Boy Erased: Gay Conversion Therapy
With the release of the coming-of-age drama Boy Erased (directed, written and co-produced by our very own Joel Edgerton), I wanted to dive into the kettle of fish that is gay conversion therapy.
This pseudoscience (emphasis on the ‘pseudo’ part) is the practice of attempting to convert someone’s queer sexual orientation to a heterosexual one, typically through psychiatric or spiritual methods. While there is virtually zero scientific evidence that any such therapy works, not to mention its condemnation by nearly every medical organisation on the planet (including the Australian Medical Association, World Medical Association and WHO), it is still being practised across Australia.
Conversion therapy emerged on our shores during the 1970s, spearheaded by religious leaders primarily of conservative Protestant congregations, although such practices can be found in all the major religions. A recent study titled ‘Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice’, jointly conducted by Melbourne’s La Trobe University and the Human Rights Law Centre, is the first academic study into the detrimental effects of conversion therapy in Australia, and includes anonymous interviews of 15 people who had first-hand experience with such treatments. The report is truly shocking, detailing practices you would be more likely to associate with B-grade horror movies than real life — for instance, electroshock therapy, brainwashing, exorcisms and hypnosis. But these things did (and in some cases, still do) happen — with the report suggesting at least 10 organisations across Australia and New Zealand today advertise the provision of services aiming to ‘pray the gay away’.
Boy Erased. Jared is the son of a small-town Baptist pastor who gets outed to his parents at age 19. He’s soon faced with an ultimatum — attend a gay conversion therapy program or be permanently exiled and shunned by his family, friends and faith.
Legally speaking — and here’s the scary part — conversion therapy is not technically against the law. And it really should be. The notion that any young person could be exposed to harmful treatment that goes against something so intrinsically ingrained to their identity (which sexuality is), as well as there being no scientific evidence to support it (in fact, bucket loads that go against it), is terrifying. But change is on the horizon. In 2016, the Victorian government passed laws to crack down on pseudoscientific practices, including conversion treatment, while the ACT and Western Australian governments have declared their intention to follow suit. ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris stated, “The ACT government will ban gay conversion therapy. It is abhorrent and completely inconsistent with the inclusive values of Canberrans”. In September this year, the Australian Senate unanimously passed a motion against conversion therapy and encouraged state governments to enact laws that make it a criminal offence.
As someone that was lucky enough to be raised in a non-religious household (thank God!) and attend non-religious schools (I mean, we did still have scripture once a month, but that usually turned into an hour of me wanting to know why there is no mention of dinosaurs in the Bible along with so many other questions about things that made no sense), I am nothing but thankful for the fact that conversion therapy played no part in my adolescent years. Years that are hard enough when coming to terms with same-sex attraction and feelings of being different from your peers.
Which is why I am very excited about Boy Erased. Based on the 2016 memoir by Garrard Conley, the film promises to dive head-on into this subject matter, and will feature veterans Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe as small-town Baptist parents who, after discovering their son’s (up-and-coming talent Lucas Hedges) sexuality, send him to conversion camp — where he comes into conflict with the head therapist (Joel Edgerton, once again directing himself on set). As a firm believer in the power of media to elicit social change, here’s hoping this film hits the mark and sparks an end to the idea that queerness can, or should, be cured.
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Julia provides psychological counselling and support for a range of mental health issues and can be contacted via lifeunlimited.com.au
Support is also available for anyone in distress by phoning (24 hours) QLife on 1800 184 527, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or AAC counselling services on 02 6257 2855. If you require relationship support or services call Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277. Some other useful resources are: blackdoginstitute.org.au, au.reachout.com and beyondblue.com.