“Pray Away,” a new documentary about conversion therapy on Netflix, has been getting many glowing reviews — but most of those reviews are not coming from actual survivors of conversion therapy.

In a review from Paste Magazine (one of the few reviews that takes a critical look at the film), Jacob Oller writes, “Pray Away lays bare the evil, the self-loathing people behind [the conversion therapy movement] and—to a lesser extent—those who’ve survived it, while all too briefly nodding towards the powerful and inextricable ties between Christianity, capitalism and the ever-radicalizing political right that keep it alive. There is value in the hindsight found in the film, but it’s more often an off-putting test of our empathetic limits filmed as incuriously as possible.”

Content Warnings for this documentary include:

  • homophobia
  • transphobia 
  • familial rejection
  • conversion therapy testimonials
  • detransitioning testimonials 
  • derogatory language of transitional care 
  • self harm 
  • suicide 
  • mental and psychological abuse 
  • sexual assault 
  • mental illnesses, including depression and PTSD symptons 
  • death realted to AIDs and justification of such 
  • alcohol consumption
  • masturbation mention 

For more information about what survivors of conversion therapy, in particular, may find harmful about this film, click here to read more.

The film interviews many former perpetrators of conversion therapy, portraying them primarily as victims of the same bigotry they helped perpetuate. By including their voices, and focusing far less on survivors, the film becomes “a vehicle for these ashamed ex-leaders to crawl back, tails between their legs,” Oller writes.

For survivors of conversion therapy, the film doesn’t just represent a failed chance to hold perpetrators of conversion therapy to account, but could be actively triggering and harmful.

On her Facebook page, Gail Dickert, a conversion therapy survivor, writes, “I share my words as both a PSA regarding the harms of conversion therapy and a call to the media to take our harm seriously. Restorative justice is possible, but not when the power is so recklessly given to perpetrators. They are not FORMER perpetrators. They are formerly active in perpetrating, but the harm they caused is and will always be real. Any coverage of them that does not indicate this, fails at being trauma-informed and at worst, will gaslight survivors and our families into thinking the harm is not as terrible as it was. […]

“I am not ashamed to be a survivor who advocates for the reality check that is needed here.

“There are young activists whose survivor stories could make up an entire series – and if you want to know how these groups REALLY work, ask the people who survived them, not the people who profited from their involvement or who are still seeking [an] audience under the guise of helping others.

“Former cult leaders need a new job, out of the spotlight.

“Separating from them and their voices is the ONLY way survivors can heal…

“I did not want to be brought back out of my purposeful distance from this topic for the last 7 years, but I cannot, in good faith, acquiesce after everything I’ve done to survive these tactics at survivor suppression. If I hadn’t been exploited by this film, I might have remained distanced, but with my likeness being associated with giving my abusers voice, I simply must address the harm caused.

“Thank you for reading. Survivors, please be careful. It took many of us years to untangle the web that these leaders spun around our minds, bodies, and souls… if you are triggered, it is because it IS TRIGGERING and should not have been handled this way. Please… find support from trauma-informed therapists or resources.

“We are not alone.”

The OutCenter would like to use this moment as a call to action to end conversion therapy in Michigan. Gov. Whitmer issued an executive order in June prohibiting the use of state funds for the practice of conversion therapy on minors, but it needs to be banned completely. Sign up with the Trevor Project to find out what you can do to help with their campaign to end conversion therapy in all 50 states.

This is the full text of Gail’s letter to Netflix:

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Gail Dickert, and I am a survivor of conversion therapy. I participated in advocacy from 2004-2014 but ended my public work after the psychological and physical toll that advocacy took on my health and well-being. The new Netflix Documentary called Pray Away includes my likeness, voice, face, and childhood photos and I did not approve this use. That content was a part of a program on the Oprah Winfrey Network in 2013, in conjunction with Part2 Pictures and the show Our America with Lisa Ling. My release authorized Part 2 Pictures to use that content in relation to that episode and other OWN-related promotions. I was only made aware that Pray Away exploited me and my story, now 8 years later, by people on Facebook contacting me about what they assumed was my consensual involvement in this new film. My advocacy work is being shared on your platform without my consent or prior knowledge, through the film Pray Away.

As a student of social work and advocate for survivors, I must be clear that I do not consent to this film using my image or Netflix allowing my image or likeness to be distributed through this film. It lacks ethical considerations for my safety as a trauma survivor and is not trauma informed. Steps that could have been taken to protect me or my story were not taken. I did not know until people contacted me this week, that my likeness was associated with a film that instead of giving survivors a voice, further exploits survivors by giving the focus to our abusers. Former leaders are in fact, perpetrators. In trauma, restorative justice is possible, but it is not justice or psychologically safe to exclude and/or exploit survivors in the path to showing another side to the stories of perpetrators.

I have contacted Part 2 Pictures to understand what legal steps were taken by the producers of Pray Away to obtain the rights to use the footage from 2013. They have not responded to my inquiry.

I am writing to ask you to investigate this matter and assure me that ethical considerations will be a primary focus for filmmaking/content distribution at Netflix. Please confirm for me that the data used was at least obtained legally, through Part 2 Pictures for use by the producers of Pray Away.

In summary, survivors’ voices matter more than anything and if we take this trauma seriously, this film should not have been made in such a reckless and unethical manner. This film highlights and minimizes me and my story, as well as creates a network of Stockholm Syndrome responses from those of us who may or may not have resources to identify those responses as such.

I look forward to hearing how this can be resolved. I want my image and my likeness removed from this level of distribution and never associated with giving voice to the perpetrators associated with conversion therapy and the harm it caused me, my family and so many others.

Sincerely,

Gail Dickert 

(she/her/hers)

Indie Author, Survivor and Youth Advocate, MSW Candidate

www.publishingforachange.com

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