Some of the biggest faces in the conversion therapy movement are set to speak out about the controversial practice in a new Netflix documentary titled Pray Away.
Directed by filmmaker Kristine Stolakis, the documentary hones in on former leaders of Exodus International, one of the largest conversion therapy networks in the United States before it disbanded in 2013.
Stolakis was inspired to tell the story of conversion groups after learning that her own uncle went through the so-called therapy when he came out as transgender as a child.
Conversion therapy, which many LGBTQ+ people are still subject to, aims to convert a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity to being heterosexual or cisgender through various controversial methods, with some groups claiming it can be done through prayer.
Stolakis told NPR’s Sarah McCammon on Morning Edition that her uncle ‘never fully accepted himself’, was ‘celibate his entire life’ and ‘suffered from tremendous mental health challenges, from depression, anxiety, addiction, to obsessive-compulsive disorder, to suicidal ideations’ after undergoing conversion therapy.
The filmmaker’s uncle was far from the only person subject to conversion therapy who experienced these kinds of feelings, so she expected to be ‘furious at people who had led this movement’, which she says were primarily LGBTQ+ Christians.
See the trailer for Pray Away below:
As it turned out, however, Stolakis ended up having an ‘overwhelming feeling’ of sadness when interviewing the leaders of the movement, explaining: ‘I think it was because of most of the people’s good intentions. I don’t think this is a movement of a few bad apples. It’s a movement that’s born out of a larger culture of homophobia and transphobia that still persists in the majority of Christian churches today.’
One of the main subjects in Pray Away is former Exodus executive vice president Randy Thomas, who started out as a local leader before he began lobbying on behalf of the group for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the US.
Thomas came out as gay in the 1980s and found community at a church which had an Exodus group, explaining he ‘finally felt safe, even though it was toxic.’
After re-evaluating his beliefs following the suicide of his friend, Thomas urged church leaders who are still pushing conversion therapy to ‘watch this film’, adding: ‘I’m saying with the most loving heart, no shame, no condemnation: Please, pastor, stop the abuse. Please allow yourself permission to love and affirm the LGBTQ+ children in your congregation. It’s OK. Just let yourself do it.’
Pray Away is available to stream on Netflix from today, August 3.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 10am–6pm Monday to Friday, or email [email protected]
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