Zach’s Release from “Love in Action” Imminent


As the release of Zach Stark from the Love in Action facility in Tennessee draws near, media outlets are scrambling to cover Zach’s story with shows on reparative therapy for homosexuals and whether or not sexual reorientation works.

This morning, Good Morning America aired a segment featuring Brandon Tidwell (left) and Gerard Wellman, both of whom attended Love in Action as adults, with varying results. Before the interview, Sawyer quoted a list of some of Love in Action’s rules. “No physical contact, no campy behavior, no eye contact, no outside media, and a moral inventory of the worst thing that you did in this area.” I really admired Sawyer in this interview when she arrived at the phrase “no campy behavior” and said “not sure what that means.”

Tidwell claimed the program is damaging and causes self-hate.

LiaTidwell: “They help you take apart your life and they help tear you down by shared moral inventories in the hopes that you’ll release shame from your life which just doesn’t happen…I think it’s absolutely wrong and the faith community can no longer continue to embrace programs like this that promote exclusion when Christ promoted inclusion in his kingdom.”

Sawyer then mentioned that the program director John Smid was dealing with problems of being attracted to men himself in 1984, and that he makes the claim of a 65% success rate.

Tidwell quickly shot that down. “They don’t keep track of the people who leave the program. They have no claim to that number. Most of the people that I know who have been through it have actually come out and are reconciling with their faith in a very healthy and strong way.”

Wellman now works for the program and believes in it, but I was shocked to see that he still admits an attraction to men: “It does not change attraction but it does change behavior…I have ‘guardrails’ for my behavior, not for my attraction, but for my behavior. So there are certain things that I don’t want to do based on my faith and there’s hundreds of thousands of people just like me that have these same guardrails.” He went on later to say that “this program helps me align my actions with my faith.” and that he’ll tell any woman he dates or marries about his attraction to men.

Tidwell concluded, “It promotes self-hatred. It’s inauthentic. I feel compassion for people who have to go through the program because I don’t feel they can be authentic about their lives…I think there’s a very narrow view that the Church continues to promote to say that people like Gerard [Wellman] and others can change and it puts out a false hope, a false authenticity for so many of us who want to embrace our faith and our homosexuality.”

Sawyer then got into the specifics of the Love in Action program and the child’s wishes, to which Wellman responded, “We respect the parent’s responsibility to raise their child as they see fit. We don’t have any kind of guards, no locked doors, The teens are not forced to be there.”

Tidwell then laughed quietly and said, “But the child is still submissive to the parents wishes…It’s not like you can just pick up and leave one day.”

Zach’s father Joe Stark was featured in a soundbyte from an earlier interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.


Stark: “It’s not what’s right and what is left. It’s what is right and what is wrong. And my wife and I will stand by that until the day we die. As far as homosexuality is not in God’s plan.”

Congrats to Diane Sawyer and her producers on a great segment.

To most of us, what the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association says makes complete sense: reparative therapy does not work. PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) released a statement this week warning of the emotional damage this kind of therapy can cause to young people who are told to change who they are: “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. 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.”

Among the entries posted on Zach’s MySpace blog was this one from May 29th that said “Well today, my mother, father, and I had a very long ‘talk’ in my room where they let me know I am to apply for a fundamentalist christian program for gays. They tell me that there is something psychologically wrong with me, and they “raised me wrong.” I’m a big screw up to them, who isn’t on the path God wants me to be on. So I’m sitting here in tears, joing the rest of those kids who complain about their parents on blogs – and I can’t help it.”

It will be interesting to see what has happened to Zach, if we are even allowed. Zach, still a minor, is reported to be released Friday, when a Tennessee gay rights group, Queer Action Coalition plans two peaceful protests at the Love in Action facility. Directions can be found here.

Paula Zahn covered the issue (apparently poorly) on her show last night on CNN.

Zach’s Father Speaks Out [tr]
“Love in Action” [tr]


  1. ha says

    That Joe Stark looks like the biggest fucking lady ev-er. I think I see him in the bar down the street… He’s the creepy asshole whose in there at 3pm and hammered by 6.

  2. David says

    Um, looking at the screen cap of Joe Stark, am I the only one who wonders whether he might have faced some of the same issues as his son, and is making Zach pay the price for the father’s own self-hatred???

  3. says

    What doesn’t make sense to me is the fact that Mr. Wellman is going to be “up front” about his attraction to men with his wife? Anyone woman as religiously crazy as a man who believes in conversion therapy, I would think, would NOT be okay with her husband thinking about hot naked men when they have sex.

    His “guardrails” statments remind me of Joe from Angels in America and his speech to Harper about “being one thing inside” but trying to live according to god’s plan or something like that. And we all see how THAT turned out…

  4. says

    I watched the Paula Zahn segment last night and was furious. Her story also interviewed Tidwell and the guy who runs the program. She also spoke at length with an 18 year old who says he was changed by the experience and is supressing his “homosexual desires.” He hopes one day to have enough attraction to women to marry one, but says if not, that abstinence is a viable option for his life. Briefly, Zahn spoke with a spokesperson for the American Psychological Association, which as a group adamantly discourages such “therapy”, but this part was very quick, and the segment ended with much of a “As you can see, some people think this works, some don’t – and we’re not going to take a position” stance. Elizabeth Vargas would have been proud at this shitty journalism.

  5. says

    This makes me realize just how fortunate and grateful I am to have the parents I have. Sure, it wasn’t easy at first. Their reaction for many years was, if they don’t acknowledge it, then it’s not true… I’m not gay, so we didn’t discuss it at all. After I got better from an illness that nearly killed me, the three of us sat down, and they told me they weren’t going to ignore it anymore. I’m still their son, and they love me unconditionally. Zachs’ situation is truly sad. Any parent who would subject their child to something as whacked as this, should have their head examined. I wish him the best.

  6. Ian says

    Christians can be terribly misguided people sometimes. What a travesty to take the message of love, acceptance, and inclusion and twist it around inflict such damage on another human being.

    Jesus NEVER tried to change anyone, be it criminals, prostitutes, or homosexuals (not comparing that with the first two). He showed pure and unconditional love and acceptance to all. Jesus would be crying over this so called “Love In Action” group.

  7. Madame M says

    I agree that Zach’s dad looked like a big closet case himself.

    I also think that Wellman will get married…to some lesbian who went through that program as well.

    I feel so sorry for those people who can’t be true to themselves.

  8. says

    Well if this isn’t the kind of information that makes you realize how lucky you are to live in a country where conversion therapy are 100% forbidden, I wonder what does !

    Thanks to Andy for bringing all those news (I’ve been reading them for quite a while now) from around the world and especially from the US, it allows me (and hopefully many more !) to do a lot of thinking !

  9. says

    Thanks for the coverage of this, Andy. The MSM should wake up to this story–finally–in a week or two.

    One of the more unfortunate results of programs like this is that it only takes one person successfully shamed back into the closet for the Religious Nutjobs to go, “See! It’s a Choice!! You can change!!” And when the person eventually comes back out, as they all do, well, THAT little tidbit is never given any press.

    Is it just me, or does Zach’s dad look a bit like Rip Taylor?

  10. Wayne says

    That’s not Zach’s dad, it’s his mother, and she has a testosterone imbalance so quit shaming her 😉

    Zach’s dad was busy picking out shoes to match his blouse so the wifey took the interview instead.

  11. Jason says

    I cannot understand how somebody would hate themselves enough to suppress what is truly inside them. I suppose this can happen on a miniscule level with anybody, but with something so… gratifying as sex why fight it?!? I simply just cannot understand the impulse to hate oneself. It seems so unhealthy! And why do these people have to do it in the name of Christianity?!?!

    Anyway, such suppression and self-hatred eventually leads to self-destruction, or worse, the destruction of others. Such as: gay politicians who hide their sexuality but push anti-gay legislation.

  12. Mike says

    My parents made me go to see a Christian counselor when I told them I was gay. It was interesting, because he admitted to me that he didn’t really know what to do, and that there probably wasn’t a cure. He actually asked me if I had ever thought of being a priest, since I was obviously going to have to be celibate the rest of my life in order to please God.

    After about two months of discussing my “struggle,” he actually told me that it seemed to him that my homosexuality wasn’t really a problem in my life, and that it seems that I’m actually happy with where I’m at, and that I really don’t NEED the counseling. I was shocked at what I heard, but I ran out of there like a bat out of hell, and never went back.

  13. says

    Thanks for the coverage of GMA, I had no idea they planned to run a segment or I’d have planned to record it.

    I don’t suppose they included an update of the state of the state of TN’s investigation into LIA/R operating without a license, did they? Smid quickly started with the “we’re a faith-based spritiual group & don’t offer counseling” routine to avoid the lack of licensure. They shouldn’t be able to get away with that considering they’ve made public statements about helping families get insurance reimbursement for their services, which is insurance fraud. I’d like to get the media to ask some hard hitting questions about that and about how any state could allow such a faith-based program to operate without requiring some sort of mandatory observation/interaction of clients by an impartial & objective psychologist to ensure the mental health status of these kids (or mandate removal from the program due to increased risk).

  14. Drew says

    Jason, can you really NOT understand how someone could come to a conclusion that he is a horrible person when perhaps everyone around him seems to espouse that viewpoint? Can you not imagine having an intense desire to make your unique mark on the world and feel that people you don’t know will hate you if they find out who you really are?

    I’m lucky enough to live in NYC, surrounded by supportive friends and a thriving gay community that made me feel safe about coming out and being gay. That wasn’t the case in my rural home town. Even now, I’ve gone on dates in New Jersey, just 30 minutes out of the city, and people stare and make menacing comments. Look at the hate crime statistics (new ones just out for NYC) the top target for physical violence here is against gays. Suddenly suppressing who you are doesn’t seem self-destructive, it seems like a self-protective survival mechanism.

    I agree that suppressing isn’t a smart way to go in the long run, but it’s not that difficult to see why people think it’s in their own best interest to do so.

    There haven’t been a lot of people on TV telling folks gay is ok. The internet was a big part of my coming out process, and (despite its BORING content thus far) LOGO and the like will make things better and easier for rural gays.

    In the mean time, we have to deal with the reality that some very vocal people in very visable positions are repeating the clear message that gay people aren’t ok and should go away… and that a lot of gays aren’t hearing anyone say anything else.

  15. Jason says

    This story is truly one of the most bizarre.

    Zach’s father looks like a woman who is currently undergoing hormone therapy to become a man.

    As for these Christians… well, all they can do is preach the bible, seeing how the APA and any real psychological institution would never take part in something as ludicrious as this “love in action.”

    They preach the word of Jesus? Too bad Jesus probably didn’t even exist. But of course christians are far to timid to actually question their own beliefs and discover something other than their own faith.

    Am I the only one here who thinks they all look like a bunch of rednecks as well?

    Oh well, my arrogant yankee self is off to starbucks then shopping for some clothes downtown for the upcoming fall semester :-)

  16. Leland says

    “Congrats to Diane Sawyer and her producers on a great segment.” Bullshit. You’re obviously overdosing on the Happy Pills, Andy. Their verbal teasers last night and this morning used the phrase “Turning gay teens straight” which, without any qualifiers like “Is it possible?”, makes it appear as a fact, just as a promo about “Remodeling your kitchen.” would be taken at face value. While the segment ran, there WAS a title at the bottom of the screen that added a question mark, but that was too little, too late, and certainly not helped by Sawyer’s wimpy questioning. Even had producers not prepared her ahead of time for Wellman’s revelation that even THEY don’t claim to “turn” anyone straight (which makes ABC’s promos and her intro purposely misleading as well as irresponsible), but claim only to teach people to resist their continuing homosexual desires, THAT was the point at which she should have pounced (with at least the energy she put into the earlier segment on Sasquatch) on the dangerous nonsense at the core of this–a variation on the hypocrisy behind their “hate the sin, love the sinner.” If one hates homosex, one is still going to hate oneself for wanting it. Why didn’t she say, “But you’re STILL gay!” Nor did she, in a “Devil’s advocate” way, challenge Wellman on his verbal shell game comparing forcing kids to go to these camps with forcing them to go to school by, e.g., pointing out that schools are meant to raise children’s esteem not make them hate a part of themselves. And to Wellman’s ruthless, dishonest defense–“they can leave at any time, nothing keeps them there,” it was Tidwell, not Sawyer, who pointed out the obvious emotional/financial mercy of their parents on which kids are still dependent. HE deserves your praise NOT Sawyer or ABC who, despite the brief quote from an APA rep, despite the official positions of their many sister organization, effectively left the subject–both coversion and “control”–as “still open to debate”–and, thus, countless fucked up parents like Zach’s are going to be suckered in by this program and the independent counselors/shrinks who believe being gay should/can be changed. This morning they treated the reports on Echinacea’s inefficacy more seriously and responsibly. These programs and the organized homophobia/antigay industry behind them do FAR more harm to society than spending money on cold pills that don’t work. A baby step up, yes, from their shameful promotion of Vargas’es Matthew Shepard smear, but still one that every one of us should be writing them to complain about NOT praising. Those who agree can tell them at:

  17. rex90048 says

    oh no…Zach’s father looks exactly like one of my favorite musiscians Van Dyke Parks

    I actually saw the program this morning and thought there was a certain amount of honesty in Mr Wellmans’s statement….it is my belief that you can NEVER change your sexual orientation, that is inherit, fixed and permanent…but these poor bastards can certainly try to not be attracted to men, but eventually, late night on some street in Boise, they will cruise in their cars, looking for that inescapable thing that they cannot deny: dick!

  18. Michael says

    My parents sent me a counselor too, but it only took about 3 sessions before she deemed our meetings worthless because there wasn’t anything wrong.

  19. Tony says

    I was sent to a private psychiatric institution at 17 after a year of refusing to go back into the closet. During one of the few family therapy sessions we had my psychiatrist, after listening to my mother’s homo tirades, informed her that in his opinion I was dealing well with being gay and the only reason for me to stay was respite and counseling about dealing with my family situation. They of course left me there and NO more family session….LOL.

    The upshot is that being true to myself invloved some sacrifice, as it does for most people. I remain the outsider in my family which in some ways is a blessing.

    Just a word about being gay in rural america. I now live in a town of 8,000 and have not had a negative word said to me. If someone is laughing behind my back I wouldn’t notice. Not because I am so cool, but I did conquer my self-consciousness and that freed me from checking on other people’s reactions, or even thinking that anyone gave a shit about who or what I am.

    I am still confused about how one can be cured and still want dick? It makes no sense regardless of whether the person acts on it. Remember Carter ‘lusting’ in his heart? That Wellman dude has been cured from getting any – not from wanting it.

  20. Ron says

    Even though it breaks my heart to see that people think that Homosexuality is against God’s wishes – we have to understand that this IS what they believe. It is easy to just call them ignorant and have a nice day, but they are really torn by the issue. Yes it is natural to be a homosexual, but temptation always feels natural – Christians believe that God made temptation to test fidelity – and some think of homosexuality as another temptation to be conquered. So I have sympathy for the boy’s parents. In their hearts they believe that they are helping their son to cope with temptation.

  21. Beth says

    Firstly I’d like to say that I am a committed Christian (female) but that also my best friend is a gay male. Before he came out to me he knew my opinions on gay sex. He asked me if I believe that gays go to hell. (Which by the way is the thing that I think everyone is most annoyed about – people telling them they are going to rot in hell isn’t pleasant) I said that I believe homosexuality is a sin and that because of our sins everyone deserves to spend eternity in hell but that isn’t the end of it… Because Jesus was born as a human, died on the cross and rose again to save us from our sins if we asked for his forgiveness and accepted his grace (n.b. grace = the free and unmerited favor given to us from God.) If a practising homosexual male converts to Christianity then the Bible suggests a life of celibacy or a marriage with a woman. But once converted they are no longer accountable for their previous sins as God has wiped the slate clean and allowed that person to begin a new life as a Christ-lover. If that person truly loves Jesus in the way that they should then they will try as much as humanly possible to not fall into sin again. But the amazing thing about Jesus is that he forgives us again and again if we ask for his help, but if you love someone then the last thing you want to do is let them down all the time. So if a persons conversion to Christianity is sincere then living a life of celibacy is not impossible but to live a life of devotion to God is an incredible privilledge and something I personally aspire to more than human gain or human acclamation but to show Gods love in anyways possible.

  22. Kit says

    This sort of crap is why I have a hard time even trusting, much less liking someone who claims to be Christian right off the bat (unless I get to know them a little). His parents could use a good smack upside the head in addition. If this sort of crap is what their God wants they can keep him. Hell’s warmer anyway.

  23. Ryan L. says

    Well Beth your entire point is only valid IF one believes that homosexuality is a sin. The passage now commonly thought to refer to homosexuality was written in ancient Greek, and there is no word for homosexuality in ancient Greek. Instead the word “soft” is translated into English to mean “homosexual”. These passages only exist in the old testament (along with archaic passages that also condone slavery amongst others – acts that are today rightfully considered cruel and inhumane) and in Paul’s letters in the new testament. Paul was a commoner who was Jesus’ disciple, yet Jesus himself never spoke against homosexuality. The church itself is divided on the issue and there are many churches that marry gay couples and give them their blessing. There are many christians who are also gay, and are in loving, committed gay relationships. Would god create me and other gay people just to torture us with a lifetime of loneliness, sadness and self-hatred? Would he want to tear two people who love and complete each other apart? I personally could not believe that a god that is loving, or a god that is not cruel and evil, would do that to us or wish that upon us. I do believe, from the bottom of my heart, that if god sees how much me and my partner love each other and all fond memories we’ve had together (and I’m sure he does), he would bless and not condemn us.

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