By Rev. Garrett A. Foster
The recent movie, “Boy Erased,” is based on the true story of Jared Eeamons, the son of a small-town Baptist pastor. Jared was forced to enter a conversion therapy program. Sometimes known as “reparative therapy,” these programs are designed to change people from gay to straight. This type of therapy—under the auspices of religion—can be harmful.
According to the Trevor Project, founded in 1998 to provide crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people under 25, more than 700,000 LGBTQ young people have been subjected to conversion therapy—and have been harmed by it. It is estimated that as many as 80,000 more will experience conversion therapy in coming years. This essay explains the risks of this type of ‘therapy.’
It is unimaginable to think about someone’s sexual/gender orientation—a person’s way of self-identifying in the world—being aborted by those who otherwise claim to place such a high value on human life; many of these programs are run and supported by Christians. It is as if they are trying to extinguish a spirit that is burning too brightly, bringing their deepest fears and insecurities into full light, making them want to use religious orientation as a means of control.
Eamons was able to escape from the conversion therapy facility before it was too late, but many others are not able to get away from this type of 'treatment.’ Although conversion therapy is meant to ‘save’ people, there is a high rate of suicide and “accidents” suffered by people in these programs.
I wasn’t surprised that the film “Boy Erased” didn’t do particularly well at the box office. Films that bring up these types of issues and emotions are not really meant to be entertainment, which is what movies often are for us. Films like this one force you to think—and feel. They have a message. They want us to look at the parts of ourselves that may be the cause ... and invite all of us to be the solution. They want us to realize the consequences of this happening in our own backyard.
Like so many other abuses that occur in this world, if you don’t acknowledge that conversion therapy programs exist and also take the time to understand what happens in them, you don’t have to take responsibility either. You don’t have to see how we all contribute to erasing at least part of someone’s identity at one time or another to better suit our personal preference, ideology or religion.
LGBTQ people do not have to be subjected to conversion therapy programs to understand that it is not always acceptable for them to be who they are. They know it is not always safe to show the kind of public displays of affection that are considered mild in the heterosexual world. They overhear people they love and trust making questionable ‘jokes’ about gays or the gay lifestyle.
Many LGBTQ people still have to hide who they are when in the workplace to avoid being fired. They sit in churches, with communities of people they love, while priests and ministers bash them and their identities. They wonder if there will be a day when doctors can choose not to treat them if giving medical care to a person who identifies as any of the categories of LGBTQ goes against their religion.
Even with all the advances there have been, there are still countless homophobic slurs and injustices that feel abusive to their targets. I have well meaning friends and family who truly accept and want the best for me, yet they still don’t think we should elect officials who support same-sex marriage or transgender bathroom rights.
Someone I love told me she accepts me being gay because I’m not one of those “swishy types.” I wonder if Jesus tried to convert the swishers.
All of these attitudes and behaviors hurt. They hurt me, and they hurt society.
Of course, it is not just LGBTQ people whose spirits society wants to erase. Anytime anyone else tries to change someone into what they want or need them to be, whether it’s asking them to lose weight, get a new profession, or play a sport they hate—their spirit gets erased. It is a form of abuse.
For centuries, spouses have tried to turn the person they married into someone else. Insecure bosses surround themselves with people who can be controlled and kept quiet. Certain political figures wish to erase the spirits of people of other cultures, nationalities, skin colors, beliefs—by building walls—both physical walls made of metal and bricks, and emotional walls made of suspicion and fear.
The insidiousness of this practice is that it is often done in the name of love. Brainwashed, misinformed parents and caregivers of LGBTQ youth may believe they are saving their loved one through conversion therapy. Politicians claim they are acting out of concern for public safety.
One thing is clear: The first time someone strips you of your humanity and tries to change who you are is as traumatic and damaging as the hundredth time it happens.
Abuse is abuse, so know that, and erase your hurtful beliefs and agendas. Also, erase your fears. It is the only way to leave your soul's print on the world.