It has been two years since the release of “Boy Erased,” an award-winning film based on my son Garrard Conley’s memoir about surviving conversion therapy. Like other conversion-therapy survivors, Garrard will bear the trauma of that ordeal for the rest of his life.
My husband and I pressured Garrard to change his sexual orientation. At the time, we didn’t know about the scientific consensus that no therapy can change a child from gay to straight. Knowing now what I did not know then — that many young people who experience conversion therapy do not survive it — I am grateful every day that my son is alive. No decision I have ever made will haunt me more, which is why I am encouraged that officials in Palm Beach County and Boca Raton, joined by Miami and dozens of other localities across the country, are asking a federal court of appeals to reverse an unprecedented decision upholding this deadly practice.
Last month, in a split federal decision, two out of three judges — both appointed by President Trump — held that laws protecting minors from conversion therapy violate the free-speech rights of therapists. One judge strongly disagreed. As she pointed out, there is a “mountain of rigorous evidence” that conversion therapy puts minors at risk of serious harm, including suicide, and governments have a responsibility to protect children from such harm.
Shockingly, the two other judges ignored this evidence. But our society — and parents, in particular — must not. Research has found that LGBTQ minors who experience conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who have not, including a recent study finding that such youth often experience several suicide attempts.
According to Born Perfect, a nationwide campaign to end conversion therapy, 20 states and more than 85 localities have taken action to protect young people and their families from this practice. Many were signed into law by Republican governors, and nearly all passed with bipartisan support. At a recent hearing in Kentucky, a conservative Baptist minister testified that no matter what one’s religious beliefs, no child should be subjected to this coercive and harmful “treatment,” which has no scientific validity.
Last month’s decision was a travesty, and I pray that it will be corrected. So far, every other federal court to hear a challenge has upheld these laws. But no matter what happens in the courts, those of us with firsthand experience of how conversion therapy breaks children and destroys families must speak out.
I am extremely proud of Garrard for sharing his story. Because of him, many other parents will not make the same mistake. But nothing can erase the pain of knowing that my husband and I caused harm to the person we love more than anyone on this Earth: our own child. That is a pain I would not wish on anyone, and that is why I am committed to doing all I can to ensure that every LGBTQ young person knows that they are born perfect.
Martha Conley is the mother of Garrard Conley, author of “Boy Erased,” a memoir about his experiences in a gay conversion therapy camp.