Stories of conversion therapy are harrowing within the LGBTI community.
Most medical associations and organizations condemn the practice. It’s meant to change someone’s sexual orientation, usually via religion or psychology, and often involving pain.
It’s not based in science and many professionals say it causes more harm to the victims, such as depression.
Alex Cooper, now a Youth Ambassador for the Human Rights Campaign, suffered at the hands of this so-called therapy. She tells her story in a new video and it is all at once heartbreaking and hopeful.
‘Until I gave up’
Alex came out to her parents at 15 and they kicked her out of their Utah house.
Eventually, they told her she was going to live with her grandparents. Instead, they dropped her off at a conversion therapy camp and signed over all parental rights and guardianship.
‘For me, a lot of the therapy was wearing a backpack full of rocks to feel the physical burden of being gay.’
The family made her wear the backpack and face a wall, sometimes up to 18 hours.
‘When I kep fighting,’ she recalls, ‘They would add more rocks and then more rocks and more rocks.’
The rocks weren’t removed, she explains, ‘Until I gave up and started playing along’.
‘It made me feel like God was punishing me’
Two other boys stayed with the same family Alex did. They were forced to fight each other to be ‘more manly’. If they didn’t hit hard enough, a man who helped run the camp did the hitting for them.
With the family, Alex went to the same church as her grandparents.
‘Every single Sunday,’ she remembers. ‘They were told that, for this conversion therapy to work, they couldn’t look at me and they couldn’t speak to me.
‘It made me feel like God was punishing me.’
‘It gets better’
After eight months, the family allowed Alex to go to school. However, when she was late for class one day, she was told she couldn’t go back and had to put the backpack on once more.
For seven hours, she faced the wall until they fell asleep. Then, at three in the morning, she left and hid in bushes until the school buses started running.
When she got to school, she told her English teacher and they called the police.
‘It gets better no matter what you’re going through,’ she says. ‘There are people out there who want to help you.’
We’re starting to see change
Yet a study released earlier this year says more than 75,000 teens will face the harmful practice before adulthood.
‘No child should be subjected to this practice that amounts to nothing less than child abuse,’ said Olivia Dalton, HRC Senior Vice President for Communications and Marketing.