I remember sitting at my laptop reading the international news when a blog message came through about young Zack Stark who after having come out to his parents, was being sent (against his will) to rehabilitation therapy with an ex-gay ministry known as "Love in Action". I remember reading the blog post with both anger and concern, desperate to know more about what was happening in this young man's life, especially as I was sitting at the other end of the world. Zack was reaching out for some support, understanding and dare I say love, and the world responded. Through his friends passing on the message, the story spread and within moments young gay and lesbian men and women (with their straight allies) had mobilised. Then Zack disappeared into the confines of "Love in Action" and for eight weeks neither his friends nor the world knew what was happening, or how Zack was feeling.
Outside "Love in Action" his friends and supporters had gathered, using loud speakers and a simple message of hope, love and tolerance they reached out to him and others. Days passed and they stayed, reaching out to all that would listen. Inside the counsellors unaware of the international outpouring of concern seemed at first oblivious, only to realise that it was not something that could be ignored. The activists outside challenged them saying if as an adult you want to undergo such therapy (with your eyes wide open) as a consenting adult, then so be it. However, as an unwilling young man (or women) that is an entirely different thing. Where are the rights of young men and women struggling with self-identity and the realisation that they are gay? Are these not legitimate struggles deserving of a reasoned, tolerant and appropriate response? Or are we to allow the concerns of others (in this particular case parents) to outweigh the rights of these young men and women.
The documentary deals with many of these issues in a manner which is sensitive to all those concerned. Due consideration is given to both sides of the debate, which makes for some fascinating insight into the motivations behind those that would seek to convert the sexual orientation of others. Whilst Zack's parents did not participate in the documentary, previous interviews given by his father are shown, giving the audience some insight into his mind. What is clear is that he loves his son, and he thinks that he is doing the right thing. What is not clear is whether his motivation is entirely divorced from his own attitudes to homosexuality, and whether he is not allowing age old prejudices and religious positions to augment that concern. Who is he concerned with in the end?
Zack is a delightful young man who is both articulate and well reasoned, although it is painfully obvious to the audience the true nature of his thoughts, emotions and experiences are being rationed. He is not free (whatever reason) to speak his mind, and his response whilst sincere is both measured and unclear. Almost as if he knows that to speak his mind, there will be consequences not only for himself but the lives of those around him. Perhaps the debate is far too big for him to bare (and in truth he really shouldn't have to), and all he wants is the freedom to be himself in a world that accepts him for who he is. Is this too much to ask? Perhaps it is, especially when considering the vested interests.
This story is a must for anyone interested in this debate, regardless of which side of the issue you stand.