Ernest Dumas writes this week about Garrard Conley, an Arkansas native whose biography about being the son of a Baptist preacher forced into a church-supported gay conversion program is the basis for the coming movie “Boy Erased” starring Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman.
Dumas encountered Conley when he and his mother talked recently at the David and Barbara Center for Oral and Visual History at the University of Arkansas.
There’s a happy end to Dumas column, including a surprising credit to the late Justice Jim Johnson, the notorious segregationist, who’d told Dumas long ago that the decision of people to come out of the closet in numbers had transformed public opinion about homosexuality in a relatively short time (if not completely.) Dumas writes:
Conley grew up in Cherokee Village, the son of a salesman- cum-Missionary Baptist preacher and a doting mother, and he was outed by another gay student when he was a freshman at Lyon College at Batesville. His father prayed about it and told him that he either had to enter gay-conversion therapy and exorcise whatever evil attracted him to men or else leave their house and companionship forever. He was more than agreeable and spent some time in the crazy gay-conversion program called Love in Action at Memphis until, realizing that he was on the verge of suicide, his mother said “We’re stopping all of this now.”
That is the story he tells in “Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family,” an account of the mental ordeals of his youth upon the realization that he was a homosexual. It also is a loving hymn to his parents, both of them—the mother who became a sturdy and public champion of his being proud of who and what he was and the missionary father who could not relinquish his love for his son no matter the harsh doctrines of his church and his own ministry
We’ve written about Conley before, including this Q&A with him during his national book tour.