Sixteen-year-old Zach’s run-of-the-mill online diary drew unintended global attention several weeks ago when his parents sent him off to several weeks of antigay group counseling at a facility with marginal credentials. Former patients and officials say the facility injures some people emotionally while hindering emotional and spiritual development.
The young man’s diary included excerpts of the exgay facility’s regimen. The facility’s rules include strict gender-specific rules of conduct that recall 1950s family TV shows; constant supervision; rules against exposure to any media other than preapproved religious-right sources; and restrictions on what teen clients could talk about with their own parents.
Having emerged from the exgay program, Zach now offers an obvious statement: There’s more to life than homosexuality — as if anyone believed differently — and he understandably wants to resume living a normal life, free of strangers’ demands and expectations.
Zach is certainly entitled to return to private life. Some important questions are thus likely to remain unanswered:
1) Zach speaks of not wanting to talk or hear about “the past situation.” What is the past situation?
2) Zach says “Love In Action has been misrepresented and what I have posted in my blogs has been taken out of perspective and context.” Who, specifically, misrepresented LIA, and how? What context was overlooked?
3) Zach says “I refuse to deal with people who are only focused on their one-sided (biased) agendas.” Whose agendas, what do those agendas consist of?
Only Zach can answer the first two questions, and he’s not obligated to do so — though it is generally more polite to explain one’s accusations to the accused and to seek reconciliation.
Regarding the third question: Let’s take a look at the people who rode the media bandwagon:
a) Zach’s antigay father appeared on CBN television, publicly exposing the identity of his son and declaring to Pat Robertson that by requiring his son to enter fulltime exgay counseling, he was giving his son the “choice” not to die (as all or most homosexuals supposedly do) by age 40.
b) Love In Action, Warren Throckmorton, and Exodus International benefited from substantial and largely favorable international mass-media attention that overlooked prejudices and discriminatory political activities among exgay movement leaders.
c) Bloggers, blog readers, and Memphis-area tolerance advocates generated much of the initial media attention. Many of these critics of LIA opposed the facility’s lack of credentials; its biased form of counseling; its sex, gender and religious stereotyping; and its allegedly high failure and emotional-injury rate. Some of these critics also maintained that parent-mandated attendance at such a facility constitutes a form of emotional abuse. And some went even further, demanding that exgay programs generally be shut down.
LIA’s own Gerard Wellman (Google search) became a man-of-the-moment on CNN, asserting that change is solely about behavior, not same-gender sexual or romantic attractions. True enough. But Wellman avoided discussing the lifelong celibacy that awaits him as an former homosexual whose de-labeled sexual attractions remain fixed squarely on fellow men. Wellman also avoided discussing the stereotypes and labels — “So-and-So the homosexual” — that LIA deploys against individuals if they are unwilling to practice both celibacy and a politically biased reinterpretation of the Gospels.
Stark should indeed be left alone — by both gay-equality and exgay advocates. Should he make public statements on exgay issues in the future — especially if he should lash out against either gays or exgays — then polite public reaction is to be expected.