The highly-anticipated new film Boy Erased tells the story of a teenager pressured into dangerous “gay conversion” therapy by his religious parents in the US’ Bible belt.
Jared Eamons, played by Lucas Hedges, is visciously outed to his parents, played by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, in a small American town.
Fearing a loss of family, friends, and church, Jared is pressured into attending a conversion therapy program and must embark on a journey to accepting his true self.
The film, which will be released in Australia next month, is made all the more harrowing by the fact it follows the real-life experience of conversion therapy survivor and American writer Garrard Conley.
The son of a Baptist church minister in Arkansas, Conley repressed his homosexuality during his high school years and only began exploring it while at university.
He was 19 years old when he was raped by a friend and male crush, who went on to out him to his shocked parents.
Conley’s parents gave him a brutal ultimatum: go to gay conversion therapy or never see his family again.
“I was in freefall from being raped, and having the rapist say he had also raped a 14-year-old boy,” he told BBC News in June, adding he’d been brought up to believe gay people were predators.
“And then my dad gave me the ultimatum. I was terrified of losing God. I prayed every night.”
Believing his same-sex attraction was sinful and he required “cleansing” of his “impure” thoughts, Conley enrolled in a conversion therapy facility in Tennessee.
He underwent an intense two-week program followed by six months of private “therapy” sessions that he says left him feeling suicidal.
“I had believed there were actual demons possessing me,” Conley told BBC News.
But Conley doesn’t blame his parents for the traumatic experience.
“You didn’t question these leaders, so my parents never knew what went on there until I told them, many years later,” he said.
“They had no idea what was going on.
“My mum had started asking questions at the end, and that’s when they’d taken me out of the program. We weren’t meant to talk about what happened in there.
“Yes, my parents made a terrible mistake which could have cost me my life. But they didn’t know what they were doing to me.
“It’s why I do this advocacy work. It’s so important for people who may be considering this for their own kids.”
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After leaving the conversion therapy program, Conley went back to university and published Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family in 2016. He now lives in New York with his husband.
Australian filmmaker and actor Joel Edgerton wrote the screenplay for the movie, inspired by Conley’s book. Edgerton also directed, produced and starred in the film.
According to a report released this week by La Trobe University and the Human Rights Law Centre, “gay conversion” therapy remains a “real problem” in Australia’s religious communities.
The report claims there are 10 organisations in Australia and New Zealand still publicly advertising “gay conversion” practices.
“They hide under these euphemistic banners and I suspect it’s because they think they’re right, but they know that the rest of the world maybe has an opinion that it’s shameful,” Edgerton told news.com.au.
Edgerton says he wants Boy Erased to be a “conversation starter” on the subject, between parents and children who may be in such a situation.
“On one hand it’s an identifier for young people to go, ‘I’m not alone; here’s a story I can identify with,’” he said.
“The other side of it is for parents, to educate parents about what someone else went through and the decisions they’ve made and how in the aftermath of that they realised that maybe they’d made a mistake and they’re both evolving in their own way.
“I wish this film didn’t exist and I hope that in five years time or less, this film will be redundant.”
Boy Erased will be released in Australian cinemas on November 8. Watch the trailer below:
If you need someone to talk to, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.