TW: Mentions of homophobia, transphobia, sexual assault, and self harm
Pray Away is a Netflix documentary that tells the story of five evangelicals who formed the “pray the gay away” group called Exodus International. This group claimed that LGBTQ+ people can become cishet through conversion therapy and prayer. Many of these people claimed to be “ex-gay.” These people now believe that what they did was wrong. They are now openly LGBTQ+, which cannot be cured by conversion therapy and prayer.
The film has come under some criticism for focusing more on the lives of the group founders who claimed to be “ex-gay”, rather than the lives of other people affected by conversion therapy. While I can certainly see where those critics are coming from, it is important to see these “ex-gays” now say that they were wrong. In addition, I do feel sympathetic towards some of these “ex-gays” because they were LGBTQ+ and ultimately being oppressed themselves. I especially feel sympathetic towards “ex-ex-lesbian” Julie Rodgers, who was only a teen when she was pulled into the group. She convinced to give motivational “ex-gay” speeches. This includesone where she was coerced into speaking about her sexual assault. She even spoke about how she self-harmed because of her feelings of self-hatred which were caused by homophobia.
Furthermore, it seems that the “ex-gays” truly believed in what they were doing. They internalized the idea that had a problem, similar to a disease that they needed to cure. In Pray Away, the Ex-Exodus members were still aware that what they did was wrong. They were aware that they may not be forgiven. But they were able to tell the important message that conversion therapy does not work and only traumatizes people.
There were some moving moment. One of them was when the “ex-gays” talked about how right for same-sex marriage rights were set back by their movement. The “ex-gays” realized that they had betrayed the LGBTQ+ community. One Ex-Exodus woman, who is now openly bisexual, even has PTSD from the experience.
It would be great to also have a documentary about regular LGBTQ+ people who were forced to go to conversion therapy. While there are many fictional movies about conversion therapy, there do not seem to be many documentaries about it. Ultimately, this documentary did shed some light into the horrors of conversion therapy which is still happening, even though Exodus has disbanded. In fact, there was an “ex-trans” person in Pray Away who claims that Christianity helped her become cisgender. It was quite disturbing to see her tell parents to “not let their children chop up their beautiful bodies”. I know people who are trans whose parents seem to believe in this rhetoric. It truly is so harmful. It drives a wedge between between religious parents and their transgender children.
Despite the disturbing nature of these elements of the film, it was important to see. In a time where it may often seem that many LGBTQ+ people are accepted, we must be reminded that many of us are still not accepted. We must be reminded to fight for each other. Pray Away can be viewed on Netflix.