This Is What Love In Action Looks Like
In May of 2005, sixteen year old Zach Stark wrote on his MySpace blog: "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." In the days to come he detailed the restrictions and rules of the program as well as where it would take place and when he would be forced to attend. These blogs began an international news sensation as the power of the Internet grabbed onto this story and not only activated a local community, but a worldwide one as well.
Through online diary entries and interviews with Zach and his friends, not to mention John Smid, the director of Love in Action, "This is What Love in Action Looks Like" documents the actual time when Zach was forced to spend eight weeks of his life in reparative therapy where he was shamed about who he was and fed lies about how he could be "cured." Interviews with friends who started a daily protest punctuate the film as well as actual footage from the protests; Protests which started out as a handful of loving friends and turned into a large group of heartbroken supporters.
"It was like boot camp, only worse," said Zach. Every day Zach would be incarcerated in a program that was not authorized or approved by any psychological professional. It was, in fact, run by a man who said he overcame his own homosexual feelings and had been living a straight lifestyle for many years.
As directed by filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox (who participated in the protests), the film asks hard questions about what the program intended on achieving and what the rights of the children involved were. For an adult (and there are two that are interviewed here) to enter willingly into the program is one thing, but for a child who might truly know who he/she is, but be forced to go by his parents, well... does that smack of abuse? Or is it the parent's right?
The doc is fairly straightforward about showing the events leading up to Zach attending the program and what occurred during and after, but it could have stood a bit more fleshing out. For example, when Zach is released from the program, he posts on his MySpace that he wants his privacy and not be bothered. Since Zach is clearly being interviewed for the film, why do we never find out why he did this? Was it at his parents urging? Did he feel the program had been successful? What was the motivation?
In the same vein, we learn that the day program for teens called "Refuge" was shut down in 2007, but what of the "Love in Action" program that still exists, but in a smaller form? Why does the AMA or APA not regulate this? And why do we not get more detailed information from Zach about what actually happened behind closed doors? Aside from the fact he states he's still gay, how has he been dealing with it since then? We get little sound bites, but the aftermath is what would be most compelling and it's a bit glossed over.
"This is What Love in Action Looks Like" is certainly a compelling film and a must-see regardless. It's eye opening and devastating to know teens are being subjected to such damaging ignorance. The best thing to come out of the protests is not only the closing of Refuge, but John Smid having a change of heart and not only writing a letter of apology to those he hurt, but also starting his own programs that open Christianity up to the LGBT community. Perhaps that's what Love in Action meant all along.
Screening at the Boston LGBT Film Festival