The author of 'Boy Erased' reveals what gay conversion therapy is really like — and how he survived it

  • The new movie “Boy Erased” tells the true story of Garrard Conley– the son of a Baptist pastor who, after being outed to his parents at 19, was sent to a two-week-long “gay conversion therapy” program.
  • Conley tells us what the experience was really like, and discussed his efforts to make the practice of conversion therapy on minors illegal.
  • It is currently legal to practice conversion therapy on minors in 36 states.
  • Conley was joined by his mother Martha, who experienced a change of heart while Garrard was in the conversion therapy program and removed him before it was complete.

Following is a transcript of the video.Victor Sykes in “Boy Erased”: So, who’s ready? Welcome to the Refuge Program! Come on!Garrard Conley: I’m Garrard Conley. I’m the author of “Boy Erased,” now a major motion picture. “Boy Erased” is the story of my going into conversion therapy after being outed to my parents and the psychological torture that I endured while I was there.Victor Sykes in “Boy Erased”: You cannot be born gay!Garrard: Also, it’s the story, I think, of my mum who takes me out of therapy and saves my life, and also has to go on her own journey of acceptance.Martha Conley: I’m just here to try to stop conversion therapy because I wish I had done my homework before I took him instead of after I took him because it’s a horrible thing and we need to get it stopped.Garrard: Conversion therapy’s taken many forms. It’s been around since the 19th century, actually. In the 1950’s and ’60s, there was a hospital called St. Elizabeths Hospital outside of Washington, D.C. They performed lobotomies, they performed electroshock therapy, they had people in straitjackets. At this moment, 36 states do not have bans on conversion therapy for minors. The bigger battle, however, is that any religious organisation can perform conversion therapy and charge for it currently, no matter what state you’re in. I mean, I had it pretty easy growing up. We moved to a place called Cherokee Village, Arkansas. We’d always been very much a church family. I’d always been told that being LGBTQ was not right and I don’t think there were any exceptions to that. I think that, as I grew older, and I started to understand myself a lot more and my sexuality, it became obvious that I was on a crash course with these two ideologies.Martha: Being married to a Baptist pastor and being raised the way I was, we believed exactly what the Bible said about homosexuality, and that’s what I was taught and I just didn’t question it because I think you don’t tend to question things until it hits your family or someone that you love.Garrard: I was actually in my first semester of college. Someone that I knew at the time raped me and he confessed to me that he’d also raped a 14-year-old boy. Right after he raped me, he confessed this to me. And I told some friends what he’d done and he found out that I’d told that. And so, as a preemptive move, he called my parents, called my mum specifically, because he really wanted to strike fear and it worked. And when I came home, Dad took me into his bedroom and said, like, “Can you explain to me what’s going on?” And so I told him, “I think I’m gay.”Martha: First of all, we took him to the doctor and had his hormones checked, you know? That’s how naive we were. Then we called the largest Southern Baptist church in Memphis and they said, “Oh yes, you’re so lucky.” “We have a unit right here in Memphis and it’s called” “Love in Action, and they have an 84% cure rate.” And I’m thinking, wow, you know? I didn’t even know what conversion therapy was.Garrard: We did one-on-one therapy sessions after I was outed for about six months. I went to a residential program. The main activity that we did was called a “Moral Inventory,” and we were asked to write down every sexual fantasy or experience we’d ever had, and we would have to say it in front of everyone, like share that with everyone in the group. And then after that, they would give me Bible verses to sort of combat those thoughts that I’d had. I knew that if I didn’t do this, I would lose my family, my faith, perhaps, my community. By the end of the second week, I was asked to do this exercise asking me to imagine my father sitting there, and basically say that I hated him. And I remember thinking to myself, these are Christians who are saying that in order to be cured, I have to hate someone not love someone. And Christ is all about love.Graham Flanagan: How much were you paying for this?Martha: It was like $US3,200.Garrard: For just a really short period of time.Martha: And then we also had to stay in a hotel for two weeks.Garrard: But his quote for you, for me going out for a year, for doing years of therapy, how much was that?Martha: Well, it was like $US21,000.Victor Sykes in “Boy Erased”: Now this may be the toughest, but most rewarding 12 days that many of you will ever face.Martha: We later found out that all the leaders, I mean none of them had more than a high school education. Within a week, they started talking to me about, “Oh he’s not following the rules. He’s not doing his homework right. I think you need to put him in the three-month program and then you need to think about keeping him out of school next year.” That was just too quick. It just got so phony to me. And they were, like, trying to pressure me into signing him up, and he hadn’t even been there a week yet.Victor Sykes in “Boy Erased”: So, who’s ready?Garrard: Victor Sykes in the film is based off of John Smid, who ran Love in Action for many years.Martha: 22.Garrard: 22 years. And after a while, I don’t know if it’s because of the negative press, or if it’s because it got to his conscience, but he quit. He stepped down. And once he stepped down, he began a slow journey of realising that it was not ever working, that he was selling a lie. And then, he married his now-husband, and lives in Paris, Texas making furniture. [Smid has since become an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights.]Martha: It just did such damage to me as well, because of the guilt I feel for taking him there. You do it because you think you’re saving your child, and you love your child. I don’t want other parents to have to go through the guilt that I’ve had to go through for 14 years.Garrard: I think the greatest value for this film is its ability to show a roadmap for people who are around LGBTQ youth to do better, and to act better, and to become better people through it. And that’s what I hope the movie does.

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