It has been 45 years since the American Psychiatric Association officially removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, but conservative groups—particularly those with a religious affiliation—have continued to advocate for “cures” to being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or gender non-conforming.
While many of the injustices faced by the LGBTQ community are starting to receive mainstream recognition, the horrors of “gay conversion therapy” continue to be underestimated and under-reported.
In the coming months, two new films—Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased and Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, will place a much-needed spotlight on the brutal practice.
The first trailer for Boy Erased, which features a star-studded cast led by Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and rising star Lucas Hedges, debuted online this week. Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, it’s tipped to be a serious awards contender, which is encouraging news for activists who want to raise awareness of the ugly reality of these “gay cures.”
Meanwhile, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a teenage girl sent to a “conversion camp” by her conservative aunt, received high praise when it debuted at Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of the year. The film is based on a fictional coming-of-age tale penned by author Emily Danforth.
While the film industry is getting better at telling different kinds of LGBTQ stories, the world of “cure” therapies is rarely addressed. That said, Orange Is the New Black‘s Natasha Lyonne did find her breakout role in a dark comedy on the subject, But I’m a Cheerleader, back in 1999.
The story of Boy Erased is difficult to read. Aged 19, Conley was outed by a college friend who had raped him days earlier. After being rejected by his mother and father, a Missionary Baptist pastor, he agreed to attend a 12-step “gay cure” program. The experience left him on the verge of suicide.
Many of these “cure” programs focus on Bible study and counseling, but other methods have been likened to torture. Over the years, young people have been subjected to chemical castration, electroconvulsive therapy, or nausea-inducing drugs administered while being forced to watch gay pornography.
The practice made headlines in the UK last month when prime minister Theresa May vowed to ban “abhorrent” therapies as part of an action plan to promote LGBTQ equality. Her words echoed the comments of US president Barack Obama in 2015, when he pledged to protect Americans from the “potentially devastating effects” of “cure” programs.
As conservative voices grow louder in the US and around the world, and landmark Supreme Court rulings come under threat, there has never been a more important time for Hollywood to tell LGBTQ stories. Both of these new films could—and should—spark important conversations about a world many people know exists, but in reality know almost nothing about.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post will be released in US theaters on August 3, and Boy Erased will be released this November.