(Memphis) A 2005 protest against a Memphis gay reparative therapy program may have caused a ripple effect that’s now being seen coast to coast.
In 2005, Love in Action was a group not only treating adults in a residency program, but also treating teens in a day camp. The goal was to have each client choose a straight lifestyle, which they called “ex-gay.”
The protest, led by Morgan Jon Fox, centered on a 16-year-old boy who was sent to the program by his parents, against his will. The protest later became the subject of Fox’s documentary, This is What Love in Action Looks Like.
The former executive director of Love in Action, John Smid, believes the national attention on this protest led to current laws and lawsuits.
In California, a law intended to go into effect Jan. 1 prohibits licensed therapists from administering gay reparative therapy on minors. Conflicting rulings by federal judges make the future of this law uncertain.
In New Jersey, former clients of gay reparative therapy are suing their program for deceptive practices.
Smid, who resigned from Love in Action several years ago, has since come out as gay. He also told News Channel 3 his approach was wrong. His experience is the subject of his new book, called Ex’d Out.
“So I spent 22 years trying to suppress the fact that I was gay. And I titled it that I was ex-gay. And as I look back, I realize that my life actually stopped,” Smid said.
He said that the message of trying to make gay people straight was popular.
“I think there is still a very large part of the Christian community that wants to believe that we can eradicate homosexuality in the same way that we can eradicate alcoholism…because people are uncomfortable with homosexuality, and people who struggle with homosexuality would love to see it go away.”
Smid now faces serious personal challenges with his wife of 24 years.
He believes the California law protecting minors from this therapy is a good idea.
“I think it’s sad to go into a 16-year-old kid’s life and say, you can’t be who you are, and we’re going to take you to a counselor so that he changes you. I mean that to me is abusive. It is wrong. Because it fuels this young person to not be able to talk about things that are very significant in their lives,” Smid said.
He’s been meeting with former clients of Love in Action these last few years to acknowledge the faults of the program.
He recently ran into Jeffrey Harwood, who enrolled in the residency program after he came out to his deeply religious parents.
Harwood remembers the strict rules Love in Action made them follow.
“We were not allowed to close the doors to the rooms, you were limited to how much time you could spend in the bathroom each day,” Harwood said. “We had what we called the ‘forbidden zone,’ which was basically anything north of Central Avenue and west of Highland. That was for what we thought, what we understood to be the gay wonderland.”
Harwood eventually graduated from the program but had difficulty still fending off thoughts about men. He remembers hitting a breaking point one day.
“I sat in my bathroom with my big kitchen knife, trying to decide how it was that I wanted to kill myself.”
Harwood called the program “religious, social abuse.”
Other clients, like Adrian Mehr, did not feel abuse to that degree. Mehr attended weekly workshops, where they had to list their sins.
He felt that being honest with himself was actually helpful and said he now has a stronger relationship with God. Though he disagrees with trying to remove homosexuality, he feels God is accepting of who he is.
These former clients and the former director approve of the law banning teens from this therapy.
But others feel government should stay out of parents’ choices.
Andy Savage is the teaching pastor at High Point Church. His church is a place where everyone is welcome: “compassion without compromise.”
That means Savage welcomes all, but will continue to preach that homosexuality is a sin.
“Even if you feel compelled toward the homosexual side, then I would simply say biblically, you may have to choose otherwise with what scripture teaches,” Savage said. “I would guide them very similarly to the way I would guide a couple, or a spouse who’s married, who feels compelled to have an affair.”
When it comes to minors, Savage believes children should sometimes be steered in directions they don’t like. Parents will know what’s good for them.
“Sometimes that means that kids are put in situations against their own will as children, and sometimes that means the parents get it right,” he said.
In his experience counseling people, Savage said he knows people who have completely eradicated their gay desires because of their faith in God.
However, he also knows people who continue to have those desires yet choose not to act on them.
“We’re going to trust God, even if we don’t understand Him,” Savage said.
Savage and Smid know each other. They both say they help people achieve a stronger relationship with God.
The difference is that Savage believes that relationship will ultimately lead one away from a homosexual lifestyle.
Meanwhile, Smid believes God will accept everyone as they are. “If a person is gay, they must absolutely have the freedom to discover who they are without someone else trying to control or contain their choices.”