Blogger Teen Now Defending Ex-Gay Facility

Mon. August 8, 2005 12:00 AM by

Memphis, TN - The Tennessee teen who gained worldwide attention after detailing his fear of being sent to an “ex-gay” camp in an Internet posting has now posted a follow up blog saying the entire situation has been blown out of proportion.

But gay activists who have rallied in opposition of the camp say the posting shows signs of intimidation.

After coming out to his parents, Zach Stark, 16, was enrolled June 6 at Refuge for a reported eight-week session. The Christian facility, a branch of Love In Action, specializes in converting gay youth. It receives adolescent referrals from Exodus, an organization devoted to helping gay adults become heterosexual. In Stark’s June 3 blog, he expressed uncertainty about the upcoming retreat. A mention of suicidal thoughts quickly garnered widespread attention, shining the spotlight on the dangers of ex-gay organizations across the country.

But in his latest blog, posted Aug. 1, Stark states that he “is annoyed towards a lot of things,” including that his blogs were taken out of perspective and Love In Action was misrepresented.

The blog makes no mention of Stark’s 56-day stay at Refuge. In the blog, Stark says that homosexuality is still a “factor” for him, but he won’t let it “run my life.” He also includes an apparent slap at gay activists who led a campaign against Love In Action.

“I refuse to deal with people who are only focused on their one-sided (biased) agendas,” Stark writes. “It isn’t fair to anyone.”

John Smid, Love In Action’s executive director, declined comment on Stark’s postings, while gay groups said they would continue to question the ex-gay program’s efforts. The Tennessee Department of Heath is currently running an investigation of the organization’s treatment methods.

Stark’s original posting led Memphis residents to form the Queer Action Coalition, which began daily demonstrations at the Love In Action offices to raise awareness of the dangers of ex-gay therapy.

Responding to the teen’s latest blog, Queer Action Coalition founder Morgan Fox said the group has great respect for Stark.

“We have always tried to protect his identity and his rights,” he said, noting the group never divulged the teen’s last name, which was obtained by media outlets. “But we’ve always said from the beginning that this is not all about Zach.”

Wayne Besen, a gay author who studies the ex-gay movement and has followed Stark’s story, said he is certain that some type of coercion was exerted on the teen, given the wording of his latest blog.

“It’s disconcerting because the boy who blogged before entering the program has a different voice,” said Besen, author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth. ”The boy who blogged after the program is no longer a free-spirited young man.”

Besen recently posted on his Web site,, a letter by a co-founder of Love In Action criticizing the conversion program. Former ex-gay John Evans, who co-founded Love In Action with Rev. Kent Philpott in 1973, sent the letter July 30 to Smid, the ministry’s current director.

“In the past 30 years since leaving the ‘ex-gay’ ministry I have seen nothing but shattered lives, depression, and even suicide among those connected with the ‘ex-gay’ movement,” Evans wrote.

Written By Ross von Metzke

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