Alex Cooper says she was forced to quit school, carry a backpack of rocks sometimes weighing 40 pounds and face a wall for hours at a time as part of her family’s efforts to change her sexuality after she came out at 15 years old.
Cooper, who identifies as a lesbian, describes her harrowing time at a Utah gay “conversion therapy camp” in a powerful new video produced by the Human Rights Campaign. She said she was subjected to “physical pain and emotional pain” during her eight-month stay at the camp run by a family “who promised to make me straight.”
“I felt like I couldn’t change being a lesbian, but that I could just conceal it” while undergoing the conversion therapy, Cooper said in the clip above. Eventually, she worked up the courage to reach out to a teacher, who helped her escape the experience. In 2016, she documented what she went through in a memoir, Saving Alex.
The video was released Wednesday as part of the Human Rights Campaign’s ongoing efforts to educate Americans on the dangers of conversion, or reparative, therapy practices. A day earlier, Maryland became the 10th state to ban the practice on minors, while New Hampshire and Hawaii recently passed protections that await approval from their governors.
Olivia Dalton, the Human Rights Campaign’s senior vice president for communications and marketing, said in an email statement she hoped Cooper’s testimony would “help fuel the momentum we are seeing across the nation as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle work with us to pass legislation protecting LGBTQ youth from this dangerous and discredited practice.”
She added, “No child should be subjected to this practice that amounts to nothing less than child abuse.”
The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all discredited conversion therapy. Still, the practice continues to be promoted in conservative religious communities.
A January report published by the Williams Institute at UCLA’s law school estimated that 698,000 LGBTQ Americans between the ages of 18 and 59 have undergone conversion therapy at some point. About 350,000 of those received that treatment as adolescents, according to the report.