The Mormon Church may have formally renounced anti-gay “reparative therapy,” but that doesn’t erase its effects.
In Saving Alex, a book released this month, 21-year-old Alex Cooper recalls her experiences of being beaten and tortured for eight months as “therapy” for being gay. She was 15 when she came out to her Mormon parents in 2009. After first kicking her out, they dropped her off with an unlicensed Mormon couple in Utah, Tiana and Johnny Siale, so they could try to “cure” her.
The Siales, who had no licenses or training in counseling, would force Cooper to stand facing a wall holding a backpack full of stones so she would “feel the burden she was carrying by choosing to be gay.”
“I felt angry, indignant, determined to find a way out,” Cooper writes. “Then the loneliness settled in.”
The Siales told Cooper: “Your family doesn’t want you. God has no place for people like you in His plan.” She developed sores on her shoulders and cramps in her back. Cooper attempted suicide and repeatedly tried to escape, but when she was caught, the Siales allegedly beat her.
“I came to my feet in front of him,” Cooper writes. “He made a fist and punched me in the gut, knocking the wind out of me. I doubled over and choked for breath.”
Cooper’s story started to find its happy-ish ending when the couple enrolled her in high school and she met other LGBT students. She also met attorney Paul Burke, who fought to get her a court order that kept her parents from sending her to reparative therapy anymore.
More than six years later, her book is full of reflections and resolutions. For example, she’s no longer Mormon, and she’s chosen not to press charges against the family that abused her.
“As long as I was sitting in a courtroom looking at them I couldn’t move on with my life, and that’s what I needed to do,” Cooper said of the Siales in an interview with Publishers Weekly.
She has also reconciled with her parents, saying she believes they were only doing what they felt was right, and following the tenets of the Mormon faith.
“I think that’s what a lot of parents are under the impression of, that they’re doing the best thing for their child,” Cooper told The Salt Lake Tribune.
“I don’t blame my parents,” Cooper told KUTV. “I am able to share my life with them, and it’s awesome.”
The Mormon church has also spoken out since Saving Alex was released. Take this statement with a grain of salt, though, as the church still considers gay sex sinful and requires children of same-sex couples to disavow their parents:
In response to Cooper’s book, the Mormon church issued a statement saying it “denounces any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices,” according to KUTV.
“We hope those who experience the complex realities of same-sex attraction find compassion and understanding from family members, professional counselors and church members,” LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins said.
I commend Alex for working through this trauma in a way many of us couldn’t; sharing such an intense story so publicly takes guts. I’m even more amazed that she’s reconciled with her parents the way she has. There’s no doubt that reparative therapy is abusive, no matter who’s “to blame,” and that’s the message we have to keep emphasizing to LGBT teens and their families. For some people, this kind of reconciliation is the healthiest and happiest solution. For others, it’s not. Nobody ever deserves to go through reparative therapy, and if you do, you are in no way required to forgive your family or your faith.
You can order the book here.