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Awareness arrived with watching the recently released film Boy Erased. Based on a 2016 memoir by Garrard Conley, who grew up in north Arkansas, it's the quietly chilling story of an 18-year-old college student who, in 2004 (!), when his conservative Christian parents find out he's gay, is sent to conversion therapy in Memphis to get him straightened out.

With first-rate performances by Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as Baptist pastor Marshall and dutiful wife Nancy Eamons, Lucas Hedges as their son Jared, and Joel Edgerton (who wrote and directed the film) as Victor Sykes, director at the therapy program, the film is pitched in a murmuring minor key, somber and brutal in chronicling the dissonant missteps and consequences of decisions made and actions taken by people, most of them thinking they're doing the right thing.

Conley, now living in New York, was born in Memphis and grew up in Cherokee Village and Mountain Home. According to the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, he is the son of Hershel Conley, a Missionary Baptist pastor, and Martha Conley.

He was a Lyon College freshman when another student outed him as gay. That's when his parents sent him to a kind of gay cure day camp called Love in Action in Memphis.

While humiliation, self-degradation, and painful confessions were par for the group discussions held there, Conley writes in Boy Erased that his experience there might have been unique: He lived in a world that operated on extreme notions of self-annihilation. He initially bought into the idea that he might have to obliterate an authentic part of himself to live as a good and decent person.

In reality, what he went through is all too common. Lots of other people who find themselves in the minority have been abused, manipulated and sometimes destroyed by well-intentioned groups of people. And, he adds, "harmful ideas continue to develop new political strains all over the world. "

Pushback is powerful. The Trevor Project's 50 Bills 50 States is a campaign to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy in the U.S. and countries around the world. Using legislation, litigation and public education, the organization's goal is to end what it defines as dangerous and discredited practices.

Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award-winning short film Trevor (concerning what happens to a 13-year-old in 1981 after his same-sex crush on a schoolmate is discovered), The Trevor Project seeks to provide crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people under 25.

What is conversion therapy? Boy Erased answers that question in unsettling detail. A more nuanced description is offered on The Trevor Project's website: Sometimes referred to as "reparative therapy," it's any of several dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity. Conversion therapists use a variety of shaming, emotionally traumatic or physically painful stimuli to make their victims associate those stimuli with their LGBTQ identities.

Studies by the UCLA Williams Institute claim that more than 700,000 LGBTQ people have been subjected to conversion therapy, and an estimated 80,000 LGBTQ youth will experience this unprofessional conduct in coming years, often at the insistence of well-intentioned but misinformed parents or caretakers.

Does conversion therapy work? No. The Trevor Project explains that it's based on the false notion that being LGBTQ is a mental illness that should be cured, despite all major medical associations' agreement that LGBTQ identities are a normal variant of human nature.

Potential risks of the therapy, says the American Psychiatric Association, include depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, "since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

It's been reported that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth from rejecting families are at least eight times more likely to attempt suicide than youth from accepting families. LGBTQ youth, Trevor Project advocates say, "should never be forced to try to change something as beautiful as who they love or who they are. After all, they cannot change what they never chose."

Conversion therapy is banned in 14 states, among them Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Illinois, and a cluster on the East Coast.

The legislatures in all other states have remained silent on the question. Gay conversion therapy is still legal in Arkansas. It ought not be.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

Editorial on 12/09/2018

Print Headline: KAREN MARTIN: How is this still a thing?


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Archived Comments

    December 9, 2018 at 7:04 a.m.

    It's still "a thing" because of all the Talibangelical Christofascists like Jason Rapert who pollute humanity with their inanity and insanity. Rapert and his minions (too many of whom make daily appearances here on ArkansasOnline.c0m threads) are what's wrong with Arkansas...and America.

    (Cretinous drivel proving my point in 3...2...1...)

  • RBear
    December 9, 2018 at 7:45 a.m.

    Thank you for bringing this to light, Karen. Conversion therapy is a cruel attempt by intolerant parents to "change" their sons or daughters. In reality, it's a feel good move by the parents who are members of ultra-conservative religious churches to maintain their good standing in the church. It's not about the well-being of the child. It comes from a dated view of homosexuality that is based on false teachings. It's not out of love for the child. In fact, as was seen in the movie, in some cases the "therapy" leads to the suicide of the child who feels there is no other option.
    We've seen that intolerant attitude in here with some commenters who view trans individuals as mentally ill. One of the honeypot articles running today is about the teacher and the trans student. Some of those same individuals still view homosexuality as perverse or a mental illness. The real truth is that LGBTQ individuals are stable and functioning members of society, with several leading corporations in America. If you're reading this on an iPhone, know that the CEO of that company is gay.
    It's time for Arkansas to take a stand and pass legislation banning conversion therapy. It's time for legislators to force Rapert and others to shut up and truly represent the people who elected them. With regards to Christian beliefs around homosexuality, the majority of Christians have changed their views on the LGBTQ. My own mainstream Protestant church, the largest of its denomination in the state, recently added gender identity in the statement of inclusion. All are God's children and all are welcome.
    It's time for Arkansas, the state featured in the film, to outlaw conversion therapy.

    December 9, 2018 at 7:54 a.m.

    Homosexuality has in the past often been characterized by older men and women preying on young boys and girls who are more vulnerable to their advances. This is undeniable. It has also been associated with extremes of debauchery and sexual perversion. In the earliest cases of AIDS, which decimated the homosexual community exclusively, the victims often described having had sexual relations with hundreds of partners in the previous six month period, many in the so called "bath houses" in big cities. Is it any wonder then that many people find this practice objectionable? The adoption of terms like "gay" and LGBTQ has been an attempt by the national media to normalize the notion of very unnatural and even unhygienic physical acts. The underlying urge to homosexual attraction is much more than a biological phenomenon, probably involving soul patterns and possibly even past lifetimes. As it has always been, it remains an anomaly to the human experience.

    December 9, 2018 at 7:56 a.m.

    "The underlying urge to homosexual attraction is much more than a biological phenomenon, probably involving soul patterns and possibly even past lifetimes."

    My point, proven.

  • RBear
    December 9, 2018 at 8:07 a.m.

    BWM there is no more evidence of homosexuality being equated to pedophilia as there is heterosexuality. That is a flat out lie. Maybe you've been driven to believe that, but it's not based in fact. With regards to the bath house phenomenon, it was isolated to major cities in a society where public expression was forbidden. Furthermore, should we consider heterosexuality objectionable when the vast majority of pedophile cases are among the heterosexual community, many occurring in schools and churches? Live in the past all you want, but it's time for our state to live in the present and put aside the prejudices you and others exhibit without fact.

  • 23cal
    December 9, 2018 at 9:04 a.m.

    No peer-reviewed study has ever been published on reparative therapy. No longitudinal study has ever been conducted into its long-term effectiveness and hazards. Sufficient anecdotal evidence has surfaced to convince the large mental health professional societies, like the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, etc. to condemn reparative therapy as ineffective, and warn of potentially dangerous side-effects.
    "Reparative therapy" hasn't changed the sexual orientation of anyone, but has succeeded in brutalizing some gay people into the closet and into denial. That is an acceptable outcome for the parents who force their kids into these torture camps.
    So-called reparative therapies are aimed at ‘fixing’ something that is not a mental illness and therefore does not require therapy. There is insufficient scientific evidence that they work, and they have the potential to harm the client,” said APA President Barry S. Anton. “APA has and will continue to call on mental health professionals to work to reduce misunderstanding about and prejudice toward gay and transgender people.”
    A 2009 APA Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Response to Sexual Orientation concluded that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation due to a lack of evidence that such change is possible and the potential for such efforts to harm the patient’s mental health.

    Note: The American Psychological Association is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States.
    The American Academy of Pediatrics advises youth that counseling may be helpful for you if you feel confused about your sexual identity. Avoid any treatments that claim to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation, or treatment ideas that see homosexuality as a sickness
    The American Psychiatric Association, in its 2000 position statement on “reparative” therapy, states:
    Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or “repair” homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of “cures” are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, “reparative” therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, the APA recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to first, do no harm.
    Therefore, the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation. htt ps://ww w.apa.o rg/pi/lgbt/resources/ px

  • GeneralMac
    December 9, 2018 at 9:21 a.m.

    bLUEWATER AT 7:54.....

    BINGO !

    Once scientists can determine if a baby in the womb will be "LGBT" "LGBT", only pro-life women will be giving birth to " LGBT" "LGBT"

    If you think liberal, pro-abortion women are going to carry an "LGBT" "LGBT" baby to birth, I have ocean front property in Harrison for sale.

  • GeneralMac
    December 9, 2018 at 10:32 a.m.

    " an 18 year old college student'

    "is SENT to conversion therapy"


    At 18 years old he was a LEGAL ADULT and thus no one could " send" him anyplace !

  • RBear
    December 9, 2018 at 11:27 a.m.

    Fake does not understand the oppressive nature of the ultra-conservative religious family and the desire of a son or daughter to not disrupt the family, willing to endure any torturous treatment to make things “right.” The child loves the family, but knows what he/she feels in their nature will anger and cause strife in the family. So they will go to any length to avoid that disruption even if it is wrong. No, fake is as ignorant of these issues as he is of the racist statements he makes about blacks and Jews.

  • condoleezza
    December 9, 2018 at 11:48 a.m.

    Bluewater. "Homosexuality has in the past often been characterized by older men and women preying on young boys and girls who are more vulnerable to their advances. This is undeniable."

    This statement is utterly deniable by facts, common sense, and science. Heterosexuals are far more likely to be perverts and predators. People like you and GeneralMaKKK are the problem. You think you know everything when, in fact, there is a lot more to learn about everything. Homosexuality is spread all throughout Nature. Come on out to the farm sometime, and I'll prove it to you. It is natural. It may not be your thing, but then you are not everything.