Religion

Christian lesbian tells ‘queer survival story’ of escaping ‘ex-gay’ ministries in new Netflix documentary

Lily Wakefield June 26, 2021
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Julie Rodgers in Netflix documentary Pray Away

Julie Rodgers in the documentary Pray Away, coming soon to Netflix. (Multitude Films)

Queer Christian Julie Rodgers will tell the story of how she escaped “ex-gay” ministries in a new book and Netflix documentary.

Rodgers, 35, grew up in a small, religious Texas town, and when she came out as gay, she was offered meetings at Living Hope Ministries, a so-called “ex-gay” organisation which still exists today.

She was promised that Living Hope would “heal” her homosexuality with conversion therapy, and she would go on to spend almost a decade in the ministry.

She attended multiple meetings every week, moved into the organisation’s “recovery house”, and even spent time living with Living Hope Ministries founder Ricky Chelette.

Rodgers became somewhat of an “ex-gay” poster child, and was coached by Chelette to speak at the notorious Exodus International, which at the time was the largest proponent of conversion therapy in America.

But she began to struggle with self-harm, and as her mental health deteriorated, she realised that the “ex-gay” movement was having a devastating impact on those around her, too.

Although she was determined to leave, when Exodus International president Alan Chambers eventually realised the harm he had done and renounced conversion therapy, he asked Rodgers to tell her story. A year later, Exodus International shut down.

Now happily married to a woman, and living her life as a gay Christian, Rodgers is telling her story in both her new book – Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story – and a Netflix original documentary titled Pray Away. 

The film follows the stories of both former and active leaders of the “ex-gay” movement, as well as telling Rodgers’ story of survival.

 

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She told the Religion News Service: “I wanted to share a story and put a human face to this experience — and a really earnest one that tried everything that they suggested — in the hopes that maybe they’ll respond differently to the next generation of queer kids.

“I felt a responsibility to offer some reflections and to just share what happened and what I saw.”

Rodgers said she hopes that her story will help LGBT+ Christians see that there is the “possibility for a positive future as a queer person of faith”, and raise awareness of conversion therapy happening right now.

“I think people think it’s a thing of the past, so I want people to know that that’s alive and thriving.”

Pray Away’s director, Kristine Stolakis, said Rodgers’ story shows that ‘there is hope that you can find community and acceptance outside of this world”.

She added: “There are places that will fully accept you and fight for your rights and dignity, exactly as you are. And if you are someone that has been through this and does not want to be a part of a religious community, that’s also OK.”

Pray Away is coming soon to Netflix, and Rodgers’ book Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story is out now.

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