“Conversion Therapy” Papers from Largest Ex-Gay Conversion Ministry Donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History by The Mattachine Society of Washington, DC

July 19, 2017—The Mattachine Society of Washington, DC. donated two significant documents from the now-defunct and once largest “ex-gay” conversion therapy ministry “Love In Action”(LIA) to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH), it was announced by Charles Francis, President, Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.

The donated documents are the LIA “handbook” for its “Source Residential Program” issued to Garrard Conley who underwent LIA therapy to be converted from homosexuality in 2004; and the LIA “Steps Out Program Class Manual” (374 pages) donated to the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC by the “ex-gay” leader and LIA minister John J. Smid. Smid’s conversion therapy ministry became the largest-ever gay conversion therapy ministry in the United States, based in Memphis, Tennessee. Founded in 1986, and now defunct, LIA remains of interest to researchers and historians, and will soon be the subject of a major motion picture starring Joel Edgerton, Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, “Boy Erased” (Riverhead, 2016).

At a luncheon hosted (July 18) by the NMAH Director John Gray, Francis said, “We are giving these gay and lesbian conversion therapy materials to the NMAH so that researchers and historians may actually see the materials that gay and lesbian teens were given by Love In Action to “cure” them from homosexuality”. Garrard Conley and his mother, Martha Conley spoke briefly about their experience in Memphis at the conversion therapy facility with the Rev. John Smid.

Garrard Conley’s Love In Action handbook includes personal notes and his original “Welcome” certificate to Love In Action. About his Love In Action handbook, Conley writes: “During my time at Love In Action, no journaling, photographing, or any other method of recording was allowed inside the facility. To that effect, all events, physical descriptions, and dialogue have been reconstructed to the best of my ability. My mother’s and my memories, (and) LIA’s ex-gay
handbook….supplemented the empty spaces where trauma has made dark what was once painfully clear.” (from Author’s Note, “Boy Erased”).

The LIA Manual describes its conversion therapy program as “a ministry of healing to those who have made a commitment to leave the homosexual life-style…..Satan has no intention of allowing you to leave the gay life-style without a fight,” the manual continues. “You can expect Satanic attack”. (page iv, “Steps Out Program Class Manual”)

Accepting the donation for the National Museum of American History were John L. Gray, Director; Katherine Ott, Curator, Division of Science and Medicine; Archivist Franklin Robinson and Bob Horton, Director of the NMAH Archives. Attending the luncheon were Charles Francis and Mattachine Director Pate Felts and Mattachine pro bono legal counsel, Lisa Linsky, Partner, McDermott Will & Emery; and Valeska Hilbig, NMAH Office of Communications.

The Mattachine Society of Washington, DC conducts original archival research and educational programs that focus on LGBT legal, political and policy history. The MSWDC is researching the history of “conversion” therapy and Love In Action with its pro bono legal counsel, the international law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP.