SEXUALITY: Former survivors & leaders of the gay conversion therapy movement contend with its aftermath.
Lauren Wissot
Lauren Wissot is a US film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer, and a contributing editor at both
Published date: April 29, 2020

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. That aphorism could easily be the tagline for Kristine Stolakis’ debut feature Pray Away, which was selected for this year’s Tribeca Film Festival Documentary Competition. Stolakis, whose work is informed by an eclectic background in anthropology, journalism, politics, and community art, has crafted a fascinating character-centric study of a long-discredited movement that, nevertheless, continues to thrive. This in spite of its founders’ near-religiously zealous efforts to kill it off year after year.

But first, some background about this dangerous movement that promises to «pray the gay away». In the 1970s, five Evangelical gay men decided to start a bible study dedicated to helping one another leave the «homosexual lifestyle». Word quickly spread, over 25,000 letters were received, and soon these humble meetups morphed into Exodus International, the largest conversion therapy organization on the planet.

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Pray Away, a film by Kristine Stolakis

Right-wing rockstars

As Exodus International rose, so too did its leaders – becoming right-wing Christian rockstars even as it slowly began to dawn on them that what they were selling was nothing more than homophobic snake oil. Indeed, no matter if they married the perfect woman («you don’t need to desire all women, just one» was a common encouragement) and doted on their kids, those same-sex attractions never really went away. Finally, in 2013 they were called to dismantle the heady movement they had unleashed – shutting down the organization and apologizing for all the irreparable damage it had caused to queer people everywhere. And yet, to this day, Exodus International’s zombie-like destruction rages on unabated.

Enter director …

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