9.20.2005

Good News? Ex-Gay Ministry To Shut Down
Bad News? For Unlicensed Care of 'Mentally Ill'

'Ex-Gay Ministry' Ordered Closed

from The Associated Press

NASHVILLE - The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities has ordered the closing of what it calls two unlicensed personal care facilities run by a Christian group that claims to counsel gays to give up homosexuality.

The state inspected two facilities in Memphis on Aug. 19 and determined Love In Action International Inc. was providing housing, meals and personal care for mentally ill patients without a license, according to a subsequent letter to the organization from the Department of Mental Health.

The department gave Love In Action until Sept. 23 to cease operation of the facilities and apply for a state license.

Love In Action spokesman Gerard Wellman declined to answer questions about the state's allegations.

"We will be commenting when the time is right," or when the case is past its initial stage, Wellman said.

Lawyer Nathan Kellum responded to the state on Sept. 14 with a letter acknowledging Love In Action had received the state's notice and promising to respond fully by Sept. 23.

"The issue is these being supportive care facilities," state spokeswoman Lola Potter said Monday. "Supportive care must be licensed."

Former Love In Action client Peterson Toscano said Monday that a house manager for the program told him one of the manager's responsibilities was dispensing drugs that had been prescribed for participants.

"He told me that it was to keep people from misusing the drugs," said Toscano, who is now a writer and performer living in Hartford, Conn.

Under state regulations, facilities that dispense medication to patients require a license.

The Love In Action facilities were still in operation Monday, Potter said.

If the organization were to continue operating the facilities past the Sept. 23 deadline, it would face criminal penalties that include fines of up to $500 and six months in jail for each day the facilities are determined to be in violation of state laws, Potter said.

The Department of Mental Health's current action is not the first time Love In Action has drawn the state's attention.

Earlier this year the Department of Children's Services investigated a child abuse complaint against Love In Action that was found to be unsubstantiated. The complaint stemmed from a Web logger going by the name of "Zach" who said his parents were sending him to a religious organization that would try to convert him to heterosexuality.

The teen identified himself as a 16-year-old from Bartlett, Tenn., and said his parents "tell me that there is something psychologically wrong with me...I'm a big screwup to them, who isn't on the path God wants me to be on. So I'm sitting here in tears...and I can't help it."

In August the Department of Health determined the group did not need to be licensed as a drug and alcohol treatment program.

John Smid, Love In Action's executive director, said then that his group does not provide psychological, drug or alcohol counseling, but seeks to help people overcome sexual problems through a stronger Christian faith.

Counseling that would be regulated by the state is "really not our focus," he said.

Love In Action's work, particularly with teenagers, has drawn protests from gay rights advocates.

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