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June 19, 2005

Update on Zach and Refuge

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Several readers have emailed me with updates on Zach, the 16-year-old whose parents sent him to Refuge, a "reeducation camp" for gay teens operated by Love In Action, Intl.

So far, I have unconfirmed reports that Zach is at Refuge and that his sentence has been extended for 6 weeks.

Free Zach has compiled contact information for the operators of the camp, human rights organizations, media outlets, and state and local government officials who might be able to exert some influence on Zach's behalf.

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» Another Zach Update from The Republic of T.
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I asked around a bit, and got an email from someone named Wendy who says she's Zach's best friend. She says he's able to contact her about once a week, and confirmed that he is there for another six weeks because his parents deem it "necessary and effective."

Do they serve lemon chicken at the camp?

The protests have made it into the fundamentalist news channels:

"...A Memphis-based ministry designed to provide treatment and recovery for sexual problems is being protested by homosexual activists. The group's executive director says he cannot understand why a message of love and hope is being met with such hate. Love In Action International is a Christ-centered recovery treatment center that helps individuals make informed decisions about sexuality choices. The program helps people who are willing to leave the homosexual lifestyle. The ministry's headquarters in Memphis have been picketed by a group of lesbians who do not like that message. LIA executive director John Smid says his group simply offers solutions -- and that includes helping parents with confused children. It is that stance which has sparked the lesbians' protests. "With our adult program, that is absolutely our philosophy: if a person wants to pursue counseling and therapeutic groups and support to live a sober and obedient life in Christ outside of inappropriate sexual behaviors, we offer that option to them," Smid explains. "For the youth, we believe very strongly that the parents hold the convictions about how they will raise their children." Smid says he is simply asking everyone to show a little tolerance and open-mindedness about his ministry -- something he notes homosexuals claim they care most about. [Rusty Pugh]
via Agape Press

I've been following Zachs story 'round the blogosphere. Among the exclamations of horror at the program RULES. I see astonishment that methods like this exist.

The "Rules" of this program have a provenance. It's nothing new, It's nothing honorable and it's nothing much Christian.

The LIA "rules" are based on the methods of Synanon. http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/synanon.html

Synanon was founded in 1958 by Chuck Dederich as a drug rehab/recovery group, and by 1974 had styled itself a religion. Synanon was the model for many "Therapeutic Communities" focusing on teenage drug abuse/misbehavior during the 70's, 80's and 90's.

The confrontation, milieu control, isolation, Moral Inventories and many other features outlined in LIA's rules (minus the bible verses, and the trembling before the totems of Abercrombie & Fitch and Calvin Klein (and I thought Christians rejected idol worship, silly me.) are almost word for word duplicates of the "rules" of these behavior modification programs.

One of he most well largest of these was Straight Inc. Founded in Florida by Mel Sembler., (recently US ambassador to Italy) Straight was very successful in marketing and "growing" the program, establishing branches in several states and closing in the early 90's amid a string of lawsuits, allegations of child abuse, kidnapping and fraud. (including a $220,000 settlement for the false imprisonment of Fred Collins in 1983.) ( The Washington Post, May 26 1983, Thursday, Final Edition SECTION: Metro: C1)

Although Straight Inc. closed it begat a series of similar abusive treatment programs, many operated by former Straight execs. One of these was Kids Helping Kids in Bergen, NJ. Which closed in 2003 after its Director, Virgil Miller Newton, (formerly National Clinical Director of Straight) settled a $6.5 million lawsuit brought by Lulu Corter, who had been kept as a client for 13 years!

Virgil Miller Newton now goes by "Father Cassian Newton" as a priest in the American Orthodox Catholic Church. (Though he was once a Methodist.)

These programs left a wake of unsucessful "treatment", suicides, mental health issues, and broken families. To learn more visit one of the several internet forums for survivors and veterans of these programs. A Google seach will bring them up on the first page. (Fair Warning: gay issues are not their focus, many of the forums are unmoderated and the posters there are still very, very angry even 20 plus years after. It can get ugly. (And a good example of the sort of lovely, loving personalities these programs inspire.)

Maybe someone should tell Zach's parents about this. Maybe someone should ask Smid if he knows about the Synanon Church, and are they Christians?

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