Love & Sex

7 True Stories From ‘Pray Away the Gay’ Camps

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"It's always just 'you'll find the right girl some day.' I hope I do. Or even the right guy. Someone."

"Pray Away the Gay" camps, places where strict religious beliefs are used to "fix the affliction" of homosexuality, were something I naively thought were places that parents only threatened to send children in movies or books. Remember But I'm a Cheerleader...? But according to this Reddit thread, "pray away" camps truly exist and sometimes parents unfortunately feel it's what's best for their child. Though the Association of Christian Couselors recently banned the practice, which is now illegal in some states, it still persists. Commenters shared their experiences, finally finding comfort in those people who went through the same thing and those who wish they never had to.

"I'm a straight redditor who was sent to one because my best friend was gay and my Catholic parents thought we were dating. The big problem I have with this is that it makes it seem like the camp worked. It did not, I simply was sent there via a series of events suitable for a sitcom world.

There were prayer circles and abuse. A lot of late nights and early mornings, sing alongs and Jesus talk.

I ended up running away from it after a week, borrowing a stranger's phone, and having a friend drive six hours to rescue me.

As for what else went on at camp, I walked in on a camper hooking up with a counselor of the same sex at the obstacle course once. That was a thing. If you have any specific questions about the camp I could probably answer them." – cmlaffin

"I spoke directly with Ted Cox, who tells about his experiences with these camps.

One of the camp's theories is that a man is gay because of repressed feelings about his father (typically anger). So they would have you take a baseball bat and smash the hell out of a pillow, while being forced to yell things like, 'I hate you, Dad!'

Then, they think gay men need to associate male contact with something non-sexual, so they (and I shit you not) sit 10 to 15 gay men down on the floor, sitting in each others' laps, or in between their legs, until they're all touching each other. See? Male contact, and absolutely nothing sexual about it. You're cured." – ReferencesCartoons

"My dad did one of these camps. He was told (in the '70s and '80s) by his conservative church that it would be possible to live as a 'normal' straight man if he tried hard enough.

He conveniently had all the precursors they like to identify 'reasons' for gayness – an abusive home, a bad relationship with his father, struggles with depression in his past. He fell for the whole thing, and as far as he thought, had prayed his way to being straight

When he married my mother, he didn't tell her of his past 'struggles'. She had no idea until last year (26 years after their marriage) when he told her he'd been having an affair with another man. They are currently separated and working towards divorce.

The damage done by those camps and that system of thought has wreaked havoc on his sense of self. I've never known him to be an involved father. He has a history of violent outbursts (once against my mother, once against each of my brothers, and twice against me). He doesn't take a lot of interest in what we do or how we feel. Everything is about his internal struggle. I can see now that with issues such as these boiling away in him, it would have been impossible for some of them not to escape.

Now that he's out of the closet, his whole identity is wrapped up in his gayness." – frowawayawayaway

"A friend of mine who is in his late twenties has been out and proud since highschool. This guy was one of the most awesome people I've ever met; he was super comfortable with himself, but since his family was pretty religious and not accepting he always made an effort to forgive them, even when they treated him badly.

My friend came back completely broken and ashamed of himself, now convinced that he was an abomination and that he would not be accepted by God unless he 'married a woman, had children and did his duty to ensure that he could no longer live a life in sin.'

Now church is his entire life, he's horribly depressed because of the atmosphere of constant shame, and he is actively trying to find a woman to 'settle down with' on christian dating sites in the hopes that if he never discloses his past or sexual identity to the woman, that he can eventually just 'get over' being gay by marrying her and starting a family." – mrs_wahnee

"Well, I know a guy who went through one, and was apparently 'cured.'

The thing is when I met him I did not know the story. I knew his girlfriend (now wife) and met him through her.

Now keep in mind that they are both super religious. Which was the pieces of the puzzle coming together, but I was still oblivious.

Then we noticed a strange set of clues on their Facebook pages. Her profile picture was of her and him together… smiling. His Facebook profile pic was him, shirtless. Her Facebook timeline was filled with stories of her and him, and pictures of her and him.

His Facebook timeline rarely if ever mentioned her. And his pics were of him, usually shirtless.. or his male friends.. also often shirtless. Riding bikes, doing mud runs, lifting weights. etc… always men, always doing manly things.

Then we heard the story and it all came together. He 'was' gay and the church 'cured' him.. and as proof he married a bona fide woman before the eyes of God.

What a waste of both their lives. They are both living a different lie, and pretending to be happy." – gcm6664

"My dad is gay. He got involved with an evangelical church in Florida, upon a devastating breakup with a boyfriend back in the early '80s. The church told him he could 'repent' of his previous, sinful life, if he accepted God. He eventually married my mother, had my brother and I, and after 2 years or marriage, realized he was living a lie and couldn't do it anymore.

After my parents split, his five brothers all tried to ship him off to Exodus International (one of the more famous 'pray the gay away' places). He refused to do it, thankfully, and will be celebrating his 25 year anniversary with his gay partner in the next two months.

I harbor no ill-will towards my father, and my mother and him get along fine now. His partner is awesome, and has always treated me like his son. My dad's brothers and sister all ignore is sexuality.

My dad's partner had a bout with colon cancer two years ago, and not one of his family members called to express concern, or ask how he was doing. They've ignored his partner for the last 25 years, and continued to ignore him through the cancer incident, and subsequent remission. They've stopped inviting my dad to family gatherings after he called them out on their bullshit. After 25 years, he's finally becoming more vocal regarding his sexuality, and he's not letting his family call the shots.

Their 25 year relationship has survived longer than most of their 'traditional' marriages anyhow, so fuck them." – Yum_Waffles 

"So it was a weekend camp that my church did. Not just for gay kids but for every kid that was going to be confirmed. It was a pray the gay away weekend. The church presented as a 'Human Sexuality, Marriage, and the Bible.' (This was in the late '90s, before cellphones were common.)

It was hell.

In the 'House of God' we were subjected to sermons on how homosexuals were going to destroy the world, and that if there were any 'stricken with the gay' they should begin to ask for God's forgiveness now. I just looked down. To make matters worse, my boyfriend at the time was scheduled to arrive after lunch.

We were given bible verses to read, memorize, and write about. I rubbed one out on the bible. I was ready to leave.

Thankfully the place wasn't guarded, and although away from any major cities or towns it was still close to a major road which meant cell phone reception. I decided to leave. If I didn't I'm pretty sure that after the abuse I endured that 1, I would be legitimately harmed, and 2, quite possibly suicidal.

I let my boyfriend know that I was leaving and that I would call his mother once I got signal. We were to get up each morning by 7 AM for breakfast, prayers were promptly at 8 AM. I set the alarm on my watch for 4:30 AM.

Once I left the dorm I was in the assistant was sleeping by the only door that wasn't alarmed with his door open. It was like freaking escaping jail. I slowly opened the door and went outside. Calmly and slowly walked to the road and onward to the main road.

I then made three phone calls. First to my brother, if anyone would bail me out of whatever shit I got into it was him. Next needed to call dad. I was in the same county as I lived but a solid 20 miles away from home. I ran regularly 4-5 miles each day, but this was pushing my limits. Next call was to the boyfriend's mother explaining what happened.

Surprisingly my father wasn't upset with me. He actually said he was proud of me for sticking to my guns and standing up for myself. My boyfriend's mother was less pleased with me and told me that I should have just called her right away from camp to get the both of us. (which was impossible as there was no service there).

The counselors, however, were quite upset. I was an abomination. I was going to burn in hell.

I like to think that in the end I learned to respect everyone that respects me. That lesson that I learned was greater than any pray away the gay." – WIrunner


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