Sending Your Kids to 'Pray Away the Gay' Camps Is Literally Child Abuse

Save Sarah

A 17-year-old girl named Sarah is making headlines after her parents sent her to an East Texas Christian boarding facility in hopes that it would help her "pray away the gay." Reportedly, this drastic move was in reaction to Sarah's desire to take her girlfriend to the prom. Her cousin, actor Jeremy Jordan, helped make Sarah's case public, and caused many of us to wonder just what the hell her parents were thinking. 


Jeremy Jordan, who has a role on the TV show Supergirl, helped to create a GoFundMe page for his cousin Sarah in hopes of raising enough money to fund a legal battle to get her out of the facility. On the page, Sarah's dire situation is described:

Meet my cousin Sarah. At 17, her future looks bright. She is in the top 10% of her class, runs cross-country and belongs to the National Honor Society and the debate team.  She is also gay.  Like any high school kids in a relationship, Sarah and her girlfriend wanted to go to prom together.  But when they did that, Sarah’s parents, who believe that homosexuality is a sin and abnormal, sent Sarah away against her will to an East Texas Christian boarding facility for troubled teens to 'pray away the gay.'

...  Sarah has been told that she must stay in this facility for a whole year. ... Instead of preparing for college and competing in the state debate tournament, she'll be doing forced labor every day and enduring Bible-based 'therapy' for her 'disease.'

He writes that Sarah even attempted to leave the facility, but was caught and returned. She had no access to phone, email, or any electronic communication. She was completely cut off from the outside world, which is apparently part of the process.

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But here's the thing. These "therapy" facilities that use prayer to "get rid of" someone's homosexuality don't actually work, and reports have shown them to be damaging to minors. Even members of Congress have called for conversion therapy to be banned.

So why does this still happen -- and why aren't we calling it what it is? Child abuse. The fact that Sarah's extended family (aunt and cousins) had to get so involved as to demand legal action be taken to get her out of the facility speaks volumes. The fact that members of Congress and federal organizations are coming out and saying this type of "therapy" harms instead of helps also speaks volumes.

We all want what's best for our children, for our families. I am sure that Sarah's parents felt that what they were doing came from a place of love, but honestly, that love was most likely tinged with a heaping dose of fear and judgment. They weren't doing what was best for Sarah at all. But how can we convey that to the parents of the many unfortunate kids who get sent to these camps and don't have a visibly famous cousin to help elevate their story and rescue them?

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Parenting is hard. Parenting a teenager can be a special circle of Hell unto itself. But that doesn't mean that it's okay to take teenagers, isolate them, and force them to participate in a program that strips them of their individuality, essence, and humanity. And just because your pastor or some random religious evangelist told you it's the right thing doesn't make it true, and doesn't make it not profoundly abusive.

So how can we reach these parents? While eventually these types of facilities will hopefully be banned by law, there have to be other ways. If you ever hear of other parents even considering one of these places for their children, start a dialogue. You may have the urge to yell and scream (as I have had with each article I read that shares more details of Sarah's story), but you have to remember that they're probably coming from a place of fear and misguided love. Shouting will only cement them further in their conviction.

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What you can do is tell them the truth. How these facilities are a waste of money and time. How they can lead to psychological damage and will more than likely not do anything to change your child's sexuality -- because that is biological and not a choice -- and any amount of praying it away just suppresses it below the surface. You can tell them that LGBTQ youth are four times as likely as their peers to commit suicide, but having a supportive home environment can help lessen that. (Fact: Sending your child to a pray-the-gay-away camp is NOT supportive.)

I understand what it's like for someone else to tell you he or she knows what's best for your family. I know that every family is different and follows its own set of rules. But this isn't about breast milk versus formula, or whether or not you stay home with your children or head off to work. This is about their safety and mental health. This is about not sending your child off to be abused. This is about showing your child true love.

It should be noted that as of very recently (after all the public outcry), the GoFundMe page reports that Sarah was released from the facility. Whether being home with her family is the best thing for her remains to be seen.


The Trevor Project is a resource available 24/7 for LGBT youth. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the Trevor Lifeline now at 866-488-7386.

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