He was supposed to get out today, but he isn’t. Zach’s story is continuing to get attention on blogs and in the media, even though updates are few and far between, given the situation. At this point, I think all anyone can do is keep an eye out for further updates. As near as I can tell, the only way we’ll hear from Zach is through his best friend, Wendy, whom he’s allowed to contact once a week.
PageOneQ follows up its coverage with an update on Zach’s 6-week extended stay at Refuge. The article quotes the Refuge website on just what it costs to subject a kid to six weeks of psychological abuse.
Two-Week Intensive: The adolescent will attend meetings at the designated facility Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Participants in Refuge will be offered individual counseling sessions as scheduled by staff, recreational opportunities with other clients, as well as an atmosphere of accountability and support. The cost is $2,000.
Six-Week Extension: The adolescent will attend meetings at the designated facility Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Participants in Refuge will be offered individual counseling sessions as scheduled by staff, recreational opportunities with other clients, as well as an atmosphere of accountability and support. The six-week duration of this option promotes more time for healing and working on underlying issues that may not be covered during the two-week Refuge program. The cost is $4,500.
So for $6,500, you can send your kid away to be psychologically battered for a total of eight weeks.
I think that’s what made my heart sink when I heard about Zach’s extended stay. I’m not sure what things are like for gay teens now, but I remember feeling very isolated when I was growing up. I was the only out gay kid around, as far as I knew, and my hometown made me feel increasingly claustrophobic, as I had to wait until I got away before my identity could fully unfold. I had that same feeling when I tried to imagine Zach having to spend eight weeks in an environment where his own identity is under direct attack. It’s like having iron bands wrapped around your chest, keeping you from breathing. I can only imagine how Zach feels as the days at Refuge wear on.
Others are also keeping up with the story, including Cherry Blossom Special (with a link to Margaret Cho’s message for Zach), Mike Ditto, Flypaper Theory, Pam’s House Blend, Gay Rights Watch, and Trey (whom I mentioned earlier).
It’s also worth nothing that the other side is starting to pick up on Zach’s stories, and taking note of some of the excesses of Zach’s online supporters. Personally, my initial response is “screw ’em.” But it does point out that we shouldn’t let our passion about this issue turn us into caricatures that too closely resemble the worst of the opposition we see every day.
There’s a snippet worth noting from the Cherry Blossom Special post.
One of the things people need to understand: there is a coalition who has been fighting this whole thing from day one. There is only one coalition who has been there since day one, and if you’ve been touched by this story then they need your support. They need for you to work with them.
If you have plans you’d like to execute, something you’d like to see happen, a course of action you think might be helpful in putting an end to all of this, it would be a good idea to write to them and find out how you can help before flying off the handle. BELIEVE ME, everyone is upset. Everyone is tense right now.
…Adding to the chaos have been a number of people who’ve decided to take matters into their own hands in regards to this tragedy without first considering what the potential outcome of their actions might be. People are acting because they are angry, not in spite of their anger. That’s going to screw things up, folks.
To those people and/or groups, I suggest you get in touch with the Queer Action Coalition at firstname.lastname@example.org before you proceed with your plans.
I don’t know about adding to the chaos, but I know my initial reaction to reading Zach’s story was a mixture of dread and sadness, followed by intense anger, particularly at Zach’s parents. I probalby even said one or two things that would have been better left unsaid, but for now I’ll let them stand.
I think the strong reaction is because lots of gay people can easily see themselves in Zach’s position. In fact, too many of us have been in Zach’s position. So, we’re likley to consider or take actions that we would like to have taken, or would have liked others to take for us back then. I know I would want someone on the outside working to get me out of a place like that. But the problem is, we don’t know what Zach wants, or what he’ll want when he finally gets out of there.
It’s also the nature of the web. Thousands of people heard about Zach’s story before they ever heard of the coalition organized around it. Some of those people took action. I’ve heard from people who’ve made phone calls and sent emails to various entities, urging them to take some sort of action in this case. That’s partially because of instant online access to contact information for those various entities. It’s also probably due to the reality that there are so many of us, as I mentioned above, who can identify with Zach’s plight. And we feel helpless to do anything about it. Almost as helpless as we might feel if we were stuck in Refuge ourselves. So, we act out of a desire to feel less helpless.
(Hell, at this point I’d almost volunteer to take Zach’s place for the rest of his stay. With 20+ years as an out gay man under my belt, I could probably withstand it a little better than a kid who’s still figuring things out.)
For my part, I’ve contacted the Queer Action Coalition in Memphis, for updates on what’s happening in light of the news about the six-week extension. I haven’t heard anything back yet. Maybe that’s because they’re still figuring out what they’re going to do next. But, whether you’re inside Refuge for the next six weeks, or outside, we can probably agree on one thing: the waiting is the hardest part.