Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Love in Action

The euphemistically named Refuge is an intensive program by Love in Action to suppress teenage homosexuality. Zach, a gay 16 year old living in Tennessee, is currently participating (against his will) in this program. His few blog posts on the subject in the week before he started the program on 6 June have now received a lot of attention. His words on coming out explain why:
I wish I had never told them. I wish I just fought the urge two more years... I had done it for three before then, right? If I could take it all back.. I would, to where I never told my parents things and they always were mad at me-- It's better than them crying and depressed cause they will have no granchildren from me. It's better than them telling me that there's something wrong with me. It's better than them explaining to me that they "raised me wrong."
He expected that the program would end on 17 or 20 June, but his parents have extended his participation for a further six weeks. It is a day program, but the rules of the program are continued at home and enforced by the parents. Zach is not allowed any contact with the outside world, apart from being able to tell a friend about his extended stay, and in particular he is not allowed any internet access, so it's been difficult over this time for anyone to track his progress.

The rules Zach posted (he found them in an email Love in Action sent to his parents) clearly indicate the kind of psychological damage such a program could cause, especially if one were forced to participate for eight weeks or more.

The rules describe a boot camp / old-fashioned boarding school style of discipline. Zach is completely isolated from anything outside the message of Love in Action. They start with some strange clothing rules:

The clients may not wear Abercrombie and Fitch or Calvin Klein brand clothing, undergarments, or accessories.
Men: Shirts are to be worn at all times, even while sleeping. T-shirts without sleeves are not permitted at any time,
whether worn as an outer garment or an undergarment. This includes "muscle shirts" or other tank-tops. Bikini-style underwear is prohibited.
Women: Bras must be worn at all times, except while sleeping. Thong-style underwear is prohibited.
Followed by humiliation (as far as I can tell a Moral Inventory is a journal of sexual temptations):
All Refuge program members must complete four MI's (Moral Inventories) per week unless otherwise instructed. Detailed instruction on writing MI's will be provided within the first few days of beginning the program.
Absolutely no journaling or keeping a diary outside of the MI process unless directed or approved by staff.
Then there's control of gender roles:
LIA wants to encourage each client, male and female, by affirming his/her gender identity. LIA also wants each client to pursue integrity in all of his/her actions and appearances. Therefore, any belongings, appearances, clothing, actions, or humor that might connect a client to an inappropriate past are excluded from the program. These hindrances are called False Images (FI's). FI behavior may include hyper-masculinity, seductive clothing, mannish/boyish attire (on women), excessive jewelry (on men), mascoting, and "campy" or gay/lesbian behavior and talk.

As non-residential clients, Refuge participants must submit to an F.I. search every morning.
Control of socialisation:
While on the LIA campus, Refuge clients must be in phase at all times, whether indoors or out of doors. A client is "in phase" when he or she is with two or more other clients (whether Refuge or residential,) one of whom must have been in the program for at least eight weeks.
Preventing access to any information critical of the program:
Clients may have no contact with anyone who has left the program prior to graduating without the blessing of the staff to do so. Clients may address off-limit persons they inadvertently encounter with a polite "hello" only.

While in the program, clients may have no contact with anyone involved in unrepentant emotional dependencies, inappropriate sexual behaviors, or chemical dependencies. This includes any contact with friends struggling with dependency issues or inappropriate sexual behavior that was known about prior to entering the program. If such a person is encountered, the client must make his/her staff worker aware of this.
Now for the even scarier stuff - silence for days, even at home:
All new Refuge clients will be placed into Safekeeping for the initial two to three days of their program. A client on safekeeping may not communicate verbally, or by using hand gestures or eye contact, with any other clients, staff members, or his/her parents or guardians. In case of a practical need, Safekeeping clients may write down their question or request and show it to another client, staff member, or their parent or guardian. Writing may only be used when absolutely necessary. Parents and guardians must enforce their child's safekeeping status at home or in their temporary lodging.
Complete isolation from the outside world:
Clients must gain permission through C.O.C. to make or receive phone calls from friends and family members outside the program.

No cell phones, beepers, computers, or e-mail/internet access

No visitors from out of town without permission via C.O.C.

Refuge clients may only read materials approved by staff.

No television viewing, going to movies, or reading/watching/listening to secular media of any kind, anywhere within the client's and the parent's/guardian's control. This includes listening to classical or instrumental music that is not expressly Christian (Beethoven, Bach, etc. are not considered Christian). The only exception to the media policy is the weekly movie.

Refuge clients may watch one video/DVD per week that has been approved by staff via C.O.C. Movies submitted for approval must be rated G or PG. The parents/guardians are responsible for securing the video/DVD.

Refuge clients must be with at least one parent or guardian at all times when off-campus.

Refuge clients may not enter any restuarants with bars, even when accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Refuge clients must be accompanied by a parent during any trip to a public restroom.

No access to malls of any kind.

Clients are not allowed to visit any video, music or media stores that are not expressly Christian, even if accompanied by a parent or guardian. Clients may visit LifeWay Christian stores with a parent or guardian.
And even more control control control:
Total silence time at home begins at 9:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Refuge clients may use this time for resting, but are encouraged to make a habit of using it for a nightly quiet time with God.

Lights-out time will begin each night at 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.

Refuge clients are allowed a one-time 15-minute maximum closed bathroom door time for shower/grooming purposes. The only other closed-door alone time allowed is for using the restroom.

Refuge clients must keep their bedroom doors open at all times, day or night.

Proper bedclothes must be worn during nighttime sleeping hours. Appropriate bedclothes include full pajamas (tops and bottoms) or a pair of non-underwear-type shorts and a T-shirt. Nightgowns are not allowed.
And parents are told:
Your client is not allowed to talk to anyone outside of your home including friends or family. Do not tell client who has called for them or who is asking about them. Keep the thoughts of the client focused on his/her treatment.
It's brainwashing bootcamp for kids whose only error was to tell their parents the truth.

Love in Action were investigated by the Tennessee Department of Children's Services for child abuse and protesters have been outside every day, but to no avail.