Star-studded film 'Boy Erased' takes on 'gay conversion therapy'

Starring Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Lucas Hedges, “Boy Erased” is based on the real-life story of a teen who must choose between his religious family and his true identity.
by Alexander Kacala /  / Updated 
Image: Theodore Pellerin stars as "Xavier" and Lucas Hedges stars as "Jared" in Joel Edgerton's BOY ERASED.
Theodore Pellerin stars as "Xavier" and Lucas Hedges stars as "Jared" in Joel Edgerton's BOY ERASED.Focus Features

Focus Features released on Tuesday the highly anticipated trailer for “Boy Erased,” which tackles the controversial practice of “gay conversion therapy.” The film is based on Garrard Conley’s critically acclaimed 2017 memoir of the same name.

Starring Lucas Hedges and Academy Award winners Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, “Boy Erased” tells the story of Jared, a Baptist pastor’s 19-year-old son who is outed as gay to his parents. Faced with an ultimatum that forces him to choose between losing his family and attending a conversion therapy program, Jared chooses the latter.

Image: Nicole Kidman stars as "Nancy" and Russell Crowe stars as "Marshall" in Joel Edgerton's BOY ERASED.
Nicole Kidman stars as "Nancy" and Russell Crowe stars as "Marshall" in Joel Edgerton's BOY ERASED.Focus Features

Hedges, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role in 2016’s “Manchester by the Sea,” plays Jared, with Kidman and Crowe playing his religious parents. Openly gay singer-songwriter Troye Sivan appears in the film as one of the other teens with whom Jared attends conversion therapy camp.

Sivan described the experience of filming “Boy Erased” as “dark” and “uncomfortably real” during an interview earlier this year with 97.1 AMP Radio in Los Angeles.

“We were given the real source materials that they used to give kids when they would arrive at the camp,” Sivan said. “I would just kind of sit there flicking through all this stuff imagining, you know, what it must have been like, and you know, it's really heavy.”

Conley, who grew up in Arkansas and now lives with his husband in New York, described the real-life conversion therapy program he attended while a teen as a “full-on cult” in an interview with BBC News last month.

Conversion therapy, also known as "reparative therapy" or "ex-gay therapy," aims to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite widespread opposition from health associations, like the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 700,000 LGBTQ Americans between the ages of 18 and 59 have been subjected to this practice at some point in their lives, according to a 2018 report from UCLA’s Williams Institute. The report also estimated tens of thousands of LGBTQ youth currently between the ages of 13 and 17 will undergo “gay conversion therapy" from a licensed health care professional, religious adviser or spiritual leader before they turn 18.

In the U.S., the legality of conversion therapy for minors is determined by individual states. Currently, 13 states and the District of Columbia protect LGBTQ youth under age 18 from conversion therapy by preventing licensed mental health service professionals from conducting it (while New York is not considered one of the 13 states, it does bar health insurers from covering the treatment for minors). Nearly 20 other states are considering similar laws.

This map indicates states that protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy through licensing restrictions which prevent licensed mental health service professionals from conducting conversion therapy on youth under age 18.
This map indicates states that protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy through licensing restrictions which prevent licensed mental health service professionals from conducting conversion therapy on youth under age 18.Human Rights Campaign

Earlier the month, the British government said it would ban the "abhorrent practice" as part of a 4.5-million-pound ($5.9 million) "LGBT Action Plan" to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the U.K.

Sam Brinton, a survivor of conversion therapy and the head of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ youth in crisis, said public awareness about the “discredited” practice of conversion therapy is crucial.

"The Trevor Project estimates that nearly 80,000 LGBTQ youth will be subjected to forms of conversion therapy in the next few years," Brinton told NBC News. "As The Trevor Project works with states and cities to pass legislation protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, we also know that partnering with film and TV studios for fair and accurate media representation will play an important role in educating the family and friends of LGBTQ young people about the dangers and ineffectiveness of conversion therapy in all of its forms."

Dusty Ray Bottoms, a popular “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant who recently shared her own harrowing experience with conversion therapy, said she hopes the film raises awareness and changes hearts and minds.

“It is both moving and encouraging to see this story — that is a hard reality for so many — be told so genuinely and honestly,” she told NBC News after watching the film’s trailer. “In this less-than-three-minute trailer, I have already seen so much of my own journey mirrored to me. I hope that this film will join the likes of ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Love, Simon’ in not only telling the struggles of the LGBTQ community, but also offering a space of reflection for those who have stood against us.”

“Boy Erased” is scheduled to be released on November 2.

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