On Friday Zach Stark came out of Love in Action’s Refuge “ex-gay” program. He may be out, but chances are he will not be free.
After weeks of enduring nothing but an alternative view, and sporting the Biblically-crafted lenses his parents and the program fashioned for him, it is uncertain how he will view himself and the world.
I don’t know if we will find out for some time what Zach really thinks and feels about his ordeal–even with his recent blog posts. He still lives under the financial control of his parents. Like many LGBTQ youth, he may face homelessness if he asserts himself and his queerness.
At a retreat in Northern Michigan, hearing firsthand the stories of the Point Scholars and the harrowing experiences many shared, moved most of us in the audience to tears. Parents shove kids out on the streets to fend for themselves or deny their own children money for college if their children persist in the awful gay lifestyle.
Zach may have to shut up and put up for the next two years and maybe even more. And with his father exposing the family’s identity to the world, the media circus surrounding Zach may serve only to increase the bunker mentality in the Stark home.
When I was 17, I first received gay reparative therapy. Although my parents did not force me, I felt compelled by the anti-gay messages I heard around me. Growing up during the start of the AIDS epidemic, the churches and the media capaitalized on the tragedy to frighten the shit out of many gay teens.
At 17 I began an “ex-gay” process. Looking back, it feels like I was placed in a time capsule. Sealed off from the world and even my own reason, I floated, suspended in a thick solution of shame, fear and self-doubt. The authorities in my life constantly reminded me that I was wrong, bad, sinful, deceived, corrupt, and I believed them.
How that container that kept me locked away finally broke open is somewhat of a mystery to me. I was lost, now I am found. I was blind, now I see.
Zach is out, but we may not hear his heart and mind for some time. Really, we should all just let him be to survive what he must survive the next few years.
But more importantly, Zach’s story is out, and it is the story of many queer and questioning teens in the US today. It is the story of many adult survivors of the “ex-gay” movement. It is a story that needs to be told and more importantly that needs to be heard.