“Boy Erased” A story about religion, conversion therapy, and gay rights

Recently, I watched the movie “Boy Erased.” The same week I saw the book in the Books & Books shelves and the name sounded familiar, my friend explained to me that it was the movie where the “guy from Lady Bird” starred in with Troye Sivan. Hearing Lady Bird and Troye Sivan in the same sentence were enough reasons for me to watch it.

After much deliberation and arguing with my mom there wasn’t anything else on TV, I was able to convince her. I’d like to thank Nicole Kidman, her sole presence in the film made my mom go from “Eh” to “Ok, let’s watch it.”

“Boy Erased” is based on the memoir by Garrard Conley. The film adaptation follows the life of a young man named Jared Eamons (based on Garrard Conley) played by Lucas Hedges. Jared is a calm, collected kid, who goes to church, college, and works at his dad’s dealership; everything about him is normal but you can see how figuring out his sexuality gives him a lot of anxiety. He was born into a religious family, but not your occasionally-goes-to-church-on-Sundays type of family, he was the son of a very prolific pastor; thinking about being “gay” was out the question.

In college is where he sort-of confronts his sexuality. Back in the early 2000s, college campuses weren’t as supportive as they are today. So, it’s not like he felt complete freedom in school. His attraction towards men becomes more evident when he befriends Henry Wallace. They spend most of their time together, there’s definitely an attraction but nothing happens until one night when Wallace invites him to his dorm. What first seemed like a regular friends’ meet up, turned into an assault. Afterwards, Wallace apologizes but not for raping him-for being gay.

Jared gets outed by his abuser and when Jared’s parents find out, his father Marshall (Russell Crow) decides to send him to a conversion camp while his mom Nancy (Nicole Kidman) quietly complies.

“Love In Action” a Christian camp composed of young men and women who were visibly forced to be there by their families. The camp promises full-on conversion and capacitation of anybody who went through the program. Members’ newly found faith will keep them away from “sin” and bring them back to the Lord.

For Love In Action homosexuality is learned, people are a product of their environment, and being gay is the result of childhood trauma. Participants spend the entire day in group therapies and activities where they’re repeatedly told their feelings are rooted in sin and their only salvation is renouncing to their homosexuality.

Some choose to comply and follow the program’s rules in order to make their lives easier, those who choose to resist it, are sent to a more controlling part of the camp. It’s up to the camp’s advisors if someone is ready to leave the camp or if they need to stay longer to make sure they’re fully converted. Of course, not being ready to leave was another way how the camp maintained itself with expensive tuition.

A cult-like setting, all dressed in white shirts and khakis, a restricted environment with cellphones, notes, and thoughts of your own weren’t allowed. Participants can’t even go to the bathroom alone is against the rules, members have to be accompanied by an advisor because the bathroom was a place where they could find sin, i.e., masturbate.

After going through the camp and experiencing the horrors and the cult behavior among its advisors, Jared chooses to rebel against it. His mom comes to his rescue and acknowledges how her complacency put his son at risk.

Years later, he writes an article for a major publication where he exposes the traumatic experiences of conversion therapy and what it entails. The article goes viral and gained national traction (or what you can consider viral during the 2000s). He establishes his career as a writer and becomes an advocate and activist for the LGBTQ+ community.

It’s a powerful story. It’s infuriating to watch how people arbitrarily think they have the sole power to convert people into what they consider to be “the norm.” To know there are still conversion centers that exist and the traumas the people go through in the name of religion. How many people have been manipulated in the name of God? Or have been antagonized by their own church because of who they are?

It’s extremely unfair to deny someone’s faith because of their sexuality. Many people from the LGBTQ+ community still struggle with their relationship with faith, God, and Church. Nowadays, there are some “modern” churches that welcome people from the LGBTQ+ community but under false claims. Telling them they are welcome to come but the moment they are in mass, they’re told to reconsider their decisions. But even with these “modern” churches, it’s still hard for people from the community to find a safe space within faith and religion.

Currently, in the U.S. conversion centers are still legal. Only 18 out of 50 states have banned conversion therapy in minors. We’re not even half-way. Legislation should be passed banning conversion therapy nationwide and showcasing how psychologically traumatizing and ridiculous it is. No one, in a democracy, should be forced or coerced into becoming something they’re not nor should their faith be denied in terms of sexual orientation.

Under the current administration, it’s very unlikely a nationwide ban on conversion therapy will happen. Especially when Vice President Mike Pence has a long history of opposing views on gay rights and becoming one of the faces of the Religious Right.

The movie is concise. It’s not overly dramatic but it gets the message across. It has a great cast, maybe it isn’t the most revolutionary film or the most cinematic or engaging, but it is a worthwhile story.