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Posts for July, 2012

Love In Action documentary now on Netflix streaming

Daniel Gonzales

July 10th, 2012

For those of you who haven’t been able to catch This Is What Love In Action Looks Like at a local film festival, or on Amazon, or Hulu… it’s now found a home on Netflix streaming here.

Also don’t forget to give it a positive review if you liked it.  Netflix has a lot of garbage in their gay and lesbian film category and This Is What Love In Action Looks Like stands out above most of the other content in there.

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]

Love In Action Suspends Residential Ex-Gay Program

Jim Burroway

September 2nd, 2011

Memphis-based Love In Action has announced that they have “suspended indefinitely” their residential ex-gay program:

Love In Action’s Residential program has been suspended indefinitely. Simply put, there is a significant need to bring all of LIA under one location for it to be more cost effective.  We continue to counsel and grow through our 4-Day Intensives, Hourly Counseling, Conferences, Support Groups, and Church Assistance Program.

LIA refers web visitors to Woodstock, Georgia-based HopeQuest for those interested in an ex-gay residential program.

Love In Action became the focus of international attention in June 2005, 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. He also posted the program’s rules that he would be forced to live under while locked away in the “therapy” program. Advocates protested for several days outside the main offices of Love In Action. That incident has become the basis for a new documentary film, This is What Love In Action Looks Like.

Love In Action’s residential program maintained group homes throughout Memphis in residential neighborhoods for their charges. Clients were placed three to a bedroom, and shared household duties as part of their treatment program. The program itself was horrendously abusive. As former clients related to me, one important element of their treatment program involved undergoing an exhausted “personal inventory” in which they recount in explicit detail each and every sexual “sin” they have ever committed — whether it was detailed descriptions of sexual acts, or if they had been celibate then detailed descriptions of their sexual fantasies. Over the course of weeks and months, they revisit their personal inventory and add to it anything else that they may remember.

Then during the “Friends and Family Weekend,” friends and family members were invited to come to the Love In Action campus to visit with their “struggling” loved one. They were ushered into a room and are seated on one side, but not before undergoing a counseling session before hand. The clients are then brought into the room and made to stand before their families and friends. They are then ordered to read aloud from their personal inventory — with complete details over their most humiliating sexual act or fantasy. This, they read aloud in front of their parents, friends, siblings — whoever happens to be there for the weekend.

In that counselling session before seeing their loved ones, visitors were advised ahead of time that they will likely hear something very disturbing from their loved one, and that a key component of this “therapy” is that they were not to offer any approval for their client. They couldn’t say, “we love you anyway”, they couldn’t say “we forgive you,” they couldn’t say anything positive. Instead, they were instructed to condemn their loved one, to tell them how disappointed they were, how disgusted they were, and so forth. The effects of this encounter was often devastating to clients and family members alike.

Peterson Toscano, a former LIA client and current ex-gay survivor and gender advocate reacts to today’s news:

I am thrilled that the sun has finally set on this part of the program–one that housed and harassed many of us these past 30 years. While they will continue to offer some limited services, it appears that they have begun to dismantle operations.

What better way to celebrate than you see the new documentary by LIA protester and filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox. This is What Love in Action Looks Like chronicles what happened when a 16 year old boy was forced to attend Love in Action and how his friends responded and ultimately help shut down the youth program back in 2007. Or pop in your DVD of Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway Housse, now a HISTORICAL satire of the Love in Action program.

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” Ex-Gay Documentary Premieres Next Month

Jim Burroway

May 3rd, 2011

In June 2005, sixteen-year-old Zach Stark announced on his MySpace blog that his parents were sending him away to an ex-gay youth program after he came out to them. He also posted the program’s rules that he would be forced to live under while locked away in the “therapy” program. The rules were shocking: no contact with the outside world, no diaries or journals, shirts must be worn at all times (including while sleeping), no computer access, no television or radio, no reading materials except those provided by the staff. Thanks to Zach’s blog posts before entering Memphis-based Love In Action, the Exodus-afiliated program became the focus of worldwide controversy and daily protests. “Love In Action” was investigated by the state of Tennessee for child abuse and for operating a separate unliscenced drug and alcohol treatment program. Love In Action eventually settled with the state and shut down their youth program.

Memphis-based documentary filmmaker Morgan Fox began working on a documentary about Love In Action, beginning with Zach’s forced commitment into the program. In 2008, a trailer was released in which Fox caught up with Zach who described his ordeal. But deadlines came and went, and the long-awaited documentary was never released.

Until now. The premiere of This Is What Love in Action Looks Like will take place next month at Frameline 35, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival which will be held from June 16 to 26. The documentary features interviews with Zach, then-LIA director John Smid, other former ex-gay leaders and former LIA clients. Some of those former clients spoke out at a 2008 ex-gay survivors meet-up held in Memphis that was hosted by former LIA client Peterson Toscano. (I spoke with one LIA survivor here.)

The documentary’s showtime is not yet available. Here is the film’s trailer:

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Ex-Gays And The Law: Truth Wins Out and Lambda Legal Offer Legal Advice

Jim Burroway

February 21st, 2009

Truth Wins Out and Lambda Legal have released a booklet, Ex-Gay & The Law (PDF: 1.4MB/12pages), which provides an excellent overview by Wayne Besen of the ex-gay movement and its practitioners. The booklet aims to educate ex-gay survivors who believe they were harmed by their experiences about their legal options. From TWO’s press release:

Ex-Gay & the Law helps survivors of ex-gay programs explore their legal rights if they believe they have been harmed,” said Wayne Besen, Executive Director of Truth Wins Out. “This groundbreaking publication offers practical legal advice so important questions can be answered.”

“We are pleased to help support this publication and to be a part of this effort,” said Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director of Lambda Legal. “Groups that proclaim to ‘cure’ gay people of their sexual orientation lack any legitimate medical backing, cause harm, and sometimes operate unlawfully and unethically. If you have experienced any of the scenarios outlined in the last pages of Ex-Gay & the Law, we welcome you to contact or Legal Help Desk.”

I’ve looked over the pamphlet. While it is definitely an advocacy piece, it certainly matches what I’ve witnessed first-hand from personally attending Love Won Out conferences, the week-long Exodus Freedom Conference in Irvine, CA., the Family Impact Summit in Florida (where Exodus International president Alan Chambers described gays as following an “evil agenda”), and by talking with survivors of the Love In Action live-in ministry.

In fact, if anything I think Wayne might have soft-pedaled some of what goes on at the Love In Action live-in ministry on page 6. The worst abuse I learned — and this was confirmed by three separate people who attended Love In Action — occurred at the so-called “Friends and Family weekend.”

It goes like this: during the “client’s” stay at Love In Action, they are required to undergo an exhausted “personal inventory” in which they recount in explicit detail each and every sexual “sin” they have ever committed — whether it was detailed descriptions of sexual acts, or if they had been celibate then detailed descriptions of their sexual fantasies. Over the course of weeks and months, they revisit their personal inventory and add to it anything else that they may remember.

During the “Friends and Family Weekend,” friends and family members are invited to come to the Love In Action campus to visit with their “struggling” loved one. After a counseling session beforehand, they are ushered into a room and are seated on one side. The clients are then brought into the room and made to stand before their families and friends. They are then ordered to read aloud from their personal inventory — with complete details over their most humiliating sexual act or fantasy. This, they read aloud in front of their parents, friends, siblings — whoever happens to be there for the weekend.

Now I mentioned the counseling session beforehand. That is key. Visitors are advised ahead of time that they will likely hear something very disturbing from their loved one, and that a key component of this “therapy” is that they are not to offer any approval for their client. They can’t say, “we love you anyway”, they can’t say “we forgive you,” they can’t say anything positive. Instead, they are instructed to condemn their loved one, to tell them how disappointed they are, how disgusted they are, and so forth. The effects of this encounter have often been devastating to clients and family members alike.

As I said, I have independent corroboration from three different former clients. Some have been able to repair their relationships with their parents.  But I do know that this isn’t always the case. The ruptured relationships between some and their family continues to this day. For too many fathers and mothers who heard their own son describe the intimate details of a sexual hook-up, they simply cannot look at him the same way again.

Lambda Legal advises:

Anyone who may have been harmed by any sort of counselor or therapist should contact Lambda Legal or a local lawyer as soon as possible. All states have a “statute of limitations” which limits the length of time for filing a lawsuit. These periods vary greatly, and may have exceptions if the patient is a minor. To best protect your legal rights, it is very important to consult an attorney sooner rather than later.

Whether or not someone can take legal action against an “ex-gay” counselor or facility will depend on factors including the law of the state where you met with the practitioner and the specific facts. There are many reasons “ex-gay” programs or practitioners may be liable for harm. If representatives of an “ex-gay” program make false claims, they may have committed fraud, breach of contract, or violated state laws against unfair business practices. If a practitioner does not adequately describe the potential harms of an “ex-gay” program, he or she may be liable for violating the duty to get consent from a person seeking care. If a practitioner is not qualified to provide therapy for a specific mental health condition and fails to refer to a qualified doctor or psychologist, he or she may be liable for negligence or violating rules governing professional licenses. If a counselor threatens to “out” you to your community if you decide you do not want to continue therapy, he or she may be liable under state law. If a practitioner tells third parties about details of your life or your same-sex attractions, that could violate your right to privacy. It is impossible to list all of the factors that might be important in evaluating whether or not someone harmed by an “exgay” program or practitioner may be able to sue in court or take other legal actions, so it is important to consult an attorney. Minors as well as adults have legal rights, including the right to consult with an attorney.

You can call Lambda Legal toll free at 866-542-8336.

Do Ex-Gays Hook Up In Ex-Gay Programs?

Jim Burroway

February 1st, 2009

Peterson Toscano spills:

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Love In Action’s New Director Announces Comically High Success Rate

Daniel Gonzales

June 15th, 2008

Peterson Toscano served as Grand Martial of the Memphis pride parade this weekend which prompted another round of media coverage on the ex-gay movement there. Check out this passage from the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

But according to [Love In Action], Toscano’s experience differs greatly from those of most other people getting treatment. Of 400 people who have gone through the program, more than 300 have been turned straight, the group says.

“Our success rate is higher than our dropout rate,” said Love In Action director Jim Scott. [pictured above]

“It works for some people, and for some people it doesn’t.”

Perhaps Scott is equating successfully completing and graduating from LIA with “turning straight.” Long term “success rate” isn’t addressed leaving Scott’s claims laughable at best and misleading at worst for those unfamiliar with the contrived working tricks common in the exgay movement.

Alan Chambers: Death or Change

Jim Burroway

May 27th, 2008

Yesterday we reported on two Exodus-affiliated leaders who claimed that there were only two choices facing struggling gay kids and adults: Change or die. Now we learn that Exodus President Alan Chambers has reinforced this false choice in an interview with radio talk show host Chris Farby on May 16th. Towards the end of the program, Alan Chambers was asked about teen suicide:

Chris Fabry: We had another email that talked about, especially teenagers, and how many teenagers are caught in this emotional trauma, and how many take their own lives because of the homosexual issue. You were a teenager caught in that too weren’t you

Alan Chambers: I was a teenager, you know the bulk of my struggle was during my teenage years, from about 11 to 21 or so, and I understand feeling like the only way out is you kill yourself. In fact one of the things that made me want to die — was when I heard, there is no way out of this, this is your only option, there is no other choice, in fact there is no choice – you are who you are and that won’t ever change. And I thought, that can’t be the truth, and if it is, I can’t live this way.

Instead of confronting the false choice between death or change, Alan Chambers reinforces it. With Exodus, it’s change or die.

But the real danger here is that too many people, believing that there really are only two choices, choose the latter. When I attended last year’s Ex-Gay Survivor’s Conference in California, I talked with one person whose former partner was told that his only choice was to “change or go away.” He chose to “go away” by taking his own life.

Indeed, blood has stained the ex-gay movement from its beginning. Love In Action co-founder John Evans describes the suicide of his best friend, Jack McIntyre, while at the Marin General Hospital Psychiatric Ward. Evans recalled, “In Jack’s suicide note, he wrote that he believed that God would forgive him for killing himself, but not for having even one more ‘impure’ thought.”

That was more than thirty years ago. Meanwhile, the “change or die” mantra continues.

[Hat tip: Pam Spaulding's House Blend.]

See also:
Exodus’ False Choice: Death or Change

Whatever Happened to Zach?

Jim Burroway

May 5th, 2008

He’s back, and he talked to Morgan Jon Fox for his forthcoming documentary, “This Is What Love In Action Looks Like.”

Zach was the sixteen-year-old gay teen who, in 2005, gained worldwide attention when he wrote on his MySpace blog about coming out to his parents. They quickly shipped him off to Love Won Out’s Refuge program for teens. But before entering the program, Zach posted Love In Action’s rules online for everyone to see, and those rules provide a very revealing glimpse into the very strange world of Love In Action. After weeks of protest and worldwide condemnation, the Refuge program was finally shut down. But Love In Action remains active, a dark stain on an ex-gay movement running amok with no oversight or accountability.

Here’s an extended opening sequence for the documentary, which is set to for an official release later this summer. Zach’s post-LIA appearance at the seven minute mark represents a small glimpse of a full-length exclusive interview.

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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.

Ex-Gay Survivors Talk About Love In Action and other Ex-Gay Ministries

Jim Burroway

February 22nd, 2008

It’s been a very long day here in Memphis, where several of us have gathered for the Beyond Ex-Gay Mid-South Regional Gathering taking place this weekend. Earlier today, we had a press conference to talk about the experiences of those who had participated in ex-gay ministries and therapies, and to talk about the Love Won Out ex-gay conference taking place here on Saturday.

I’m posting the videos of that press conference a bit out of order because I really want to highlight Jacob Wilson’s comments. Jacob was a client at Love In Action, the residential ex-gay program in Memphis made famous by Zach, the sixteen-year-old blogger who was forced into the program against his will. Listen as Jacob describes his experience there, especially the infamous “friends and family weekend,” which was an integral part of the program. If you don’t watch any other video in this post, you must at least see this one:

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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. Coupled with Love In Action’s bizarre rules, we would be calling this outfit a brain-washing cult if it weren’t being operated as a “Christian ministry.” Christians everywhere should be outraged.

Other videos from the press conference, in order of appearance:

Yours truly, talking about what was said at Love Won Out, and how real live parents who were attending responded to what they said:

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Brandon Tidwell went into Love In Action six years ago, soon after coming out to his parents:

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After Brandon and Jacob spoke, John Holm talked about the collages which ex-gay survivors put together to describe their personal experiences which they will share tomorrow morning at the Love Won Out conference:

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And finally, the hardest working woman in the whole program, Christine Bakke took reporters on a tour of the art show that she oversaw at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center.

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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?

The Burden of Blame: How Love In Action Harms Parents

Jim Burroway

February 19th, 2008

I’ve written before about the cruel messages that parents often pick up from the ex-gay movement, messages which say that parents are to blame for their child’s homosexuality. Several people have questioned me about whether this is true or not. All I can do is report what I heard from talking to parents themselves. Former ex-gays have come forward to talk about their experiences, but so far few parents have spoken up.

Ex-gay surviver Peterson Toscano has posted a very poignant video in which he recounts his parents’ devastation after attending a “Family and Friends” weekend at the Love In Action residential ex-gay program in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a message which Peterson’s mom carried with her for the rest of her life. Watch it:

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Peterson talked later with someone at Love In Action about his parents experience and received an unbelievably callous response:

But when I spoke with someone … about all that happened with my mom and the years of doubt and torment she suffered, he shot back, “Healthy people ask for what they need.” I said, “Wait, what!?” He continued, “If your mom was having problems, she should have gotten some help.” But my mom had already been burnt by “experts,” and I know she didn’t want to expose herself to more hurt. But even if she could of or should of talked to someone to help her understand the issues better, what a pitiful response from this Christian leader.

Love In Action bills themselves as Christians, professionals, and experts. But with actions like these, they defile all three labels. We’ll have more on Love In Action later.

Memphis Commerial Appeal on Ex-Gay Survivors

Jim Burroway

February 17th, 2008

Jacob Wilson was just nineteen when he was involved with Love In Action’s residential adult program at the same time that Love In Action was in the national spotlight. A few years ago, LIA gained notoriety when a teenager named Zach wrote on his mySpace page about being forceed by his parents into LIA’s now-closed Refuge program for youth.

Zach’s supporters protested outside of LIA, but Wilson says the men and women inside were told not to make eye contact with the protesters and not to read their signs.

After Wilson left LIA, he found out what the protesters had wanted him to know.

“These people weren’t doing it to be activists, they were doing it to show that we weren’t alone, that we were loved … It crushes me that that message was cut from us.”

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports this morning on Jacob Wilson’s experience at Love In Action as he struggles to pay off the huge credit card debt from that failed effort. There’s also more information about this week’s Beyond Ex-Gay Mid-South Regional Gathering on Feb 22-24 in Memphis.

“This is What Love in Action Looks Like” In Post-Production

Daniel Gonzales

December 11th, 2007

Peterson Toscano reports queer filmmaker Morgan Fox is in need of additional funding to assist with editing and licensing of his upcoming film about Love In Action. Peterson (along with Bruce Garrett) is an associate executive producer on the film.

If you wish to donate money you may do so at the film’s blog.

And, in case you live on Mars and haven’t seen the trailer yet, here it is.

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