Pray Away tells the story of how the “pray the gay away” movement among conservative Christians began. Some of the former leaders of the movement explained their stories. Unfortunately, this damaging and dangerous practice is still ongoing. This documentary is on Netflix.
In Pray Away, former leaders in the movement talked about the history of the movement. They preached to make homosexuality go away through a belief in Jesus Christ and a determination to change behavior. It’s been proven that this is a false promise. It doesn’t work. But people put their faith in it and promoted it.
It began among gay and lesbian churchgoers who were filled with shame and loneliness. In search of community, they organized groups within their churches as support and therapy for each other. These groups popped up in so many places, they were finally organized under the umbrella of an organization called Exodus.
The movement began in the 1970s. Some folks stayed in it for years and rose to prominence in that world. The job of the leaders was to instill fear of homosexuality in people, and to make people who were LGBTQ feel they were broken and bad.
Exodus, and other similar organizations, preached shame and hate. They told people that their true feelings and sexuality were bad and wrong. To be accepted by the church community and receive the love of God, it was necessary to accept Jesus Christ and stop all same sex connections. If people managed to do this, they were considered healed.
Even though they knew they weren’t healed, they acted as if they were and worked hard to convert others to follow them. It was so sad watching people who were obviously what they wanted not to be. The way they spoke, the way they moved, walked, sat, dressed. They declared themselves while viciously denying themselves.
People left the movement. People committed suicide. People harmed themselves. Several people described how they emerged from their brainwashed state into stepping away from the movement and embracing their true selves. One man talked about knowing everything he said and did was a lie. One woman talked about having panic attacks on her way to conversion conference meetings. One woman began burning herself with cigarettes and superheated coins. Others told about former members confronting the leaders with stories about all the damage conversion therapy had done to them personally.
All the former leaders who spoke in the film regretted their roles in Exodus and the conversion therapy movement.
The film uncovered the story in linear order, from the origins of the movement to the condition it is in today. People explained their reasons for joining and for getting out. Director Kristine Stolakis used a calm but scary approach to the material, letting the horrors of it build slowly.
I’ve written about two fictionalized conversion therapy stories: The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Trapped: The Alex Cooper Story. This film is very different. It’s a dispassionate look at the facts and the results of conversion therapy on human lives. If you are interested in this topic, I think you’ll find the film enlightening.
Here’s a look at the trailer.