Starting LGBTQ Conversion Therapy
“Reparative” or “conversion” therapy is an attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender. As bizarre a notion as this may sound, an Evangelical church in Washington state convinced thousands of Americans they could “pray away the gay.” Needless to say, the church got extremely rich.
It all began in the 70s. This may have been an enlightened time for some but, for others, taboos around same sex relationships were rampant. In an attempt to leave the homosexual lifestyle so despised by their Christian faith, a group of men started a support group.
Within weeks, they received over 25,000 letters from people asking for help. The group quickly grew into a movement known as Exodus International. Its rallying cry was “Change is right around the corner!” It endured for 37 years and was the largest conversion therapy organization in the world.
Counseling And Sinister Changes
Initially, treatment was limited to counseling and 12-step programs. This was injurious enough to its victims, but then “aversion treatment” raised its ugly head. This more sinister approach administered electric shocks and induced vomiting and paralysis. In other words, it was a sadist’s paradise.
If anyone died during their torture, it didn’t get reported. Unless, of course, suicides are included. They were four times higher than the U.S. norm and predominantly young.
Fame And Failure
Amongst the many who had been “saved” by this therapy were five superstars. They travelled the globe to preach about their God-inspired change. Audiences were spellbound by these “ex-gay” epiphanies. But the same time the celebrities were extolling their miracle, they were struggling with a hidden truth. Their same-sex attractions had never gone away.
One by one, they came out as LGBTQ, disavowing the very movement they helped start. Their declarations were the catalysts that pulled back the curtain on the abominations being carried out in the name of the Lord.
Discrediting The Approach
The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, and virtually every recognized health organization, discredited the therapy. They said It was unscientific, ineffective and likely to cause lifelong psychological and spiritual violence and devastation.
These revelations went viral and with an entire country watching, church leaders had no option than to close Exodus down. As far as the public were concerned, that was the end of it. But Big Church wasn’t going to give up those Big Bucks without a fight.
Some of the Exodus ministries quietly rebranded themselves and the Restored Hope Network, another faction with a God complex, made a silent debut. All these websites make great efforts to try and separate themselves from the disgraced mob of 2013. But nobody can misinterpret the meaning of “overcoming sinful relational and sexual issues.”
So the assaults never stopped, despite proof of their tragic consequences. But how else do you net millions from “treatment centers” when you’re not even qualified to take a pulse?
Hiding Behind Religion
Clinicians lose their license if they harm a patient, but Evangelicals hide behind religious freedom. This means they can do what they want, to who they want, if they claim they’re carrying out God’s will. Isn’t it strange how religious fanatics always know exactly what God’s will is, and how, coincidentally, it lines up with their own?
The documentary Pray Away is streaming on Netflix. It chronicles the journeys of leaders, members and survivors of Exodus International.
PRAY AWAY, LGBTQ conversion therapy trailer
About the Filmmakers
Kristine Stolakis (Director/Producer)
Kristine Stolakis is a documentary film director whose work wrestles with politics, prejudice, and power. Her debut feature PRAY AWAY takes viewers inside the history and continuation of the “pray the gay away” or ex-gay movement, and is a Multitude Films production. It is supported by the Catapult Film Fund, Tribeca Film Institute, Hartley Film Foundation, Chicken and Egg Pictures, and SFFilm.
Her directorial debut THE TYPIST (Hot Docs 2015) cracks open the untold story of a closeted Korean War veteran tasked with writing the military dishonorable discharges of outed LGBTQ seamen. It was released by KQED and is currently a Vimeo Staff Pick. WHERE WE STAND (DOC NYC 2015) chronicles a group of Mormon women fighting for equal rights inside their church, and was released by The Atlantic and nominated for a Student BAFTA.
She also produced ATTLA (Independent Lens 2019), a co-production of ITVS and Vision Maker Media. Her filmmaking approach is shaped by her background in anthropology, journalism, politics, and community art.
She holds an MFA in Documentary Film from Stanford University, where she currently lectures, a BA in Cultural Anthropology from New York University, and has received further training at UC Berkley’s Investigative Reporting Program. She proudly hails from North Carolina and central New York. She is the founder of Lamplighter Films.
Jessica Devaney is the founder and president of Multitude Films, an independent production company dedicated to telling stories by and about underrepresented communities. Her latest films include Netflix Original PRAY AWAY in partnership with Ryan Murphy and Blumhouse, Oscar-shortlisted CALL CENTER BLUES (TOPIC), and APART, an episode of the Sesame Workshop series THROUGH OUR EYES (HBO Max).
She also produced Sundance award-winning and IDA-nominated ALWAYS IN SEASON (Independent Lens 2020), Livingston Reporting award-winning THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED (POV 2019) dubbed “a real-world conspiracy thriller” by Variety, and Peabody-nominated ROLL RED ROLL (POV, Netflix 2019). Additional credits include Critic’s Choice-nominated SPEED SISTERS (Netflix), American Psychological Association award-winning LOVE THE SINNER (Amazon), and CALL HER GANDA (POV).
Her films have screened at top festivals including Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, BlackStar, and Telluride. Jessica founded QueerDoc and the Queer Producers a member of Vox Populi, an artist collective in Philadelphia, as well as SAL Film Group, a small group of filmmakers who contribute time and resources to fellow makers in early stages of development and ideation. She holds an MFA in Documentary Film & Video from Stanford University and a BA in History from Carleton College.
Myles Markham (Impact Producer & Consulting Producer)
Myles Markham has worked for almost a decade in grassroots Christian organizing to advance LGBTQ inclusion and racial justice in evangelical and or conservative churches. Myles is based in Atlanta, Georgia where they are pursuing a Master of Arts in Practical Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary and exploring the role of religion and faith within queer and trans communities of color.
Myles loves liberation and postcolonial theologies, exploring their Japanese American/Native Hawai’ian identity, and their most recent work has been helping to coordinate the screening campaign for FLINT: THE POISONING OF AN AMERICAN CITY, a documentary that explores the topic of environmental racism and the critical question of how community poisoning happens in American cities.
About Blumhouse Productions
Blumhouse is known for pioneering a new model of studio filmmaking: producing high-quality micro-budget films and provocative television series. Regarded as the driving force in the horror renaissance, Blumhouse has produced over 150 movies and television series with theatrical grosses amounting to over $4.8 billion.
The company has produced iconic, genre, film franchises like Halloween, Paranormal Activity, The Purge, and prolific films like Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man; Glass, The Visit and Split from M. NIght Shyamalan; Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman; Get Out from Jordan Peele; among several others.
Blum’s television company operates in horror programming – with streaming anthology series like Welcome to the Blumhouse for Amazon and Into the Dark for Hulu – and has also expanded beyond genre with provocative and acclaimed scripted and unscripted series and documentaries, such as The Good Lord Bird, starring Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke, for Showtime; The Loudest Voice, starring Golden Globe winner Russell Crowe for Showtime; A Wilderness of Error (FX);The Jinx for HBO;A Secret Love, from executive producer Ryan Murphy, for Netflix; and lauded HBO series Sharp Objects, starring Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson, among others.
About Multitude Films
Multitude Films is an LGBTQ-led independent production company dedicated to telling nonfiction stories by and about underrepresented communities. Multitude’s critically-acclaimed films have been programmed at dozens of festivals internationally including Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW, Telluride, and IDFA, and distributed by Netflix, Topic, POV, Independent Lens, and HBOMax among others.
Oriented by a representational storytelling approach, the company prioritizes equity on screen and behind the camera. This women-led team has been recognized with the Cinereach Producers Award, the SIMA Vital Voices Award, and Doc NYC’s 40 under 40 Award.
Recent releases include Oscar-shortlisted CALL CENTER BLUES, Sundance award-winning and IDA-nominated ALWAYS IN SEASON, Livingston Reporting award-winning THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED, and Peabody-nominated ROLL RED ROLL. Summer 2021 releases include the Netflix Original PRAY AWAY.