One of my favorite movies of all time is ‘But I’m A Cheerleader.’ The movie centers around a high school cheerleader living what appears to be a regular life. One day, out of the blue, she is sent (by her heterosexual parents) to a special camp. This is a camp that teaches gay kids how to be straight. Relative hi-jinx ensue and ultimately the cheerleader discovers her true self despite her parents’ best efforts to repress it.
That movie was released in 1999. At the time I thought the whole story was outrageously funny, mostly because I couldn’t fathom a scenario like that happening in real life. Little did I know it was happening in real life, it was happening then, and it continues to happen today.
A more recent film based on a young adult novel titled, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” is set in the 90’s and tells the story of a teenage girl who is sent to a Christian, gay conversion camp. Once Cameron arrives at the camp she is completely cut of from the outside world and is forced to confront not only her sexuality but the hate and judgment of her family and the camp workers. The camp counselors accomplish this by using a mix of psychology and theology to make Cameron believe her sexuality is in fact a choice and that she is doing a disservice to herself and her family by “choosing” to be anything other than straight. The messaging is insidious and abusive and ultimately, Cameron and the other camp attendees soon realize they have to do a lot of work if they want to fight against it. Using God as a weapon, the treatment program undermines the very foundation of who Cameron believes she is and forces her to either conform or fight for what she realizes is the very foundation of her identity.
Nearly every reputable medical and social organization that deals with the physical and mental health of children has rejected gay conversion therapy. Despite this, only 11 states actually outright ban gay conversation therapy. Organizations that specialize in gay conversion treatment are particularly destructive because they often rely on negative cognitive association to achieve their goals. This is accomplished by applying physical and emotional stimuli to the patient so that eventually they associate any non-heterosexual attraction sexual with discomfort and pain.
These camps and treatment centers, although played out on screen, are very real and are a cancer in our society. They are being kept alive by those who use God as a tool of domination when the Bible ultimately describes him as a liberator.
Sexuality and sexual preference is personal and private, but most importantly, it is not something that can be beaten, cajoled, or coaxed into submission. There are many reasons a parent would chose this path for their child and I believe the majority of them are not rooted in hatred or intentional ill will, but the wounds that are left by these treatment programs however, far outweigh whatever potential damage society could inflict upon us.
There is a difference between the damage that comes from a stranger and the damage that comes from the people who are supposed to protect you from strangers. One bruises your body the other leaves indelible marks on your soul. This is an issue we need to be vocal about. There are a lot of people in the queer community who still struggle with internalized homophobia, we have these feelings because we were asked to be something we weren’t during our formative years. Our loved ones often had good intentions in asking us to fit in and it resulted in many of us fighting internalized battles for our own mental well-being.
For the sake of young LGBTQ children, we need to make a concerted effort to make these types of program illegal in all 50 states. It is hard enough to develop an identity without someone telling you that your natural urges and desires are inherently immoral. Which in turn, suggests that you as a person are inherently immoral. As a community, and a society, we have to decide what we are going to fight for. I believe we have always, at least in theory, fought for our future. These young queer kids ARE our future and the things that make them special and unique are being torn out of them in a misguided effort to make them conform to the world around them. The hard truth is, we have not done enough to make the world more hospitable for them. For those of us who got through childhood (mostly) intact and able to do the work we need to double down, stand up.
Whenever you can oppose these practices so that another child doesn’t have to suffer under the injustice of being called a mistake.