Boy Erased by Garrard Colney
THE website for Restoration Path is unequivocal: “Restoration Path is a Christian discipleship ministry that exists to restore those trapped in sexual and relational sin through the power of Jesus Christ.
Through our online workshop, individual biblical counselling and custom intensive programs we seek to empower men and women to embrace their identity in Christ.”
Until 2012 Restoration Path was known as Love In Action and it was at its facility in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2004 that 19-year-old Garrard Conley underwent “conversion therapy” to “cure” him of homosexuality.
What followed was shocking in the extreme.
Conley says the process left him suicidal. He has now written a book about his experiences and the devastating effect such “conversion camps” have on people’s lives
From confiscating “the wrong kind” of clothes, literature and music (oddly Beethoven was strictly prohibited) to mock funerals and electric shocks while being made to watch gay pornography, the idea was to instil the belief that being gay was a sin and the only way to be saved was to renounce his homosexual identity.
Conley says the process left him suicidal. He has now written a book about his experiences and the devastating effect such “conversion camps” have on people’s lives.
Boy Erased will be published here next week and in September the film version with Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman will be released in America.
Conley says: “I began to feel an urgency that, if I had to put it into words, went something like this. ‘If you don’t tell the truth about what happened to you more young people will end up in this situation.
Nicole Kidman stars as “Nancy” and Russell Crowe stars as “Marshall” in Joel Egerton’s Boy Erased
“If you don’t tell your story parents won’t see the effects of this therapy. If you don’t tell your story other survivors might not have a mainstream narrative to follow. If you don’t tell your story your family is going to fall apart’.”
Conversion therapy is still legal in 41 US states.
According to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, 20,000 US teenagers will be forced into it before they turn 18, with a further 57,000 teenagers receiving “gay cure therapy” from religious or spiritual advisers.
The research also revealed that 698,000 adults between 18-59 have endured conversion therapy, including 350,000 who did so as adolescents.
This is despite the World Psychiatric Association describing the practice as “wholly unethical”, adding: “There is no sound scientific evidence that innate sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore so-called treatments of homosexuality can create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish and can be potentially harmful.”
For Conley, as for the majority of teenagers forced into the practice, the motivation was religious.
Brought up in a small community in Arkansas his family were prominent members in the Baptist church. Although he says now that “my mother started to suspect that I was gay”, he hid his feelings from his father and left home for college.
When his father did discover Conley’s sexuality it was in terrible circumstances. In Boy Erased he writes of how he was raped in his dorm room by a friend, who then phoned his parents and outed him.
Boy Erased by Garrard Conley (Harper Collins, £9.99)
“My friend had trumped me,” he says. “The knowledge of my homosexuality would seem more shocking than the knowledge of my rape. Or, worse, it would seem as though one act had inevitably followed the other, as though I’d had it coming to me. I believed God was punishing me physically for my mental transgressions.”
With his father recently ordained as a Baptist preacher, Conley was given an ultimatum. “My father believed there was no life for me as an openly gay man so he decided that there was only one solution, send me to conversion therapy,” he says.
“My dad took me into his bedroom and he said, ‘I’ve talked to a few preachers. I called them after I heard this and there’s only one way forward here. Either you go to conversion therapy or you won’t see your family and we won’t pay for your education.
There followed “outpatient therapy” which he describes as “six months of sitting across from someone and they said ‘tell me every fantasy’ and after each session he would say, ‘OK, God hates that, God doesn’t want you to be that way and here’s a Bible verse to fix it.’
Finally he was sent to Love In Action for a two-week “intensive intervention” where he was classified with paedophiles, rapists and even one person who had been found guilty of bestiality.
After leaving the programme, Conley, 33, struggled with suicidal feelings and says it took him nearly a decade to come to terms with his sexuality.
Now living in New York with his husband, he also campaigns to raise awareness of the horrors of institutions such as Love In Action. Perhaps ironically he also sees his family as a “key ingredient” in his recovery. Although he still has an uncertain relationship with his father he remains close to his mother.
“I love my family but I am also concerned with the culture at large,” he says, “and the culture at large needs to know what goes on in a family like mine, what could possibly make a family want to send their child to conversion therapy.”
To order Boy Erased by Garrard Conley (Harper Collins, £9.99) with free UK delivery, call the Express Bookshop with credit/debit card details on 01872 562310. Alternatively send a cheque with your details to Boy Erased Offer, PO Box 200, Falmouth TR11 4WJ or buy online at expressbookshop.co.uk