Pray Away ****
Updated: Mar 27
Pray Away ****
Director: Kristine Stolakis
As the debate over criminalising LGBT+ conversion therapy rumbles on in the UK, the practice continues almost uncontested politically in the US. Conversion therapy, the practice of attempting to transform LGBT+ people into cis-gender heterosexuals, has been proven to be scientifically impossible and this treatment is accepted by the medical profession as barbaric. And yet it continues.
In this fascinating documentary we meet scores of ex-ex-gays, in particular leaders within fellowships, who reflect on their time attempting to indoctrinate LGBT+ people and “turn them back to God’s path”, before failing to do so themselves. The result is a quite remarkable exposé of institutionalised self-loathing on an industrial scale.
Much of the film puts Exodus under the microscope, a former international network of ex-gay Christians, whose sole purpose was the conversion of ex-gays. Established in the 1970s, the group grew to have great political influence in the 90s and 00s only to be torn apart after numerous defections from leaders and a searing media campaign against them in the 10s. Interviews with those who had left their ranks drives the narrative, which often makes for uncomfortable viewing, watching people reflecting in devastation on their past wrongs. Randy Thomas, a former vice-president of the group, recounts how when asked how he can look at the blood on his hands. His response now is “I can’t even look at my hands”. And though only a portion of the film is dedicated to their apologies, these come thick, fast and deeply sincere.
The Exodus account is juxtaposed alongside that of Freedom March, a new organisation that has removed the controversial elements of conversion therapy, but still aims to achieve the same goals with subtler techniques. So as we hear of the demise of Exodus, with its former leaders ruminating upon the damage they caused, we see this new group rearing its head from the ashes. There’s something painfully All About Eve in this cyclical nightmare of systemic indoctrination. And its soft-spoken ex-trans leader, Jeffrey McCall, is monstrous in his sociopathic drive to infect the world with his “conviction”.
The film certainly serves as a warning, gathering together the disparate voices of survivors. It’s at its most fascinating as we witness the outpouring of shame spewing from the mouths of ex-leadership. They don’t serve as villains of the piece, but there is something extremely cathartic and just about their atonement. While the film says nothing that we didn’t know before, its comprehensive investigation into the aftermath left by Exodus makes for a captivating documentary. And its hacking away at Freedom March clearly serves to address the roots left behind by the felling of this hideous tree.
UK Release: Out now to watch on Netflix