Saturday, July 02, 2005

Update on Zach

Straight from The Washington Blade:

Tenn. opens new probe of ‘ex-gay’ facility
Experts say children should not be forced into counseling

By EARTHA MELZER
Jul. 01, 2005

The state of Tennessee continues to probe Love in Action, the Memphis facility that has drawn protests since a 16-year-old known as “Zach” blogged that his parents were sending him there for treatment intended to change his sexual orientation.

The Tennessee Department of Health has sent a letter to Love in Action notifying the group that it is suspected of operating illegally, according to Andrea Turner, communications director for the department.

Turner said that if the program is strictly faith-based it would not require licensing by the state, but that according to the group’s Web site, Love in Action has licensed counselors and provides services related to alcohol and drug addiction on site.
“If this is the case, they are required to be licensed as a drug and alcohol treatment facility in Tennessee,” Turner said.

If employees there are providing counseling on homosexuality, it is possible that they are operating outside their area of expertise, Turner added.

Legislation giving the health department the authority to issue cease-and-desist orders to unlicensed alcohol and drug treatment facilities goes into effect July 1. Turner said that the health department is considering whether the Love in Action facility is causing harm.

Rachel Lassiter, of Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen’s communications office, said that the Department of Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities has also begun research on Love in Action and is writing a letter of inquiry to the facility to determine whether an official investigation is warranted.

Lassiter said that only licensed professionals should provide mental health care in Tennessee and that the state has an interest in making sure that whatever services are offered are beneficial.

Last week, the Department of Child Services investigated allegations of child abuse at the facility and determined that the allegations were unfounded.

Dr. Warren Throckmorton, a psychologist at faith-based Grove City College in Pennsylvania and a leading advocate for the view that sexual orientation can be changed, said that he believes that Love in Action is mixing ministry with treatment and that people can be damaged by sexual reorientation therapies offered by unprofessional practitioners.

Throckmorton emphasized that while a parent might compel a teen to attend church, a professional counselor is bound to obtain informed consent from a client and should not treat a minor solely because his parents are upset about his sexual orientation.

Love in Action advertises a therapeutic environment in which professional counselors help people overcome “addictive behaviors including homosexuality.”

Insurance covers ex-gays?
Throckmorton serves on the professional advisory board of Magellan, the country’s largest behavioral health insurance manager. Magellan handles behavioral health coverage for hundreds of health care plans and Medicaid.

This year, Magellan removed Throckmorton from his advisory role after critics expressed concerns about Throckmorton’s efforts to advance the idea that sexual reorientation counseling should be available to gays.

Magellan restored Throckmorton to his post after pressure from LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, a Christian products and services company based in Nashville. Throckmorton said that he believes the fact that he was reinstated means that Magellan would cover patients’ costs associated with sexual re-orientation therapy.

Although homosexuality is not an illness, Jack Drescher, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual issues Committee, said that he believes some counselors offer therapies intended to reorient gays and bill insurance companies with the diagnosis “sexual disorder not otherwise specified.”

It is not clear how widespread this practice is. Magellan could not provide statistics on how frequently people are diagnosed with “sexual disorder NOS.” Some providers, including Throckmorton, do not accept insurance, and therefore would not be subject to monitoring by managed health plans.

Throckmorton said that most people who seek reorientation counseling are referred to practitioners through Exodus International, an umbrella group for “ex-gay” projects.

There is no referral system that guides people to professionals that specialize in sexual reorientation counseling. No schools provide specialized training in this area and so it is outside the area of expertise for most professionals.

Sexual reorientation and reparative therapy counseling presents ethical, legal and regulatory challenges.

The idea that sexual orientation is changeable is advanced by conservative groups like Exodus International and Focus on the Family.

In “Calculated Compassion: How the Ex-Gay Movement Serves the Right’s Attack on Democracy,” Surina Khan writes that the ex-gay movement provides political cover for anti-gay campaigns by repackaging them in kinder, gentler terms and attempting to ally itself with religious groups.

“The ex-gay movement is an integral part of the Christian Right, which promotes Christian nationalism, an ideology that seeks to use government laws and regulations to impose fundamentalist Christian values on the entire nation.”

Indeed, money from James Dobson’s Focus on the Family has funded both Exodus and the Alliance Defense Fund, a leading legal group opposing recognition of gay relationships. In her 1998 report Khan points out that Robert Knight of the Family Research Council has characterized the beginning of a major ex-gay publicity campaign as “the Normandy landing in the larger cultural wars.”

Ex-gays backers oppose forced treatment
But not even those who support making sexual reorientation available to adults believe that it is right to coerce a minor into undergoing such treatment.

Dr. Mark Yarhouse is often cited by the ex-gay movement. Yarhouse runs the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity at the religious Regent University in Virginia Beach. Yarhouse said that it is unethical to treat a minor against his or her will.

Arthur Goldberg is a board member of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality and co-director of Jonah, a Jewish ministry that addresses unwanted same-sex attraction. Goldberg said, “We tell parents that unless someone is motivated to want to change, they are wasting their money.”

Shannon Mintner, a lawyer with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, has worked on hundreds of cases in which teens are forced into various types of treatment scenarios because their parents disapprove of their sexual orientation.

Mintner first became aware of this phenomenon when he was contacted by a teenage girl who had escaped from a psychiatric facility where she was undergoing forced treatment for Lesbians. Mintner was able to help the girl find an adoptive home with a San Francisco lesbian couple.

Mintner said that Love in Action’s attempt to reorient kids is unique only in that they are so open about what they are trying to do.

In 1995, Mintner was involved in a case in Memphis in which the group Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays helped a 16-year-old gay male seek emancipation from his parents because they were forcing him to attend reorientation counseling with a Memphis psychologist, Dr. Duff Wright, and planned to send him to either Love in Action, or another similar program.

Minter said that the Memphis Circuit Court judge agreed that the boy would be harmed by this treatment and indicated that he would sign the emancipation order. In a settlement agreement, the parents abandoned plans to send the boy to reorientation treatment.

In April, the Tennessee Department of Health permanently revoked Dr. Duff Wright’s license to practice as a psychologist, due to alleged ethics violations.

Mintner said that while he has been able to help young people on a case-by-case level, “What we have not yet been able to find a way to do is to develop a systemic response that would get at the heart of the issue.”

Discussion of Love in Action has permeated the Memphis media in recent weeks and Alex Polotsky of the Queer Action Coalition said that the group will continue its campaign of demonstrations against Love in Action.

“We want every person in America to know about this. No reasonable sane person would support this program,” he said.

Twenty-one-year-old J.M., who spoke on condition on anonymity, said that he was sent to Love in Action by his parents at the recommendation of a Christian counselor when he was 17.

“The place was like a Nazi camp. I lost faith in God, friends, family.”

J.M. said he is glad that Love in Action has come into the spotlight.

“I am optimistic for some point in the future, I’ve lived for brief periods in New York, New Jersey, Philly. They are not as close-minded about this; it is not as cruel,” he said.

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