For the past few years, local filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox has been piecing together a documentary about Love In Action (LIA), a Christian-based ministry for people struggling with their homosexuality. But Fox needed one more thing to wrap up production: a happy ending.
For Fox, that came last month when he learned that Refuge, LIA's two-week "straight camp" for teens, was closed.
In 2005, 16-year-old Zach Stark posted a blog entry about his parents forcing him into the Refuge program. The post sparked a week of protests by gay activists and criticism that adolescents were being sent to Refuge against their will.
"One thing that really concerned me about Refuge is that when some kids weren't changed after going through the program, they would be abused by their parents," says Fox, who helped organize the 2005 protests.
Josh Morgan, communications manager for LIA, says the protests did not affect the center's decision to close Refuge. It was replaced by the four-day Family Freedom Intensive to improve communication between parents and their children. Refuge did not include parental involvement.
"We're focusing on giving parents and kids common language and helping them understand exactly what's going on," says Morgan. "We don't want to work with the child and let parents stay out of the loop."
LIA's Web site describes the Family Freedom Intensive as a "course designed for parents with teens struggling with same-sex attraction, pornography, and/or promiscuity." The program involves lectures, workshops, and discussion groups and costs $600 per attendee. Parents can sign up with or without their children.
The $7,000 Refuge program was a two-week summer day camp. After two weeks, parents could opt to leave their child in the program for additional time. During its three-year existence, Refuge saw 35 clients.
"We don't turn people straight. That's a common misconception," says Morgan. "We exist for people who already feel a need to change or explore different options. If someone is ... happy with the way they are, we wouldn't accept them into the program."
Peterson Toscano, a former LIA client who tours the country with his one-man comedy Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House — How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement!, is happy to see Refuge go but doubts the new program will be much different.
"How does [LIA] know they're not taking kids against their will? Parents have a tremendous amount of power," says Toscano.
Including parents in the program could result in both the child and parent leaving with mixed messages, says Toscano. When he attended the adult residential program in the mid-'90s, parents were invited to attend a few days of treatment.
"The parents hear generalized teachings about what makes a person gay. The basic ex-gay ideology that's been going around for decades is you become gay because you have an overbearing mom and an emotionally or physically absent dad," says Toscano. "Parents walk away with the message 'I screwed up my kid.'"
Fox, however, is glad to see some change at LIA. He hopes to enter his documentary, This Is What Love In Action Looks Like, in this year's Sundance Film Festival.
"To me, [the Family Freedom Intensive] is way different from Refuge," says Fox. "But who knows? Maybe kids are still being forced to go. It's really hard to tell."