the first place knowing of my past homosexual promiscuity said something quite profound about her love for me. Which, by the way, was not an enabling, “I can fix him” kind of relationship.  My wife has never tried to fix me or change me in that area of our relationship. She truly unconditionally loves me. But this doesn’t change the fact that I am who I am and she is who she is.

[via Ex-Gay Watch]

Film Review: “This Is What Love In Action Looks Like”

Finally an ex-gay documentary that's not simply a collection of interviews about the past, but one that's centered around a compelling event and story as it's unfolding.

Daniel Gonzales

August 29th, 2011

In 2005, 16 year old Zach Stark was sent by his parents, against his will, to the residential ex-gay program Love In Action. Protests and nationwide attention ensued.  It was probably the biggest ex-gay news story since Exodus board member/spokesman John Paulk was caught in a Washington DC gay bar.

Local filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox was there from the start of the protests, capturing it all and has spent the last six years creating his finished product of This Is What Love In Action Looks Like, a new independent film currently on the festival circuit.

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I’ve spent years writing for various websites that track and monitor ex-gay issues, and in that time I’ve reviewed a number of films about the ex-gay experience. Too often documentaries consist mainly of head-and-shoulder interviewees talking about their time in ex-gay programs years, if not decades, in the past.  This Is What Love In Action Looks Like is different, filmmaker Fox was there shooting events as they unfolded and shooting interviews with key players while memories and feelings are still fresh.  The finished product is stitched together to tell the story with a logical flow and progression which will allow the general public, unknowledgeable of ex-gay issues, to follow the story.

Head-and-shoulders interviews, a necessary evil, are used sparingly and effectively.  Those scenes are well composed and often set in locations more far dynamic than a subject’s living room sofa.  Keystone interviews are even shot with multiple cameras allowing Fox to cut to tight zooms at appropriately intense moments.

Fox scored some rather crucial interviews, Zach Stark (the 16 year old sent to the program) as well as John Smid (ran Love In Action while Zach was there and has since stepped down).  Since the controversy in 2005 Smid’s views have changed (I won’t reveal how) and shows incredible courage for making himself as open, honest and vulnerable as he does during his interviews.  However I must criticize Fox for not asking Smid challenging questions.  In fact the only person Fox challenges is an anti-gay Alliance Defense Fund lawyer during a sidewalk press conference.  There are a lot of difficult questions interviewers can ask of the ex-gay movement, and Fox fails in this respect.

Zach’s father (who sent him to the program) and Alan Chambers (president of Exodus, a national gay group) declined interviews and so their stories are told with extensive incorporation of broadcast TV footage. The other footage that most contributes to the uniqueness of the film are some very raw feeling shots of the actual street protests outside Love In Action’s facility in 2005.

The film opens with a satisfyingly long interview of Zach talking about coming out to his parents and preparing to be sent off to the program.  As the story and protests unfolded Zach’s life inside the program remained a total mystery to the gay community outside protesting. Fox smartly replicates this feeling by focusing on other details and choosing only to show Zach with long-lens and grainy footage, as if we the film viewer are with protesters on the sidewalk seeing Zach from afar, wondering what is happening to the young man in the program.

My biggest gripe is that when the film is concluding Zach’s “after” interview is frustratingly short.  Zach comes across as having grown into a beautiful, vibrant young man.  After becoming invested in the activists who held a daily vigil outside Love In Action protesting for Zach I don’t feel enough emotional payoff in Fox’s interview with Zach.  I would strongly encourage Fox to revisit his source footage and include more meaningful and satisfying moments in that final interview. (Author’s note: Fox was kind enough to respond to this issue after my review was first posted, see his quote at the bottom of the post)

My remaining criticisms of the film are somewhat minor so I’ll list them here at the end:

  • While I adore the MySpace inspired title graphics, graphic styles throughout the body of the film are wildly inconsistent.  Some TV footage is shown in a “streaming internet video” style border, while other footage is shown full screen, sometimes that footage is full color, other times it has a tone/filter applied.  Also printed material (copies of ex-gay program rules and such) shown on screen has no stylistic consistency.
  • Insufficient disclosure of people appearing on screen who are involved in the film’s production.  When filmmaker Fox appears on screen his title is simply “filmmaker” which I’m not sure all viewers will take to mean his is the filmmaker for this very film.  Also Peterson Toscano has a producer credit for the film but this is not disclosed at all with on screen titling.
  • A couple soundtrack selections are hit or miss during the first half.  The worst tracks sounded like a wind up music box composition from royalty free music websites.  As the movie progresses however the music selection greatly improves and begins to compliment the emotion of the film.
  • There are a few instances at the beginning of the film where former clients of Love In Action are dropping bombs about the program.  Insufficient time is left after these things are said for the emotional impact to settle properly.

But the above listed criticism have no effect on my recommendation to see the film, they are more for Fox’s benefit should the movie hopefully be picked up by a distributor and is re-cut for distribution as independent films regularly are.  The novelness of this film sets it apart from every ex-gay documentary done before it.  When this screens in your city I strongly suggest you go and support it.

Filmmaker Fox addressed my criticism of Zach’s seemingly brief interview segment via email the afternoon my review was posted:

When we approached Zach about the interview he made it clear that he was willing to tell his story about what happened during the months that he was in Refuge and during the media firestorm, mostly to lend his account of that, and leave it to rest.

[Fox continued...] So when he requested that his current life not be pried into or pondered over or talked about, I completely understood. He wants his privacy now. Zach is a private person who quite accidentally fell into a huge spotlight and I mostly wanted to document the events of 2005 and how friends of his felt it necessary to stand up and try and make a difference, attempt to help one of their peers. I never felt it was my job to pry to pull things from Zach story and I think it took a lot of courage for him to speak out at all and I’m very grateful he lent his version of the events of that Summer of 2005.

Love In Action’s John Smid apologizes

Timothy Kincaid

March 4th, 2010

In May 2005, the ex-gay movement suddenly registered on the consciousness of the gay community. Word was rapidly spreading about Zach, a 16 year old boy who what involuntarily taken to an “ex-gay camp” by his parents to receive religious conversion to heterosexuality. The “camp” was Love in Action, a residency based ministry in Memphis for those who sought “freedom from homosexuality” and it’s leader was John Smid.

The Memphis gay community, led by Morgan Fox, responded with an unusual ‘protest’. They lined up alongside the road to LIA and waved signs at those coming in; not angry signs of opposition, but messages of hope and encouragement. “God Loves You”, “We Support You.”

They were hoping to let those passing into the compound hear a message that God’s love was unconditional and that there was no need to change. And this message hit home in a most unexpected place. It changed lives in a way that Fox and the Memphis gay community could not have expected. This presentation of love challenged the core beliefs of John Smid.

Three years later we found that Smid had left Love in Action after 22 years at its helm. And then his introspection really began.

Over time John’s perspectives about sexuality, obedience, grace, and how he viewed the world changed. So much so, that he surprised some of us by commenting last week on Andrew Marin’s blogsite:

Many years ago, under Love In Action, I put up a billboard here in Memphis with my picture on it with the words “I used to be gay”. I was pretty proud of what I had pronounced and thought surely this would bring a big response. I heard virtually nothing for the year it was in place in a prominant place in Memphis.

In retrospect, I believe it didn’t bring much reaction is because it was a lie. Oh, I haven’t lived in homosexual relations with others for over 25 years but did I really “used” to be gay?

Through the years of committees and discussions with other leaders we have never found a way to describe our life experiences effectively. I think this is because we are all experiencing life in unique ways the defy words that are appropriate.

Today I can say clearly that while I still experience erotic attractions to those of the same gender (male) I have chosen not to engage these attractions because I am a faithful husband to my wife. But to say I am “ex-gay” doesn’t give justice to my life experience nor does it effectively describe to others what I have experienced and can actually communicate a lie if someone doesn’t hear my heart correctly.

Needless to say, this is quite a different message than was dominant during his days at Love in Action. That John Smid was less interested in what anyone else thought and quite certain of himself.

“I’m looking at that wall and suddenly I say it’s blue,” Smid said, pointing to a yellow wall. “Someone else comes along and says, ‘No, it’s gold.’ But I want to believe that wall is blue. Then God comes along and He says, ‘You’re right, John, [that yellow wall] is blue.’ That’s the help I need. God can help me make that [yellow] wall blue.”

Intrigued by what he perceived to be a radical change, Ex-Gay Watch’s David Roberts called Smid and discussed his new perspectives. This led to Smid writing a letter of apologies to those whom he had hurt over the years. Some are directed to specific people, others are more of the “if I’ve hurt you” variety. I’m sure it includes some of our readers and is well worth reading.

John has not changed his basic theology about homosexuality. And some of you may find his apologies to be disingenuous or contrived. I do not.

If I had to put words in his mouth, I’d put John’s new attitude at, “God loves you. I believe that your behavior is sinful and that God would like you to change your behavior, but even if you don’t, I’m convinced that He still loves you and forgives you. And I’ll not judge you.”

This may not go far enough for those who believe that any disagreement with sexual behavior is a condemnation of people and inherently harmful. And that’s fine; I have no objection to those who don’t wish to allow non-supportive theology (or any theology, for that matter) into their lives.

And I certainly would not send anyone to counsel with a ministry that lists the following as one of its “doctrinal statements“:

We acknowledge the sinfulness of any sexual act outside of the scriptural context of Holy Matrimony between a man and a woman.

But I am appreciative that John is moving away from the “change is possible” paradigm. And I’m very glad that he is taking ownership for the pain he has caused and is asking for forgiveness.

Health Rubs

Jim Burroway

April 17th, 2008

Did you know that masturbation can prevent prostate cancer? It appears so, according to this new study:

Frequent sexual intercourse and masturbation protects men against a common form of cancer, suggests the largest study of the issue to date yet.

The US study, which followed nearly 30,000 men over eight years, showed that those that ejaculated most frequently were significantly less likely to get prostate cancer. The results back the findings of a smaller Australian study revealed by New Scientist in July 2003 that asserted that masturbation was good for men.

In the US study, the group with the highest lifetime average of ejaculation – 21 times per month – were a third less likely to develop the cancer than the reference group, who ejaculated four to seven times a month.

I wonder if John Smid has heard about this? He’s the outgoing Executive Director of the Memphis-based Love In Action ex-gay residential program who gave an entire workshop on the evils of masturbation at the 2007 Exodus conference last summer. It was definitely the single most bizarre talk have I ever attended in my lifetime. Especially when he bragged, “My wife’s vagina is enough… God created her for my fit” to a room full of struggling celibate ex-gays.

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The “good part” is at the 2:18 mark.

Smid also told his audience that he heard from a Brazilian physician that masturbating actually harmed the immune system. This is how Smid described that conversation:

He said, men actually, when they live in sexual self-control and restraint, actually those hormones and those secretions are reabsorbed into the body, which stimulates the immune system of the male. This is a physician. He said that’s something that’s not often taught because the physician world is built up of a lot of men that don’t want to teach things like that because they don’t want to let people know that they can’t, you know, it’s really kind of a secret. He said we really don’t let that out as physicians.

… And I thought okay, now, think about, who are probably the most unhealthy people? Sexually addicted people. Physically unhealthy. You know, because first of all we’re not taking care of ourselves, we don’t feel good about ourselves. But we’re also possibly eliminating a source of our own immune system boosters. I mean it was very interesting when he said that.

I think we’ve met the very definition of “junk science” here.

Meanwhile, back in the world where real science takes place, Dr. Michael Leitzmann at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda found that spankin’ it about every other day ought to do the trick:

More than 12 ejaculations per month would start conferring the benefit – on average every second day or so,” he says.

However, whilst the findings are statistically significant, Leitzmann remains cautious. “I don’t believe at this point our research would warrant suggesting men should alter their sexual behaviour in order to modify their risk.”

But on the other hand, it couldn’t hurt.

Confirmed: John Smid Has Resigned from Love In Action

Jim Burroway

March 27th, 2008

The rumors are true. I spoke with Josh Morgan, communications manager at Love In Action. He has confirmed that John Smid has resigned from the Memphis-based residential ex-gay program. A quiet announcement was made to staff and supporters, and an official announcement will be made in their April 1st newsletter to subscribers. Josh had no further details or statement about the announcement.

Love In Action gained worldwide attention in 2006 when a gay 16-year-old by the name of Zach posted on MySpace blog that he was about to be involuntarily committed to Love In Action’s youth live-in program “Refuge.” Thanks to Zach’s mySpace post, the world was able to learn about the complicated and bizarre rules that all house residents are expected to follow. When he was committed to a two-month stay in the residential program, his plight spawned international outrage along with unprecedented protests in Memphis. It also inspired filmmaker Morgan Fox to begin filming the documentary, “This Is What Love In Action Looks Like,” which is currently in post-production. Last July, it was announced that the controversial youth program was shut down.

More recently, we examined just a little bit about what goes on in Love In Action. I talked about my reaction to hearing him talk at last summer’s Exodus conference on the evils of masturbation. Particularly disturbing: Smid’s bragging to an audience of mostly celibate men that “my wife’s vagina is enough for me!” (You will hear him say that at about the two minute mark):

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Last February, former Love In Action client Jacob Wilson bravely talked about his emotionally battering experiences at Love In Action. His frank talk is quite jarring:

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I was standing near another former client of Love In Action as Jacob spoke. He described his experience at a different “friends and family weekend” which was very nearly identical to Jacob’s. I cannot imagine a more outrageous form of abuse short of physical abuse than to force anyone to speak like this in front of their parents.

I talked a bit more with Jacob the next day. He spoke about “drinking the kool-aid,” having convinced himself his same-sex attractions were lessening. He also speaks about how Love In Action made him feel like “part of myself was dying inside”:

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Has Ex-gay Leader John Smid Stepped Down?

Jim Burroway

March 26th, 2008

That’s the rumor anyway. We’re still looking for confirmation, but former Love In Action client Peterson Toscano got an interesting voice mail today:

I am running to do a show and just got a voice mail from a former Love in Action staff member who said, “I’m sure you heard the news, but if not, you may be interested to know that John Smid resigned from Love in Action.”

John Smid has been the executive director of the Memphis-based ex-gay residential program Love In Action since the early 1990′s, when he moved the ministry from California. If this is true, it is probably a good move. Here’s just a small taste of what this man thinks is good advice for struggling “ex-gays” (Hint: The best part is at about the two minute mark):

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So now that you’ve heard that, read the rules that the residential clients at Love In Action are expected to follow. I’d say that his leaving Love In Action can’t be anything but a good first step — assuming it’s true.

Update: It’s official.

John Smid’s Vagina Monologue

Jim Burroway

February 19th, 2008

I’ve wanted to post about this ever since I attended the Exodus Freedom Conference last summer. But to be perfectly honest, I was so flabbergasted by Love In Action Director John Smid’s workshop on masturbation that I was never able to figure out how to approach it.

Watch this, especially at the point about halfway through the video when he talks about respecting his wife while talking about her vagina. When someone like this projects so many of his issues onto everyone else, do you think he’s qualified to teach anyone about sexuality?

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So now that you’ve heard that, read the rules that the residential clients at Love In Action are expected to follow. It takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

Love In Action “Refuge” Youth Program Shut Down

Jim Burroway

July 1st, 2007

Remember Zach, the 16-year-old whose MySpace blog revealed that he was about to be involuntarily committed to Love In Action’s youth live-in program “Refuge” in 2005? He was committed to a two-month stay in the residential program, and his plight spawned international outrage along with unprecedented protests in Memphis. It also inspired filmmaker Morgan Fox to begin filming the documentary, “This Is What Love In Action Looks Like,” set for release in January 2008.

This evening at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine, California, we screened short excerpts of several documentary films including Fox’s unfinished work. Just before Fox’s extended trailer was shown, we learned that he had to make a very quick last-minute change to the ending today. And when we saw that ending, the crowd erupted in both cheers and tears as we saw that Love In Action Director John Smid confirmed that the “Refuge” youth program has been “dissolved.”

There were many cathartic moments at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference, but for me at least, this surprise announcement was the most satisfying. I hope this will finally bring to an end any ideas that holding youth against their will for counseling they neither need nor desire is acceptable in a civilized country. This is a great step forward.

Peterson Toscano shares his personal thoughts here.