Pray Away: The harrowing true story of the "ex-gay" community in the film

5 August 2021, 14:52 | Updated: 5 August 2021, 17:29

By Jenny Mensah

Pray Away is available to watch on Netflix now
Pray Away is available to watch on Netflix now. Picture: Netflix

As the 2021 documentary trends on Netflix, we take a look inside the film about conversion therapy and the real-life story that led to the film.

Pray Away has only just been released on Netflix this week, but it's been gripping audiences ever since.

The documentary, which was directed by Kristine Stolakis, tells the story of the co-founders of Exodus International and the leading figures of the ex-gay moment.

But what inspired to Stolakis to make the film and where are some of the film's key characters now?

Find out more about the gripping story its central characters here.

***TRIGGER WARNING: THE BELOW ARTCLE DISCUSSES THEMES OF ABUSE AND GAY CONVERSION THERAPY***

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Pray Away is available to watch on Netflix now
Pray Away is available to watch on Netflix. Picture: Netflix

When is Pray Away released on Netflix?

Pray Away is released on Netflix from Tuesday 3 August.

What is Pray Away about?

Pray Away tells the story of the 'pray the gay away' movement and explores the deep and lasting effects of conversion therapy.

It focuses on the co-founders of Exodus International, which was formed in 1976 and became a leading force in the ex-gay movement. In the film, the former leaders such as Michael Bussee and John Paulk look back on their rise to fame and deal with the aftermath of their actions.

Meanwhile, the documentary also takes a look at "ex-trans" activist Jeffrey McCall, who seeks to keep the conversion therapy movement alive, and Julie Rodgers, who was pushed into conversion therapy by her mother and became one of the group's more prominent speakers. It shows her still dealing with the trauma decades later.

What is conversion therapy?

Conversion therapy or "reparative" therapy is the attempt to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity by a religious leader, licensed counsellor, or in-peer support groups. Much of the teaching behind it suggests that those who are gay must be suffering from mental health problems due to either sexual or physical abuse by a parent or inadequate or toxic parenting.

What was Exodus?

Exodus International was a non-profit, interdenominational Umbrella organisation, that sought to help people who wished to change their homosexual desires. The organisation, which was formed in 1976, believed that conversion therapy and the re-orientation of sexual attraction was possible or that they could more colloquially “pray the gay away”. By 2006 the organisation had over 250 local ministries in the US and Canada, with over 150 ministries in 17 other countries.

On 27 June 2007 Bussee - with follow former Exodus leaders Jeremy Marks and Darlene Bogle- denounced the group and issued a public apology for their roles in it.

In 2012, then-president Alan Chambers renounced conversion therapy calling it harmful.Prominent ex former members such as John Paulk also issued apologies for their involvement in the movement.

Exodus International officially disbanded as an organisation on 20 June 2013. Though it no longer operates, many of its member ministries do such as the Exodus Global Alliance.

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Who is Michael Bussee and where is he now?

Michael Bussee, one of the founding members of Exodus, but he left and renounced the group two years later and held a life commitment ceremony with his partner Gary Cooper. Bussee went on to become an outspoken critic of Exodus and the ex-gay movement and on 27 June 2007 Bussee - with follow former Exodus leaders Jeremy Marks and Darlene Bogle issued a public apology for their roles in the group. He now appears in Pray Away to talk about his experience.

Exodus disbanded as an organisation on 20 June 2013.

Who is John Paulk and where is he now?

John Paulk was a figurehead of the movement and was particularly famous because he was married to an "ex-lesbian". He was the founder of Focus On The Family's ex-gay ministry Love Won Out and the former chairman of Exodus International North America. He later renounced his ex-gay status, denied that conversion therapy is effective and issued an apology for the harm he had caused in 2013. He also now appears in Pray Away to talk about his experience.

Where is Jeffrey McCall now?

In Pray Away, Jeffrey McCall is the self-proclaimed "ex-trans" founder of the Freedom March. As far as we know, he still lives as a cis man after having "de-transitioned" from being a trans woman.

The director, Stolakis said McCall was a willing participant and they promised not to put words in his mouth despite "deeply" disagreeing with each other's stance.

“We promised not to put words in his mouth, and that was easy to do, because I know that Jeffrey believes what he’s doing is right,” Stolakis said. “I also know that gender fluidity is real, so the way that he identifies as previously trans and now cis is not actually the real crux of the problem of this movement.

"The real problem is that the movement sends a message that being LGBTQ is a sickness and a sin, and the only way to be healthy is to be straight and cis. That’s really the message that harms people in the deepest ways,” she continued. "It really is something that he trusted us, and we really disagree about the consequences of his actions quite deeply, but I am thankful that he participated."

Where is Julie Rodgers now?

In Pray Away, Julie tells her experience of being a former Living Hope member and Exodus International speaker, who deals with the trauma of her own conversion therapy.

At the end of the documentary we see her marrying her partner in a church. Living her life as an openly gay woman, Rodgers found acceptance in a new Christian community and continues to talk about her experiences as a survivor of conversion therapy in order to help at-risk LGBTQ youth.

In 2021, she also released her autobiography, Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story, and launched the Outlove Project - which along with the Trevor Project seeks to help at-risk LGBTQ youth and prevent suicide and self-harm.

Pray Away is released on Netflix from Tuesday 3 August 2021.

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