PFLAG Statement on the Release of Tennessee Teen from ’Ex-Gay Camp’
WASHINGTON -- As Zach Stark, the Tennessee teen who recently gained national attention after blogging his fears of being sent to Love in Action, is released from the program this week, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) calls for an ongoing and substantive discussion about the effects of “reparative therapy” on young people and their families.
“As families who have faced these very issues in our own lives, we must give Zach and his family the space and privacy they need to deal with this situation,” said Jody Huckaby, PFLAG’s executive director. “We also must insist, as allies and advocates for our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) loved ones, that ’reparative therapy’ programs are not allowed to prosper unchallenged at the expense of our family members and friends.”
The “reparative therapy” industry uses disproved medical theories to “cure” GLBT persons and preys upon those in pain and confusion about matters of sexual orientation. Their claims have been roundly denounced by the American Medical Association (AMA), American Psychiatric Association (APA) and other medical professionals.
PFLAG applauds greater scrutiny of “reparative therapy”, “conversion therapy” or “ex-gay” programs. Because of the attention surrounding Zach’s story, the Tennessee Department of Health began an investigation and notified the unlicensed Love in Action that it was functioning illegally by claiming to offer therapy and could face prosecution by the district attorney.
Immediately before entering the program, Zach wrote, “I’ve been through hell. I’ve been emotionally torn apart for three days” and “Honestly how could you support a program like this? If I do come out straight I’ll be so mentally unstable and depressed it won’t matter.”
Zach’s fears were well-founded. According to the AMA and APA, “reparative therapy” does not work. But the dangers of these programs are real. At a minimum, those in “reparative therapy” must cope with the emotional damage of being relentlessly badgered with fear tactics and being told to change who they are. At worse they are at risk for self-destructive behavior including suicide.
Mary Lou Wallner and her husband Bob know the damage of “reparative therapy” all too well. Speaking at a recent PFLAG conference in Bothell, Washington, Mary Lou told the audience that her reaction when her daughter came out was based on the teachings of Dr. James Dobson, a leading “reparative therapy” proponent. “I raised my kids on Dobson. I read his books and listened to his radio broadcasts for years. In December of 1988, when she was about 21 years old, my daughter wrote us a letter and told us that she was a lesbian. I flipped out and...the next nine years were pretty stormy. Then in February of 1997, at age 29, she committed suicide.”
“Looking back, I think a lot of it had to do with the way I taught her about homosexuality. I have since come to understand that almost anybody gets depressed if they can’t be who they really are.”
Like the Wallner’s, Zach’s parents and other parents considering “reparative therapy” only want the best for their children. However, PFLAG families and our allies must re-double our efforts to educate about the dangers and alternatives to this soundly discredited “treatment.”
“Ultimately we want Zach to be who he is and we accept whatever decision he makes,” said Dr. Arnold Drake, president of PFLAG Memphis. “We also want Zach and his family to know that we’ve been through this before and we are ready and able to support them.”
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is the nation’s foremost family-based organization committed to the civil rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons. Founded in 1973 by mothers and fathers, PFLAG has over 200,000 members and supporters in more than 500 chapters throughout the United States.
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