Teen released from gay conversion camp following social media campaign

By Gavin Fernando

A campaign to get a teen released from a Christian "camp" where she was undergoing therapy to "pray the gay away" has been successful.

American teenager Sarah has allegedly been released from the conversion facility.

In an update, her extended family posted to a GoFundMe page to say they've just been informed she is out of the camp.

They said they don't know all the details, but attributed the change of events to the publicity the campaign has received.

"We are understandably excited by today's developments, and hopeful for what this means for Sarah's ability to live her life as her true self," they wrote. "And we are hopeful that one day soon all the other LBGT teens out there who face rejection by their families and attempts to "fix" their sexuality will be accepted for who they are."

At just 17 years old, Sarah was forced to leave her home and family.

Her parents wanted nothing to do with her, banishing the teenager to an isolated boarding facility in a remote part of Texas, where she would be housed against her will for the unforeseeable future.

She wasn't out of control or causing trouble. In fact, as a student she was quite the opposite; she was in the top 10 per cent of her class, ran cross-country, and was part of both the National Honour Society and the debate team.

So what was Sarah's big crime?

She took her girlfriend to her high school prom. And with that, her strict religious parents allegedly moved her into a Christian "camp", where she would be made to undergo psychologically-damaging therapy to "pray the gay away", and "convert" her into a heterosexual.

The law prohibited Sarah from leaving the camp until she reached the age of 18, when she would be recognised as a legal adult.

A global campaign started to see her released from the unnamed facility, organised by the more supportive members of her extended family.

Among them was US actor Jeremy Jordan, who stars in CBS show Supergirl. He started a GoFundMe page to raise money for the legal expenses needed to free Sarah.

He posted the crowdfunding link to his 112,000 Twitter followers, and his Facebook audience of 51,000, prompting the hashtag #SaveSarah to go global.

"Like any high school kids in a relationship, Sarah and her girlfriend wanted to go to prom together," he writes on the page. "But when they did that, Sarah's parents, who believe that homosexuality is a sin and abnormal, sent Sarah away against her will to an East Texas Christian boarding facility for troubled teens to 'pray away the gay'.

"Sarah has been told that she must stay in this facility for a whole year. So instead of being surrounded by friends and extended family who love and support Sarah for who she is, she'll be isolated in a place where the fact that she is gay is treated as a sin and an illness.

"Instead of preparing for college and competing in the state debate tournament, she'll be doing forced labor every day and enduring Bible-based 'therapy' for her 'disease'."

He says she's not allowed to make phone calls, emails or take part in any other form of communication. She's not allowed visitors, rendering her completely cut off from the outside world.

"This is about more than just one gay kid - if we free Sarah we can help show that it's not okay to try to make gay teens straight by sending them away and using the threat of God against them."

Jordan has since updated his followers.

The family had hired Austin-based lawyer Christine Anderson of CHA Law Group, PC, to help them free Sarah.

Ms Anderson is known for specialising in LGBT issues, and according to the family, agreed to offer a discount in Sarah's case.

The family said the mounting legal costs have already surpassed $20,000, but they would like to use the rest to help Sarah pay for college, since her parents are unlikely to contribute.

But while Sarah received an outpouring of support, not everybody was on her side.

Patrick Von Dohlen, the president of the San Antonio Family Association, believed Sarah's parents did the right thing.

"She's going to look back, and be like, 'Wow, I'm really glad what mum and dad did for me,'" he told KENS5.

"It's natural for her to like boys. It's not natural for her to like girls."

Von Dohlen accused her extended family of violating the parents' rights by creating a lawsuit.

"It's going to cost them money that actually harms the young woman from getting the care and treatment she needs," he said.

What is gay conversion therapy?

Gay conversion therapy is a highly controversial practice, with countless studies concluding it does nothing but inflict deep psychological trauma on the victims.

Last year, news.com.au spoke to survivors of the radical ideology. They reported being starved, forced into exorcisms, banned from masturbating and brainwashed.

One man, Anthony Venn-Brown, said a pastor stood over him for two hours, shouting at the devil to show itself. He was under watch 24/7 so he wouldn't masturbate, and was made to study the Bible and practise abstinence.

Another, Simon Tinkler, said the ordeal made him so desperate that he starved himself and contemplated suicide. He is now living a happier life in a same-sex relationship.

Just last week, a new study from the Southern Poverty Law Center came out, labelling the practice as "demonising" homosexuality and demanding it be banned.

It also called for public and private insurers to refuse to reimburse claims made by "therapists".

In 2009, the American Psychological Association conducted the world's biggest study into the fluidity of sexual orientation. It found that conversion therapy had an extremely harmful impact on the victim's mental health, increasing anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and sexual dysfunction.

Fortunately, in this case, most people seem to be on Sarah's side.

Since Jordan publicised the case and sent it global, the teenager has received an outpouring of support on social media - including high-profile celebrities like Colton Haynes.

The hearing will take place in July.

- news.com.au

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