When I was younger, and growing up in rural Kentucky, I learned that one of my friends had told his
parents that he was gay. Being gay myself, I remember thinking it was a very brave but possibly foolish decision --
given the widespread bigotry and homophobia that existed in the southern United States -- and it certainly wasn't
something I was ready to do as well. I, like so many other young people at that time, decided to remain in the
closet out of fear of what might happen if I came out. Unfortunately for my friend, his parents were horrified by
his admission and they immediately tried to "fix" something they felt was broken. After telling him how
dangerous, disgusting, and disrespectful his secret life was, they decided to seek "professional" help. I lost touch
with my friend for several weeks, during which I later learned his parents had sent him to receive reparative
therapy, in an attempt to turn him straight.
Reparative therapy, or "ex-gay" therapy, is a form of, typically religious-based, counseling aimed at
getting gays and lesbians to suppress their sexual desires and possibly turn straight. The methods have varied over
the years with early reparative therapy using drugs or electroshock treatments to alter a subject's brain and
Modern programs, like Love in Action and Exodus International, try to convince people that with
willpower and determination, anything is possible. However, over the years, countless participants, including
some of the organizations' own founders, have said that the therapy does not work. They agree with major
medical and mental health organizations, like the American Psychiatric Association, which have warned against the
use of reparative therapy, finding it ineffective and often harmful.
After returning from his therapy, my friend struggled to come to terms with his sexuality. He tried his
best to suppress it and to eliminate anyone or anything from his life that reminded him that he was gay. As a
result, we fell out of contact. As unfortunate as this experience was, it did force me to learn more about
reparative therapy and, as a result, I became a big opponent of it. Eventually I came to believe that a person
cannot change their sexuality, even if they want to, and furthermore, I don't believe that he or she should feel the
need to try. Unconditional love and acceptance, not forced conformation, is therefore the way to go. This motto
is especially true of young children with impressionable minds and few frames of reference on what is "normal"
and what isn't. Mom and Dad may think they're doing the right thing but, more often than not, their efforts will
only lead to more confusion and suffering for their child. Eager to please their parents and to fit in with society's
definition of "normal," many children will try to force themselves into a mold they simply weren't born to fit.
A few years after losing contact with my friend, a family member of mine -- a young cousin -- confided in
me that he was gay and was thinking of telling his parents, who I knew to be very conservative. Once again, things
didn't go well when they found out, and for a while it looked like they too might resort to reparative therapy. At
that moment, I started to consider what I might do if my cousin was sent away to one of these camps. I decided
that I would intervene and get him out of such a place before he was brainwashed into believing he was "wrong."
That idea became the basis for a screenplay, Camp Revelation, which I'm now turning into a film.
In Camp a
young straight man tries to rescue his younger brother from an ex-gay therapy camp. To do so, he must pretend
to be gay and enroll in the camp himself. By following his journey, we hope that audiences get a glimpse of what
it's like to go through reparative therapy. We also aim to show that these camps are not about helping people
overcome a mental illness or a personality dysfunction, but instead force compliance with rigid social norms
dictated by little more than archaic traditions. Since most homosexuals have likely experienced bigotry during
their lifetimes, and many have probably considered what their lives might have been like if they could change their
sexuality, Camp is aimed primarily at heterosexual audiences who have likely never had the same experiences or
feelings. Most probably have no idea that these camps exist, nor could they fathom being sent to one where they
would be told that their feelings for another human being are wrong and should be changed. Camp Revelation
invites all audiences -- straight and gay -- to walk a mile in someone else's shoes -- to experience life from someone
else's perspective. The overriding message of the film is that love, equality, and acceptance trump fear, bigotry,
and a blind adherence to tradition -- always.
I never heard from my young friend again, but I hope he was able to overcome the conditioning he
received from his faux-therapy sessions. My cousin, on the other hand, is happy, healthy, and openly gay.
Eventually his parents came to accept him for who he was and in doing so allowed him to live a life I would wish for all young people: one filled with acceptance, support, and love. A large step toward making that wish come
true comes from making ex-gay therapy a thing of the past.
Jack Bryant is the screenwriter for the film Camp Revelation. For more information, visit the film's Kickstarter page.
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