This story comes via the Queer Action Coaltion (QAC), which led the protests against Love in Action / Refuge (LIA/R) a little over a year ago.
LIA/R, the Memphis-area “ex-gay” program announced that they will step up their efforts to target youth (as young as 13!)
Although we have seen success in our ministry, we see the culture relentlessly fighting back. So, we are expanding our ammunition to battle for young people and their families. Our experienced counselors and staff will offer a whole new array of options starting during the summer of 2006:
• Residential recovery for young adults (ages 18-25)
• College campus outreach
• Revamped summer program for youth (ages 13-17)
• Seminars to equip church and community youth leaders
• Conferences to heal wounds within families
• Creative support for parents and families
The QAC goes on to state that LIA/R uses predatory tactics to snare youth including a MySpace blog (which seems to be not working at the moment.) (for a PDF of the document click here thanks to Steve.
The QAC folks list their concerns and to announce protests at the Love in Action / Refuge facility on Monday June 5, 2006. Memphibians–get out there!
Back in January 2005, I met with the BBC crew that had just finished filming LIA/R. The presenter and the crew expressed shock at the treatment of the youth in the facility. They told me that adults and minors gathered together and talked about serious issues including prostitution, sexual abuse, and beastiality. They told me of a 16 year old lesbian placed in the program against her will. And the message that she received by being there is that her same-sex attractions are on the same level as a man having sex with animals.
I couldn’t believe it, so on June 1, 2005, when I bumped into John Smid at the Atlantia airport, I questioned him about this. (I had not yet heard of Zach’s story as it was just unfolding). He assured me that although the youth and the adults attended the some of the same sessions, they did not talk about their particular “issues”, just their feelings.
Even if that were true, any 16 year old I know is smart enough to figure out within a half a day why everyone is in the program.
This fall, I spoke at length with a young man who was in the adult program this summer when Zach was also in attendance in Refuge, the youth program. I asked him to describe the sessions and he confirmed that adults and youth met together. When I asked, “But of course they don’t talk about issues, just emotions, right?” He replied that they talked about the issues often, in fact, each participant had to give an introduction which outlined the exact nature of their issues.
Today, pumped up on the war rhetoric of saving youth from a culture set out to destroy them, potentially thoughtful and kind human beings who run LIA/R end up employing harmful strategies designed to scare these kids straight by any means necessary. Even if it means exposing them to pedophiles and people with extreme sexual fetishes. (The language reminds me of the fear-fueled war talk of the US Christian fascist group BattleCry)
I know folks from my time at LIA who before they entered the program never had sex with another person and were quite naive sexually. By the time they left, often with the shame of failure, armed with loads of details about what we thought of as “the gay lifestyle”, they ended up living self-destructive lives filled with anonymous sexual encounters and worse addictions than they ever experienced before.
It appears that parents shocked at having a queer child would rather submit their own son or daughter to a humiliating and isolating experience like LIA/R, an experience that will harm their delicate sense of self, then to attempt to understand their own flesh and blood. Once in the program, the parents and other family members fall under the influence of LIA/R and learn how they are part of the problem and need to change the family power structure. In the end, the family end up building barriers between each other.
I have said it before, and although it sounds impossible, I do believe that folks like John Smid often believe they are doing the right thing. They can start out with a heart of compassion to help those who they think are going to experience a horrible life if they don’t turn from their sinful ways. But after years of doing this and seeing that the VAST majority of particpants cannot maintain an ex-gay life and that such a life usually causes more harm than good, surely John Smid can humble himself enough to take a proper accounting of his program.
Instead he unfurls the war language, gets into a bunker mentality and rallies the troops to save queer and questioning youth. It is sad and frustating to see that really it is a war cry to save programs like Love in Action / Refuge that with every contently out queer and queer couple, they have to fight to deny the reality that most of us are whole and healthy humans beings, in spite of living in a homophobic society.
Youth are being hurt and attacked no doubt, and sadly some of the worst perpetrators are parents and religious leaders who say that in order for children to be good enough for the family, society and the kingdom of Heaven, they must change into the image of their creators.