Last Tuesday, the Netflix Original documentary Pray Away was released, and with it, some of the most vulnerable parts of my life were streaming into millions of homes around the world. Here’s the trailer for those of you who haven’t seen it:
The movie primarily looks at former leaders of Exodus International and other groups that practice conversion therapy in religious settings. My role is more as a survivor, but my story also shows how they groomed young people for leadership, which makes it clear that conversion therapy is part of an entire system that causes harm rather than a fringe movement practiced by a few bad people. It’s incredibly well done and deeply moving. It’s also A LOT to take in, especially for my LGBGQ fam who spent significant time in these “ex-gay” ministries. In fact, you may need to sit this one out and just urge the straights in your life to watch it!
I’m still coming to terms with what it means for these vulnerable parts of my life to be in a film on Netflix. But here’s what I know right now: I have heard from thousands of people all over the world who finally feel like their stories are being told. I’ve heard from hundreds of people who were a part of Living Hope, the conversion therapy program where I spent a decade trying to live a straight(ish) life! We weren’t allowed to share any identifying information about ourselves when we were in the program—no last names, no phone numbers, nothing about where we went to church or school. It was like youth group meets a 12-step program, and most of us lost touch when we dropped out of the group. Ricky Chelette, the Executive Director of Living Hope, might tell us someone “went into the gay lifestyle,” and that was it; we never heard about them again. We might have traveled to annual retreats together and seen each other in weekly support groups for 5 or 6 years, and then—overnight—they were gone.
So you can imagine how moving it’s been to hear from many of these old friends. We were in it together, bearing witness to the anguish each of us felt, our shared desire to be GOOD, and the courage we showed by getting out of bed every morning in homes where we knew we were not wanted if we accepted ourselves and told the truth about that to our families. I have never felt more proud to be a part of the queer community. We are so resilient. We survived impossible circumstances and conversations and heartbreaks. In response to that, we built chosen families and carved out nourishing spaces for ourselves where we could live together in peace and love when no one in our lives thought it was possible. I am so proud of us and I will never stop giving thanks for the gift of being a part of such an extraordinary community.
I hope you’ll watch this film. If you’re queer and feel emotionally up to it, and *definitely* if you’re straight, I hope you’ll enter into this story about a movement that is still alive today in almost every evangelical community. The primary response to people who come out is some kind of “support group” or “recovery group” that practices conversion therapy under the guise of “walking with people toward sexual and relational wholeness” or some other misleading mission statement. We know that youth who are subjected to conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide in the last year. Whatever you believe about the goodness of same-sex love, we know that statistic—the human lives it represents—is the fruit of teaching that leads to death. It is not of God. It needs to end.
The team that made Pray Away has put together fantastic resources for those of you looking for mental health support or discussion guides. And I’ll be going live from my Instagram account tomorrow with director Kristine Stolakis on Pray Away’s account to dig into some of the questions the film brought up for you. If you’re around at 12p ET, we’d love to see you there (it’ll also live on their timeline afterward if you can’t make it).
I am so thankful to be in this with y’all in our wild process of becoming. What a gift to live at a time when we can connect on the other side of our traumatic experiences, and learn we were never alone, after all.