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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

  • Packman
    December 9, 2018 at 11:50 a.m.

    Would suggest great caution on the government infringing on parental rights. At what point does “conversion therapy” turn from a parent providing mental health counseling to a confused child to harmful intimidation and psychological abuse?

  • RBear
    December 9, 2018 at 12:06 p.m.

    Pack so FOURTEEN states have it wrong? So far, the laws have withstood legal challenge. Maybe you should do research before talking out your a** as you are prone to do.

  • condoleezza
    December 9, 2018 at 12:11 p.m.

    GKKK. "Pro-life" means pro-fetus, not life. Hence the death penalty that you so hypocritically support. "Pro-choice" does NOT mean pro-abortion. It means choice. A woman's choice, not yours. Please stay very far away from our uteri. It has nothing to do with you. Ever. Slip back into your bottle for the afternoon and turn off the computer.

  • GeneralMac
    December 9, 2018 at 12:31 p.m.

    Condeleeza says........" come out to the farm"

    No need to as I spent my first 67 years on a farm.

    I have ----NEVER---observed a homosexual farm animal.
    The males are ANIMALS and thus will screw anything and everything.

    However, I have never observed a MALE homosexual farm animal who had no interest in a FEMALE animal of the same species.

    If one e ver existed, they would get a one way ride immediately to the packing plant.

    Tell me, Condeleeza, where is your "farm" you want to show me where MALE animals have no interest in FEMALE animals.

  • GeneralMac
    December 9, 2018 at 12:38 p.m.

    RBear says...."preasured to do so"

    Sorry , RBear, that just "doesn't fly" once you turn 18 and are considered a legal adult.

    After an 18 year old enlists in the military, try using that excuse in boot camp to your drill instructor........." my parents preasured me to enlist "

  • RBear
    December 9, 2018 at 1:26 p.m.

    The ignorance of fake who was probably one of those oppressive parents. There's no reason to continue that thread of dialogue with the trailer troll who shows how out of touch he is with real family challenges. The example given doesn't even correlate. More evidence he is out of his league in real discussions. Must be on the next six pack.

  • mrcharles
    December 9, 2018 at 1:38 p.m.

    It is a shame parents cant take their children to city gates to be killed. Such religious discrimination. Also parents withholding blood transfusions, vaccinations , and other health stuff just because it is science and they think if they give in to the government next step they could be forced to bake a cake for a other, one not of their sect out of thousands.

    Dont forget our great Rev Floyd out is Springdale and his views on those who have across time and across cultures who were not hetro.
    Another ancient book abomination. Can we kill witches?

  • PopMom
    December 9, 2018 at 2:12 p.m.

    While I don't agree with Bluewaterman that homosexuals are more likely to be associated with inappropriate attraction to children or younger adults than heterosexuals, I don't find that his theory on previous lives is totally beyond the realm of ridiculous. I've had a couple of strange experiences before. When I was 15, I seemed to know my way around a section of London without explanation. Once when I was on a long car trip on my way to college from Arkansas to Virginia and we pulled over for gas, I told my friend that I had a feeling that I had been to this remote section of Virginia before in a different life. Years later, when I did genealogical research, I discovered that my ancestors had indeed lived in this town in the 1770s. At the time, I did not know that I had ancestors in Virginia. I've had similar experiences with Fayetteville and other towns which I later found that my ancestors had lived there. I do not disbelieve reincarnation or that parts of our brain inherit memories of our ancestors. It's quite possible that gender confusion exists either because of brain anomalies or identification with ourselves in a previous life. What I do not understand is this human trait of bullying anybody who is different. Life would be very boring if everybody was the same.

  • GeneralMac
    December 9, 2018 at 2:22 p.m.

    Mr Charles goes on his usual rant using the word"parents" over and over.

    This young MAN was 18, of LEGAL AGE, and attending college.

    NO "parents" can send an ADULT son to a facility.

    Just because the writer plays loose with facts, no reason for "LGBT" supporters to do likewise.

  • GeneralMac
    December 9, 2018 at 2:27 p.m.

    Everytime I see that abreviation of perversion ("LGBT" ) I think of RBear's written account of raoming thru the Arkansas Democrat State Convention in search of "LGBT" "LGBT".

    He stated his search was unsuccessful.

    Just where was that pied piper going to "lead" that group if he found them ?
    Back to San Antonio Texas , hopefully .