As legislators around the US and the world fight to end conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth (just like Delaware did last week), a new film starring Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Carrie) seeks to shed light on the practice and its harmful repercussions. The Miseducation of Cameron Post premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for US Drama, the highest award given by the festival. The film premiered in US theatres tonight, August 3rd, and will be released nationwide on August 10th.
The film was directed by Desiree Akhavan, a bisexual Iranian-American woman known for her debut film Appropriate Behavior, in which she also stars as a bisexual woman in the aftermath of the breakup with her first woman partner. The Miseducation of Cameron Post was adapted from a 2012 novel by the same name, written by Emily Danforth.
The film follows the story of Cameron, a teenage girl living in the 90s who is caught kissing another girl in a car after homecoming. She is sent to a conversion camp called God’s Promise, where she meets an “ex-gay” named Reverend Rick, who runs the camp with his sister, Lydia, after she helped him overcome his “same-sex attraction.” He talks about how he was saved by men from his church who saw his car at a gay bar and came in to find him–a story that is discussed rather tongue-in-cheek by Cameron and her friends (a two-spirit Native American, Adam, played by Forrest Goodluck, and African-American American Honey star Sasha Lane, who portrays Jane Fonda, a girl with a prosthetic leg).
It demonstrates how organizations dedicated to “reforming” LGBTQ youth are “no less macabre” than other, more forceful treatments like lobotomy or shock therapy. Indeed, the film gets down to gritty truth of these camps, detailing the attempted suicide and self-mutilation of one of the “disciples,” as Reverend Rick refers to the campers. In the aftermath of this incident, a social worker visits the camp and interviews Cameron and the other campers, in which she discloses that she is emotionally abused by the counselors. When pressed as to why she feels that way, she responds indignantly, “how is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?” These vignettes demonstrate why legislation banning conversion therapy and policy protecting teens from such treatment is so important.
Overall, Desiree Akhavan’s film portrays an important topic in a manner that demonstrates extreme love for the teens affected. Variety Magazine describes it best—” it’s been proven that identifying accepting, positive role models goes a long way to decrease the risk of suicide among LGBTQ youth, which means that simply by sharing this story, both Danforth and Akhavan may well be saving lives.”
According to a study performed by the Williams Institute at UCLA, “an estimated 20,000 LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 17 will undergo conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before the age of 18.” An additional 57,000 youth will receive such treatment from a religious adviser. About 350,000 adults living in the U.S. underwent some form of conversion therapy as adolescents.
In July 2018, Delaware became the most recent – only the fifteenth – state to restrict conversion therapy, ruling that licensed medical and mental health professionals can now be disciplined for practicing it. Maryland became the eleventh in May 2018 after bipartisan support from representatives like State Sen. Richard Madeleno, a Victory Fund-endorsed Democrat who ran for Governor of Maryland earlier this year, and Republican Delegate Megan Simonaire, who argued for the legislation while coming out as bisexual on the House floor. The fight against conversion therapy rages on, however, in states like Maine, who passed a bill in July 2018 banning the practice in its House and Senate. The bill was sponsored by Victory Fund endorsee Rep.Ryan Fecteau. However, religious conservative Governor LePage vetoed the bill several weeks later, becoming the first governor in the United States to veto a bill on conversion therapy. Rep. Fecteau broke the news to a packed audience at a Maine theatre where The Miseducation of Cameron Post was being screened.
These failures only show how much work still needs to be done to ensure that children like Cameron, Adam, and Jane never experience the emotional torture of conversion therapy, and are never driven to suicide or self-harm by their families.