A new documentary on Netflix illustrates an Anti-LGBTQ+ organization Exodus International, that was one of the most famous centers of conversion therapy worldwide, until it was closed by an employee of this organization, Randy Thomas, in 2013. After 2 years of closing, Thomas had a public coming out, announcing that he is gay.
The director of Pray Away is Kristine Stolakis, and the executive producers – Jason Bloom and Ryan Murphy. Murphy is also the director of such popular TV series as Ratched, American Horror Story, and other movies containing LGBTQ content.
Pray Away shows what conversion therapy really is. It illustrates that it isn’t only a discriminatory practice directed toward queer and trans individuals, but it is also a well-designed political movement from decades ago, which is deeply hidden in American Fundamentalism. It is clearly stated in Pray Away that the people who popularized conversion therapy knew exactly what they were doing. They must now assess the gravity of their actions.
The film details how Exodus International was founded. The idea of founding the organization came from five gay men. In the early 1970s, these people could not reconcile their inner feelings with religious sentiments. Their religion told them that their feelings were harmful to them, so they formed a Christian group where they could talk openly about their feelings in order to free themselves from it. They organized a conference for all small groups and from this conference was born Exodus International and the modern conversion therapy movement. The organization came up with the idea that conversion therapy was effective and necessary for LGBTQ + people. They would go to heaven if groups like Exodus were allowed to control their sexual attraction and gender identity. In the 1980s and early 1990s, when queer people died as a result of the AIDS crisis, the pace of movement development accelerated significantly. They used AIDS to prove that being queer was an unnatural and unclean condition. Against this background appeared a woman named Yvette Schneider, who “rejected” being queer and joined the idea of curing queer people with conversion therapy and traveled throughout the country, giving public speeches. Yvette Schneider’s character in the film admits that despite her campaigns, her homosexuality had not disappeared.
Pray Away mostly includes in-depth interviews with conversion therapy activists now referred to as “ex-gays.” The film shows how they were absorbed by the movement, chewed and spat out. Footage of “ex-gay” speakers is combined with today’s interviews. In the old videos they are angry and cruel.
Conversion therapy is still legal in 22 US states. Pray Away may not be the exact solution to the problem of conversion therapy, but its greatest achievement may be to create a platform for people who have survived this brutal practice.