(originally published on January 15, 2018)
A little while back, I read a moving, yet heartbreaking article on the website Cracked called 5 Things I Learned at a ‘Pray The Gay Away’ Camp by Samuel Brinton. (They/them.) For many years I have read about “praying the gay away” as well as their ‘camps” and just how damaging they are, so I clicked on the article right away and started reading. As I read, I felt a few different things: 1. I was (and still am) ashamed that members of the Christian faith (that I am a part of) still believe in this myth. 2. Why is being gay still considered to be such an “evil” thing in society? If you’re going by the Bible, then you better stop lying, adultery, lusting, etc. 3. I was very moved that Samuel not only was able to rise above it, but has still kept their faith and has used their traumatic experience in order to help others.
I recently had the pleasure of talking Samuel. We had a few missed opportunities but we were finally able to work it out! Trust me, it was worth the wait! I got to know a very sweet, funny, strong, and caring person. Although we didn’t have a lot of time to talk because they are very busy, but the time we did talk was very meaningful and I know good things will happen because of this!
Let’s start from the beginning. Samuel grew up with missionaries as parents. They all lived in a commune with other missionaries. Everything they had was donated to them, including food, clothing, toys, etc. There were many times people in his commune would dig through the trash in order to find things they could fix up in order to keep. One day Samuel and his friends came across a Playboy and their friends got excited by the woman that they saw. Samuel admitted that they felt self-righteous by “telling” on their friends to their parents. But in the process, they mentioned that they felt nothing about the woman in Playboy since he only felt something for a male friend of theirs. Samuel thought it wasn’t a big deal, but it was in fact a very big issue with their parents.
Just to be clear, Samuel’s parents never had the “sex talk”. Although they admit that religion did play a part in that, they also said that’s been part of our culture for so long for parents to not have “the talk.” They added that their grandparents never gave Samuel’s parents the sex talk as well. Samuel’s parents were always very supportive of them learning. In fact, every month Samuel would check out a book from the library and write a report on it. So, to be fair, even though their parents clearly made mistakes, we can agree that their support of Samuel’s reading and writing was positive.
Going back to Samuel telling their parents about their feelings for their male friend. Sadly, they didn’t take the news well at all. While Samuel didn’t see it as a big deal and didn’t even fully realize what they were doing was “confessing” to, their parents immediately started reacting to what they said in a negative way. Samuel’s father became physically abusive to them. There were times Samuel’s Dad would punch them so hard they would black out. One of the many heartbreaking details about this period of their life is that there weren’t any members of the LGBTQ Community to tell them that there was nothing wrong with them.
When their Mom started seeing that the abuse wasn’t working, she decided to hand Samuel over to conversion therapy. During our chat, Samuel gently asked me if it was alright if we didn’t go into detail about what they went through during their time in conversion therapy because then they would start to get emotional. I understood completely and was thankful for their honesty.
Today, Samuel has been able to rise above the injustice and has used it in order to make a difference. Samuel is the head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project. The wonderful thing is that they saw how active Samuel has been when it comes to banning conversion therapy and the links Samuel used (and is still using) concerning both conversion therapy and mental health. Both Samuel and The Trevor Project have joined forces to ban conversion therapy in all 50 states. (The name of this is 50 Bills 50 States. I encourage you all to click the link to find out how you all can get involved in your individual states and put an end to this abuse and blatant consumer fraud. I know I will be doing everything I can in my state of Alabama.).
I wanted to get Samuel’s thoughts about Tom Ford being honored with the Hero Award from the Trevor Project and they couldn’t have been more supportive of their decision. (As well as Kristin Chenoweth!) Samuel talked about how important it is for a big fashion brand such as Tom Ford to do business with the LGBTQ Community, and then they will do business with them as well. I asked him what Samuel thought about Marc Jacobs. (My favorite designer, by the way!) and they said that they like the fact that Marc has donated to various LGBTQ organizations over the years. Adding how much they loves fashion and how important it is for designers to remain supportive of the LGBTQ community. (As a fellow lover of fashion, I agree with them!)
You want to hear something really beautiful? In spite of all the trauma they went through, Samuel’s still a Christian. Samuel acknowledged that there have been people both in the Christian and LGBTQ communities who feel like you can’t be both. Samuel’s not here to push their faith on anyone, but is honest about it. In fact, Samuel seen one of my favorite documentaries, For the Bible Tells Me So. Bishop Gene Robinson (the first openly gay man to serve in the Episcopal Church and was also in the documentary) is a close friend and mentor to Samuel. How cool is that?!
Some other very wonderful facts about Samuel before we wrap things up is that they are a graduate of MIT in nuclear physics and they is currently engaged to their love of their life. Congrats to the both of them!
I plan to do my all to end conversion therapy in the state of Alabama (as I said earlier) and I encourage you all to do the same wherever you live. If you need further proof as to how horrible and inhumane it is, here are some links here , here, and here. You can go to this section of The Trevor Project Website to find out how you can volunteer.
Samuel, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I’m with you ride or die and I’ll do all I can to end conversion therapy in the state of Alabama. I know I say this a lot, but you are an inspiration to us all. I do want to add that you’re more than that, you’re a true example that you can go through something truly traumatic and come out of it not only for the better, but uses their past as way to reach out and make positive changes. That’s a real hero right there.