October’s East Falls Social Justice Book Club selection (and newly released motion picture), “Boy Erased,” demystifies conversion therapy.
The story of Garrard Conley, an Arkansas native and son of a Baptist pastor, has been made into a major motion picture, starring Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Lucas Hedges (just released on November 2nd). In May 2016 Conley published his memoir, “Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith and Family,” sharing his journey of self-discovery with the world. In 2004 Conley was forcibly outed to his extremely religious parents, and then made to attend a sexual reorientation program hosted by Love in Action (LIA).
Conley’s memoir begins with a timeline of the Ex-Gay Movement, a movement started in 1973 with LIA’s decision to reject the American Psychological Association’s declassification of homosexuality as mental illness.
To many, conversion therapy programs register as a thing of the past, programming that violates human rights and denies the uniqueness and validity of individuals. According to a 2018 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA at least 20,000 LGBTQ individuals between the ages of 13 and 17 will undergo conversion therapy from licensed health care professionals before they turn 18. This number does not include those receiving programing from religious or spiritual organizations, that number is significantly higher.
According to USA Today, as of April 2018 almost 50 bills opposing conversion therapy practices by targeting and regulating the programs have been introduced in at least 24 states. Currently 15 states, plus Washington DC have laws or regulations in the books protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy.
Conley’s detailed story of self-discovery highlights the intersectionality of his identity. As a committed member of a Christian community, loving and dedicated son, teenager and emerging writer Conley struggled to find how his identities could fit together. He shares his journey with readers for many reasons. It is our responsibility to learn from his experiences and make our country a safer place for LGBTQ youth.
It becomes clear after a few days that Conley is rejecting the teaching of LIA, though it is plain to see the deep impact his time there makes on his family and his connection with God. Conley finishes his memoir with, “I will not call on God at any point during this decade-long struggle. Not because I want to keep God out of my life, but because His voice is no longer there.”
About the East Falls Social Justice Book Club
The EFSJ Book Club meets monthly to discuss readings over wine, seltzer and cheese. We discuss the varied elements of our readings, and then make action plans to impact our community based on our learning. We have recently read “The Leavers,” by Lisa Ko, “Evicted,” by Matthew Desmond and “There There,” by Tommy Orange. We will be meeting on Tuesday, November 13 from 6-8PM to discuss our next novel, “Educated,” by Tara Westover.
We welcome all readers to participate, even if you don’t get a chance to complete the whole reading – you have something to contribute! We are open to and seeking new members with shared interest in our mission. If you are interested in joining, or have any questions please email me or contact me on instagram at ef_socialjustice.