The documentary This is What Love In Action Looks Like tells the story of 16-year-old Memphis boy Zach Stark. In 2005, this teenager plucked up the courage to tells his parents that he was gay only to have them send him to Love in Action – a camp designed to turn gays and lesbians into heterosexuals.
When I first saw this film earlier this year I thought about how awful it must be to grow up in a place like Tennessee where some people are ignorant enough to believe that you can become un-gay. In fact, I thought about how lucky I am living in London – one of the most tolerant cities in the world – and not the US bible belt.
But then I discovered that this ignorance is a lot closer to home than I thought.
You see, only last month a very similar message – ‘Not gay! Post-gay, ex-gay and proud. Get over it’ – was queuing up to adorn the sides of buses throughout the capital. Luckily mayor Boris Johnson stepped in at the last minute and put a stop to it.
His actions, however, triggered much heated debate. Of course one expected outrage from those who supported the ad and saw it as a justified Christian reaction to Stonewall‘s provocative ‘Some people are gay. Get over it!’ campaign that’s been around for a while.
But, it was interesting (and somewhat disturbing) to observe loads of people acknowledging the advert as homophobic but still launching into heated huffing and puffing because they felt that Boris was wrong to censor it.
I like to think that they’d have seen things differently if they’d seen This is What Love In Action Looks Like.
You see, in this documentary, Zach Stark’s incarceration and abuse at the hands of the Love in Action camp led to swathes of support from friends and followers when his blog posts about the situation went viral.
By exploring the way that the organisation operated at the time via interviews with other former Love In Action members and staff, this film exposes the pain and heartache suffered by its victims, as well as the frightening levels of brainwashing that went on.
Love In Action no longer exists today, but the problem of ignorance hasn’t gone away. The fact is that being gay or lesbian is not an illness and for an organisation (or an ad) to imply that it is by indicating that it is something that can be ‘recovered from’ is (to use the words of both Boris Johnston and Ken Livingstone) ‘offensive’ and ‘false’.