Remember Zach? I do, but it's been a long time since I've thought about that story. I only even talk about it when I doing a presentation about blogging, and want to point out what blogging can accomplish. But beyond that, it seems like something a long way back in time. Last night, though, it all came back to me when I read Kip's blog post and learned that the "reparative therapy" camp Zach's parents sent him to has closed.
This evening at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine, California, we screened short excerpts of several documentary films including Fox’s unfinished work. Just before Fox’s extended trailer was shown, we learned that he had to make a very quick last-minute change to the ending today. And when we saw that ending, the crowd erupted in both cheers and tears as we saw that Love In Action Director John Smid confirmed that the “Refuge” youth program has been “dissolved.”
There were many cathartic moments at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference, but for me at least, this surprise announcement was the most satisfying. I hope this will finally bring to an end any ideas that holding youth against their will for counseling they neither need nor desire is acceptable in a civilized country. This is a great step forward.
Now, it seems like things have come full circle since the Friday night when I came across Zach's MySpace post and posted about in on my blog.
I remember that when I woke up Saturday morning, the story was still on my mind. So I posted about it in several other places. I got on the phone to one "major blogger" who didn't want to post about it because of a suspicion that Zach "wasn't real." So, I sent emails out to several other bloggers and some started to pickup the story. And then I started looking around and realized that there were other bloggers, as "B-List" or "C-List" as me who were doing the same thing. We started linking to and communicating with each other, and it was my first experience of a blogstorm.
Only then did I look up and realize how many other people were doing the same thing, writing bout Zach’s story and linking to it. Here are a few.
Queer Action Coalition — a group in Memphis, TN, where Refuge is located — sprang up as a direct reaction to the spreading of Zach’s story the blog posts about it, and started blogging about it further, as well as holding daily protests outside Love In Action every day of Zach’s stay (internment?) at Refuge. Majikthise posted about it with a link back to my post. Crooks and Liars covered it, with a video link to local coverage of the protests. RawStory.Com picked it up, along with QueerDay. Other blogs, bloggers and journals covering the story include: MorganKissBoys, The Flypaper Theory, River City Mud Company, Pam’s House Blend, Cherry Blossom Special, Matt Thomas, Mike Ditto, Jesus’ General, Chris Geidner, Andrew Sullivan, Tennessee Guerilla Women, and Boi from Troy. There are countless others, who read Zach’s post, and probably had the same reaction I did, and at least posted about it. Probably some did the same kind of outreach I did.
Call it a blog storm, or the “long-tail effect,” but sometimes it’s not about how many links any one blog has, or how many links any one blog gets. Sometimes it’s about how far the story spreads from blog to blog, whether they’re blogs with tens or hundreds of readers. The effect is that a story spreads and grows, and if it’s compelling as Zach’s it works it’s way up the blogging food chain. Tools like the Conversation Tracker from BlogPulse are a great way of tracking how these things start and spread, whether it’s a post from a gay teenager, or the Downing Street Memo. Maybe it works its way into traditional media. Maybe it inspires someone to take action, whether it’s a protest outside of a reparative therapy clinic or a congressional hearing. People are moved, and then they move.
So, that’s where it stands for now. A lonely, scared, gay teenager in Tennessee dropped a post into the big blog pond, and cause ripples and then waves of support, awareness and action. How it will all end, no one can tell. Zach hasn’t blogged since he’s been at Refuge, and probably can’t. According to his blog, he’ll be there for at least one more day, and maybe a few more. When he gets out, returns home, and has had time to sort out his thoughts, He’ll probably blog about it. The difference is that there are a whole lot more of us listening now.
There was a podcast done on how the story unfolded that includes the voices of some of the bloggers who helped spread Zach's story from the beginning, as well as ex-ex-gay Peter Toscano talking about his experience.
You can hear the seven minute story here.
And, for what it's worth, here's the unedited version of my portion of the podcast.
It wasn't long before an investigation was launched, and then another investigation. The story ended up on Salon, MSNBC, the New York Times, and CBN.Com covered the story when Zach's father spoke publicly (thus confirming Zach's existence.
I posted a round-up of my posts on the story around the time that I decided to stop covering it when Zach was released and went home to live with his parents. It seemed like time to back off of the story then.
Last fall I learned that Love In Action/Refuge (affectionally known as LIA/R on this blog) settled with the state of Tennessee, got their fees paid, and got to remain open. Now, just over two years since the story began, I learn that they've closed. I'm sitting in front of my computer again, a little stunned, and this time wondering whether what started online and grew into something bigger than any one blog or blogger helped to eventually ensure that there's one less place where LGBT youth can be sent to be psychologically abused for being who they are.
And then there's Zach. He should be about 18 now, and old enough not to have to live under his parents' roof and by their rules if he doesn't want to. Maybe now he's free to be whomever and whatever his heart tells him is right, as any kid should be in the first place.
In that sense, I don't know whether Zach still identifies as gay and it doesn't matter if he does or not. Because it shouldn't matter. Because it still does, I know that if I had an opportunity to do it all over again, I'd read the post from that scared 16-year-old kid, and do the exact same thing all over again.