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Netflix’s ‘Pray Away’ exposes the harmful practice of conversion therapy. The director said she made the movie to process the death of her trans uncle, who never recovered from their experience.

Summary List PlacementFilmmaker Kristine Stolakis's latest Netflix movie, "Pray Away," documents how conversion therapy, a dangerous tactic used to change someone's sexuality or orientation, can harm LGBTQ queer youth and adults. For Stolakis, the film hits close to home. She told Insider she was moved to create the film after the death of her trans uncle. "I witnessed the never ending mental health challenges that this person went through, my uncle, following their time in conversion therapy," she said. Stolakis said her uncle came out as trans when they were young, and was put in LGBTQ+ conversion therapy. What resulted were decades of mental...

A crowd gathered at an Exodus international conference.

Summary List Placement

Filmmaker Kristine Stolakis’s latest Netflix movie, “Pray Away,” documents how conversion therapy, a dangerous tactic used to change someone’s sexuality or orientation, can harm LGBTQ queer youth and adults.

For Stolakis, the film hits close to home. She told Insider she was moved to create the film after the death of her trans uncle.

“I witnessed the never ending mental health challenges that this person went through, my uncle, following their time in conversion therapy,” she said.

Stolakis said her uncle came out as trans when they were young, and was put in LGBTQ+ conversion therapy. What resulted were decades of mental health issues and challenges with sobriety, she said.

Stolaki said spending time with her uncle as a child, and seeing them struggle with the trauma inflicted by conversion therapy, left a lasting impression on her mind. 

“When I became a filmmaker, I decided that my first feature would be about the conversion therapy or the ex-LGBTQ+ movement as a way in part to process my uncle’s death,” Stolakis said. “This film was made out of grief and love.”

Leaders of the ‘ex-LGBTQ’ movement claimed conversion therapy made them straight. Decades later, they admitted it was a lie.

John Paulk was a leader in the

“Pray Away” focuses on the Evangelical Christian movement that spread across the US in the early 1970s, with a mission to convert queer adults and children into straight, cisgender people. 

At the time, Exodus International, which is the organization at the center of the film, claimed its leaders were queer people who said conversion therapy changed their sexuality.

Michael Bussee, the founder of Exodus International, spent decades of his life preaching conversion therapy work to thousands of children and adults.

The film documents Busse’s rise to power and ultimate downfall after he came out as gay in 1979. Other advocates for conversion therapy followed suit, like John Paulk of Focus on the Family.

“It was finding these claims of change that helped me understand my uncle’s desperation that change was coming and, of course, his devastation when change never happened,” Stolakis said. 

Queer people who have experienced conversion therapy are more likely to struggle with addiction, depression, and suicidal ideations 

According to The Trevor Project, queer youth who have gone through conversion therapy were twice as likely to experience depression through their life and three times more likely to attempt suicide.

LGBTQ+ youth who have experienced conversion therapy are also more likely to struggle with substance abuse and homelessness at some point in their lifetime. 

Unfortunately, conversion therapy in the US is often spoken about in the past tense, according to Stolakis. She said while same-sex marriage was legalized across the US in 2015, a strong conversion therapy movement still exists in Evangelical Christian communities.

Stolakis said even queer adults are vulnerable to the allure of conversion therapy, as society continues to be sluggish in accepting and protecting LGBTQ+ people. 

“To end this movement where it happens the most we need a huge culture shift,” Stolakis said. “We need churches and other religious organizations to explicitly come out and say, ‘we do not stand for not only conversion therapy, but this anti-LGBTQ belief system in general. We’re going to fight for the rights and dignity of LGBTQ folks.'” 

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