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With ‘Boy Erased’ and ‘Cameron Post,’ Hollywood Exposes Conversion Therapy (Guest Column)

When I was 16 years old, I told my father I’m attracted to the same sex. I was terrified; and even with receiving the best response I could have hoped for, “I love you no matter what and I will always be by your side,” I learned that I was a far distance from being truly accepted.

Within a week of coming out to my dad, he discovered a so-called “conversion therapist” who gave him hope that I could “stop being gay” and that I could be “fixed,” in as soon as six weeks. My father believed he had found the answer for my “problem.”

What was supposed to be six weeks turned into five years.

I was immediately diagnosed with having too many female role models in my life; my conversion therapist told me to stay away from my mother and sisters to eliminate effeminate behaviors. I was only to engage in what he called “healthy, male-bonding,” and to act more masculine like the boys at school. Only when my conversion therapist believed I was ready would I be reintroduced to the opposite sex.

For three years, I did not speak to my mother and two sisters.

I was failing in school and I was lacking my mother’s love. And for two years, I contemplated suicide. I knew that I was gay. And I knew I could not change. Conversion therapy broke my family apart and had a traumatic impact on all of us.

Only after discovering my true self and realizing there was nothing wrong with me in the first place was I able to accept that my father chose conversion therapy out of fear. He was afraid that I would never be accepted and that I would face prejudice and discrimination, from both within and outside of our community.

After a not-so-easy journey and with great effort, my father and I reconciled our relationship and he is now in my life as a loving and supportive figure.

My father didn’t have stories or films he could look at and consider when he sent me to conversion therapy. Today, parents like my dad who search for information about conversion therapy online are met with some of the most famous faces in the world appearing in video clips and press interviews from two 2018 films, “Boy Erased” and “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” which debunk the myths of ex-gay therapy.

With these films, Hollywood is saving the lives of countless LGBTQ youth, both now and in the future.

The release of these two films in the same year has popular culture embracing the idea of ending the dangerous practice of conversion therapy. Hollywood has a long tradition of humanizing LGBTQ issues, from HIV to marriage equality, and now the recent attention these films are generating has built public support around ending this harmful practice.

I am one of 700,000 people in the U.S. who have been subjected to conversion therapy. An additional 57,000 will go through conversion therapy in the next five years — unless we turn art into action and legislate for change.

When parents think about sending their children to conversion therapy and begin looking for resources online, they come across valid information from LGBTQ organizations, but they are also met with paid ads from practitioners who engage in the dangerous practice. Now, thanks to Hollywood, parents or individuals searching for this information are being introduced to critically praised films that not only expose the harms of conversion therapy for LGBTQ people, but also the impact on their parents and friends around them.

The first film, Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” from director Desiree Akhavan and starring Chlöe Grace Moretz, came out in August to critical acclaim. It is currently available to stream on demand.

Last weekend, Focus Features’ “Boy Erased,” adapted and directed by Joel Edgerton and starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Troye Sivan, opened in five theaters. The film expanded this weekend and it is particularly important that it eventually rolls out into America’s heartland, especially the South, where the story takes place.

I worked as an adviser on both films. The cast and crews of these films did not just want to create entertainment, they wanted to tell stories that would make a difference. Along with our partners at GLAAD, we know that the films we see can make a parent or guardian think twice before putting their child through this dangerous and ineffective practice.

My most recent years have been the most freeing. I now live openly as a proud gay man, dedicating my work to helping other LGBTQ people like me. As part of my work with Born Perfect, I have testified in 10 state hearings in favor of ending conversion therapy and have met with over 160 legislatures this year alone. Five states have passed legislation since January, bringing the total number to 14 states protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. We are starting conversations in living rooms, churches, and town halls, as well as all over social media.

I’m sad to say, it’s not all good news. Our opposition has launched new strategies for shaming and coercing LGBTQ kids under the age of 18 into conversion therapy, such as targeted conversion therapy video ads on social media — efforts which are nearly untouchable by any of the legal or financial means at our disposal.

The goal of GLAAD and the Born Perfect campaign, and my personal promise, is to end conversion therapy once and for all.

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” and “Boy Erased” are now the front lines to combating these anti-LGBTQ tactics. When filmgoers and parents see the pain of the young LGBTQ characters in the films — and how the parents come to understand and accept their children just as they are — it has the potential to erase the practice forever.

Mathew Shurka is a conversion therapy survivor, activist and founder of the Born Perfect campaign. “Boy Erased” has grossed over $1 million to date in limited release, and should expand to roughly 400 theaters by Thanksgiving weekend. 

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