When homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder in 1952, professionals sought various ways to “cure” it. While homosexuality was no longer deemed a mental disorder in 1973 by the American Psychiatric Association, that same year saw the rise of ministries set up by religious organizations who still believed that being homosexual was unnatural. While Love in Action was the first among these “ex-gay ministries,” three years later, the organization that became synonymous with the movement, Exodus International, was founded.
Pray Away, a documentary produced by Ryan Murphy and Jason Blum for Netflix chronicles the history of Exodus from its beginning in 1976 to its end in 2013. The documentary also features detailed interviews with former leaders of Exodus. In an interview with the blog Women and Hollywood, director Kristine Stolakis explained what she would want people to think about after watching Pray Away:
Conversion therapy is a practice, but it is also a movement. There is so much that binds this belief system together beyond the practice the pseudo-counseling many of us picture when we think of conversion therapy. To be clear, this pseudo-counseling absolutely exists — both by licensed counselors and un-licensed counselors, the latter of which are generally religious leaders teaching outdated and disproved psychological ideas of why someone is LGBTQ.
But beyond that counseling experience, the ex-gay world is an immersive experience where it is easy to constantly surround yourself with messages that change is possible. There are conferences, peer-to-peer meet-ups, books, films, blogs, hashtags, and religious ministries filled with people who say in one way or another that change is possible.
When you are not participating in the movement actively, those beliefs stick with you in your more intimate moments: in conversations with friends and family, in alone time and in prayer, every time you feel an attraction towards someone of the same-sex. This is why self-punishment and, devastatingly, suicide are a part of this world. It is the ultimate expression of being taught that something essential inside of you is broken and needs fixing.
Pray Away comes to Netflix on August 3, and for more information on conversion therapy and the fight against it, go to the Trevor Project’s webpage.
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