The author of a memoir written by a gay man about his experience as a 19-year-old sent by his parents to a conversion therapy camp to change his sexual orientation from gay to straight joined his mother at the National Press Club on Oct. 12 to talk about the impact of the “therapy” on their lives.
Garrard Conley, whose 2016 memoir “Boy Erased” has been made into a Hollywood film with the same name, and his mother, Martha Conley, gave an impassioned account of how they each became outspoken opponents of conversion therapy after Martha accepted Garrard for who he is.
Garrard and Martha Conley spoke as panelists at a National Press Club forum on conversion therapy organized by the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. as an event to commemorate LGBT History Month.
“We were very moved by Garrard and his mom talking about the importance of banning conversion therapy and discussing not only how they survived the experience but came out of it closer than ever as they fight to ban conversion therapy,” said Mattachine Society President Charles Francis.
Francis told the forum that the Mattachine Society has conducted extensive research on conversion therapy as part of its mission to shed light from an historic perspective on how the government and society has persecuted LGBT people, in part, over the long disproven belief that homosexuality was a mental illness.
“We think it’s so important to put conversion therapy in the historical context going back to the 1940s lobotomies, electro shock therapy, chemical therapies, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital to the current day of religious conversion therapy,” Francis said.
All of the nation’s mainline professional mental health organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, have declared conversion therapy ineffective in changing a person’s sexual orientation and have said the practice is harmful to the mental health of those who undergo the so-called therapy.
During the forum, a short documentary video produced by Mattachine called “Welcome Garrard” was shown. It includes interviews with Garrard and Martha Conley, who tells of how she changed her belief that homosexuality was a sin from her upbringing as a fundamentalist Christian in a small town in Arkansas.
Also shown at the forum was the official preview trailer for the film “Boy Erased,” which stars Nicole Kidman who plays the character of Martha Conley. Actor Russell Crowe plays Garrard’s father. The film is scheduled to be released Nov. 2.
Martha Conley told the Washington Blade after the forum that her beliefs as a devout Christian began to change concerning homosexuality after she realized the conversion therapy that she and her husband pressured their son to undergo had a harmful impact on him. She said her changing views on the subject were also brought about by her own research on conversion therapy through which she discovered its harmful effects.
“And a lot of my issue was I just didn’t know anyone who was gay,” she said. “And so I just believed everything I was told. And once you get out there and do the research and you meet these people and they’re lovely people – it goes back to you,” she said. “We’re not supposed to judge, we’re supposed to love.”
National Press Club board member Kimberly Adams served as moderator for the forum. Others who spoke included Mattachine Society of Washington official Pate Felts and attorney Lisa Linsky, a partner in the law firm McDermott Will & Emery, which has provided pro bono legal services for Mattachine.
Linsky is one of 15 attorneys with the law firm that conducted volunteer research and authored a just released “white paper” on conversion therapy that focuses on the practices of the now defunct conversion therapy residential facility where Garrard Conley was enrolled called Love In Action. The paper, over 100 pages in length called The Pernicious Myth of Conversion Therapy: How Love In Action Perpetrated a Fraud on America, can be accessed at stopconversiontherapy.org.