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‘Boy Erased’ author joins mother in panel on conversion therapy

2016 memoir turned into major Hollywood film



Boy Erased, gay news, Washington Blade, conversion therapy

Garrard Conley’s ‘Boy Erased’ has been turned into a major Hollywood film coming next month.(Image courtesy Penguin)

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

Boy Erased, gay news, Washington Blade

The panel for ‘Boy Erased’ at the National Press Club included, from left, moderator Kimberly Adams, writer Garrard Conley, Martha Conley, Mattachine Society of Washington official Pate Felts and attorney Lisa Linsky. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action



Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January



SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’

Virtual celebration to take place on Dec. 9



David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade
David Mariner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says it will honor and recognize 12 individuals and one organization by designating them as Community Pioneers “for their diverse contributions to the Washington-area LGBTQ community” at a Dec. 9 virtual celebration.

“Rainbow History Project is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the LGBT history of metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” the group says in a statement announcing the event. “The Pioneers awards recognize diverse community leaders for their roles as organizational founders, innovators, advocates and volunteers,” the statement says.

“The Pioneers celebration will be held virtually and is designed with special features that reproduce the feeling of attending in-person, such as live streaming and video chatting with other attendees and Pioneers before and after the core awards programing,” according to the statement.

“Celebrating our Community Pioneers has been a cherished tradition since Rainbow History Project’s founding 21 years ago,” said Rob Berger, the organization’s chairperson. “It’s always an inspiring event, and we are happy that our virtual platform will still allow participants to meet and talk with the Pioneers,” Berger said in the statement.

The virtual event is free and open to the public, the statement says. Organizers released this link for those interested in attending, saying a short registration process may require registering in advance. 

Remo Conference

Following is the list of Community Pioneers scheduled to be honored at the Dec. 9 event as released by Rainbow History Project along with the project’s description of their backgrounds.

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local group that since its founding has addressed equal rights issues for LGBTQ Virginians from a state and local perspective.

– Eboné F. Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and Tagg Communication LLC.

Bart Forbes, founding member of “Gay Fairfax,” a pioneering television newsmagazine program in Northern Virginia.

– Ellen Kahan, youth and family advocate, president of Rainbow Families, former director of the Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health, and currently senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

– Theodore Kirkland (deceased), a co-founder of D.C. Black Pride in 1991, member of the Gay Liberation Front and Skyline Faggots, active community health volunteer and advocate.

– Paul Marengo, community leader through LGBTQ organizations including Reel Affirmations, Cherry Fund, and Pride celebrations for youth, Latino, Black and Transgender communities.

– David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, and former executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

– Mark Meinke founder longtime chair, Rainbow History Project, and co-founder of Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization for the recognition and preservation of sites, history and heritage associated with sexual and gender minorities.

– Michael “Micci” Sainte Andress, artist, health educator and advocate and an early leader in bringing African Americans into HIV/AIDS clinical trials.

– Boden Sandstrom, founder and owner of Woman Sound (later City Sound), the first all-woman sound company, which makes LGBTQ rights rallies and the women’s music scene possible.

Casse Culver (deceased), nationally acclaimed D.C. lesbian feminist singer-songwriter, and partner of Boden Sandstrom, whose followers said her love songs and feminist lyrics moved audiences from foot stomping to silent reflection.  

Alan Sharpe, playwright, director and co-founder of the African American Collective Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1976, which now focuses on LGBTQ life and culture in the Black community.

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