Heartlight Ministries Boarding School Bills Itself as 'Safe Haven for Positive Change'
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On Tuesday, we told you how “Supergirl” actor Jeremy Jordan is trying to save his 17-year-old cousin, Sarah, who he says has been forced by her parents into "an East Texas Christian boarding facility for troubled teens to 'pray away the gay.'" Jordan reached out to fans on Twitter and Facebook asking for help.
My amazing friends & fans, PLEASE help us save my sweet gay cousin Sarah who's trapped at a boarding facility in TX. https://t.co/mtVHMY1fdI— Jeremy Jordan (@JeremyMJordan) June 4, 2016
If you can, please take a look at my previous tweet & retweet to everyone you know. This type of conversion therapy has to END!! #savesarah— Jeremy Jordan (@JeremyMJordan) June 4, 2016
The New Civil Rights Movement has confirmed that the name of the facility is Heartlight Ministries Boarding School in Hallsville, Texas, which bills itself as “a destination for teens to heal and grow.”
"For 25 years, we’ve provided a safe haven for positive change. Our residential setting offers struggling teens an atmosphere to develop healthier patterns during the most troubling times," Heartlight's website states.
Heartlight representatives couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
A court information sheet obtained by NCRM confirms that Sarah's aunt filed a lawsuit against the teen's parents in a state district court outside Austin on May 18. Sarah's aunt is represented by Christine Henry Andresen, an Austin-based family law attorney who specializes in LGBT issues.
"I can't comment on pending litigation, other than to authenticate that to the best of my knowledge, the background information on the GoFundMe shared by Sarah's cousin is truthful," Andresen told NCRM in a statement.
To protect Sarah's privacy, NCRM is withholding her surname. We have also chosen not to post a copy of the court document, to honor Joey Jordan's stated desire to protect her family's privacy. Joey Jordan, who launched the "Save Sarah" GoFundMe page, is Jeremy Jordan's brother.
Joey Jordan could not be reached for comment, and Jeremy Jordan's manager, Ted Schachter, told NCRM he is "choosing not to comment to the press about this sensitive case at this time."
The court information sheet shows that Sarah's parents, as well as Heartlight Ministries, have been served with citations in connection with the lawsuit. On May 30, Sarah's parents filed a motion to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. And on Tuesday, they filed a motion to seal the court file. NCRM has requested copies of detailed records of the lawsuit from the local district clerk's office.
According to Heartlight Ministries' website, it was founded in 1988 by Mark and Jan Gregston, who previously were involved with Young Life, the non-denominational Christian ministry. In addition to operating the boarding school, Mark Gregston hosts the radio program "Parenting Today's Teens," which airs on 1,500 stations throughout North America.
Heartlight's boarding school provides "a safe haven of hope for 56 struggling teens at our residential counseling center," according to the website.
"Our atmosphere of relationships creates an arena of change for teens and parents lost in a broken world," the site states.
In online posts, Mark Gregston advises parents not to condemn children who identify as LGBT. However, he also recommends that they invoke the Bible in conversations about homosexuality, and makes clear that he believes being gay is a choice.
"It seems like every time there’s a new lifestyle announced, that many teens, just out of a search for identity, run to embrace whatever makes them feel like they’ve found themselves," Gregston wrote in response to an inquiry from the parents of a gay college-age son in January. "Whatever I would mention today, will be different 6 months from now, so to specifically target on issue is something that I don’t think is wise.
"And I’ve got to say this as well," he added. "I know that the gender and gay issues in a politically correct environment….you can’t say anything without being wrong or open yourself for the potential of being misquoted or slandered. So, I watch what I write and prefer to share my heart about this topic in a seminar or one-on-one conversation where people can hear my heart and not open myself to their interpretation of what I say."
In another post titled "Addressing the Issue of Homosexuality," Gregston wrote that his goal "is not to enter into a debate or defend one viewpoint or the other," but to help parents engage with their children "on this topic in a loving, thoughtful and well-founded manner."
"Your teen needs to know they are safe and loved, regardless of their lifestyle choices or beliefs," Gregston wrote. "I understand homosexuality is a very sensitive issue for many people. But as Christian parents, we cannot be afraid to get involved in this ongoing discussion. Your teens are hearing from the culture about homosexuality. But what are they hearing from you?"
According to Joey Jordan's GoFundMe page, Sarah tried to leave the boarding school shortly after being placed there, but was apprehended by staff and later punished for the escape attempt. Then, when some of Sarah's friends drove to the facility in an effort to free her, local law enforcement threatened them with arrest.
Joey Jordan also noted that although 17-year-olds are considered adults for certain purposes in Texas, state law permits parents to force their children to stay in a residential boarding facility until their 18th birthday.
While some states have banned reparative therapy for minors, Texas isn't one of them. In fact, the Texas GOP added a plank to its platform in 2014 endorsing the discredited practice.
Image of Jeremy Jordan via Facebook