Pray Away Review by Curtis Galloway
It truly is an amazing time for the movement to end conversion therapy. With movies like Boy Erased; Trapped: The Alex Cooper Story; and all of the various other documentaries, conversion therapy is losing its shadow in which to hide. It is no surprise to me that Netflix is now doing its part in our movement, and I am very excited about it. Pray Away sets the stage for large-scale discussion on conversion therapy and the legacy of some of the largest ex-gay ministries, and it has taken me a few days to process it.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have been fighting against conversion therapy for many years, meeting the best people of the movement and creating actual change. In doing so, I have come across a multitude of stories and conversion therapy experiences, but hearing them does not get any less harrowing. The same experience is with films like Pray Away. This film exposes the underbelly of one of the most well-known ex-gay ministries: Exodus. The film shows Exodus’ true origins and that its founders have realized and confronted the monster it created. Yet even in Exodus’ apparent death in 2013, the storm of religious bigotry it helped fuel still has deep roots and a long life still to live.
The film also focuses on the stories of a handful of people who were active in the ex-gay ministry movement, but realized the error of their ways. The juxtaposition of their current reflections with videos of their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric creates a stark contrast, while demonstrating where this movement came from and its ultimate effects. For me, one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this film is seeing the sheer number of people in attendance for these pray-away the gay conferences and presentations, while having personally experienced the pain and suffering each individual feels.
Pray Away is an important film for the push to end conversion therapy. It bites at the foundational ankles of the practice and exposes its early leaders as fraud, but it is not without issue. Do we forgive the former spokespeople of this abusive ministry and welcome these “ex-ex-gay” leaders into the community of conversion therapy surviors? Should we give these ex-leaders the limelight and bring to the surface their horrible deeds? These are questions I still grapple with, and I believe they should be answered after deep thought and on a case-by-case basis. They knew that they were ruining lives and knew within themselves that they could not change their sexuality. At the same time, they have now become strong and prominent voices to stop the movement that they once perpetuated . It is no mystery that conversion therapy efforts focus on gaslighting and taking control over those who are caught up in its lies.
I don’t have a solid answer for their redemption, but I do feel that the film could have done so much more by also telling the stories of those affected by Exodus, not just the leaders who defected. In addition, it would have done well to show that not all of those who suffered conversion therapy ended up finding an affirming church and a new relationship with God. The facts are that a vast majority of us do not end up finding affirming churches and reconciling our religious backgrounds. Despite this, Pray Away opens the door to exploring more ways conversion therapy is being practiced and the stories of those who have survived from the non-leader and non-Christian perspectives.
Overall, I liked Pray Away. It was moving in a terrible way and exposed the lies of sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts. I hope that Netflix takes this momentum and shows us all angles of this issue. This is not the full picture, but just the beginning of a very large landscape of bigotry and abuse. We shall see what the future holds and if this film truly makes an impact on those who might need it.
Founder & President
Conversion Therapy Dropout Network