‘Pray Away’ review: Atoning for an anti-gay stance

By Ben Kenigsberg

The Netflix documentary “Pray Away” profiles several people who, in the public sphere and in the context of Christianity-cloaked “conversion therapy,” peddled the idea that homosexuality could be changed, and who now regret the suffering they caused. It also features one activist, Jeffrey McCall, who identifies as previously transgender and still pushes the ideas the others believed in.

Director Kristine Stolakis devotes much of the film to the past lives the members of the first group have disavowed. Yvette Cantu Schneider speaks of how she went to Washington, D.C., in the 1990s and became a savvy spokesperson for the Family Research Council, the right-wing Christian organization. Michael Bussee, a founder of Exodus International, considered one of the major organizations that preached that sexual orientation could be changed, was both an early promoter and an early skeptic.

The harms conversion therapy causes, and the tactics it uses, aren’t news at this point, and “Pray Away” is more interesting when it focuses on how most of its subjects eventually embraced gay and bisexual identities despite having formerly been so public in their homophobia. Some shifts weren’t long ago.

Randy Thomas says that after seeing the protests that followed the passage of Proposition 8, the ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California (but was ultimately overturned), “a voice inside me said, ‘How could you do that to your own people?’ ”

Julie Rodgers describes appearing on TV opposite conversion therapy survivors and feeling like she was “sitting on the wrong side of the circle.” In 2013, The New York Times quoted her as saying she would stay single rather than date women. The movie follows her as she prepares to marry her fiancée.

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