When Zach Meiners got a call from his mom about about a childhood friend who had just come out as gay, shock and surprise followed… only because he found out they were about to go see his former conversion therapist. The upset increased as Zach realized even though ten years had passed since his own trauma and abuse, others were still suffering at the hands of someone who inflicted a lot of lasting damage.
“I just had assumed… surely by now he’s been shut down, and to find out that, not only was he not shut down, but that he was thriving. I was like, ‘Okay, I need to get the word out. This is still happening.’ ”
Zach’s idea to create a 5-minute short blossomed into Conversion, a Chronicle Cinema documentary sharing the stories of five survivors uniting their voices in hopes of educating and shining light on the truth behind this tortuous practice.
‘Conversion Therapy’ also known as Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, or Ex-Gay Therapy, is a long standing, and deeply harmful, practice of trying to change a persons sexual or gender identity through various spiritual, psychological and physical interventions.
“Its still alive and well and everywhere,” declares Elena Joy Thurston in the film’s trailer on ConversionMovie.com.
“I was in conversion therapy for four years,” Zach shares. “I stayed in the Ex-Gay world for about eight years after that, and so for me, I was actively fighting against my sexuality for twelve years of my life… praying every day for God to change me because I grew up in a system that said that if I accepted this part of myself, I would go to hell. So I wanted to change.”
It took Zach until he was 26 years old to get to a place where he was ready to accept himself and live authentically.
“When I came out, I was all of a sudden discovering things! Like going to a gay bar for the first time and watching RuPaul’s Drag Race for the first time! I was sitting at Big Bar, watching the show, and all of a sudden [heard] them talk about conversion therapy.”
At that point, Zach hadn’t even begun to process or acknowledge the harms being subjected to conversion therapy had on his life. Zach saw his story reflected in the things RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Dusty Bottoms was sharing. He eventually reached out to the fellow Louisville native for for an interview and they connected over their shared experience and Kentucky roots.
Marc Singer, who is married to the Drag star Dusty Ray Bottoms, came on as producer of the film Conversion.
“The movie isn’t just telling a story about something that happened. It’s born out of a place of action, out of Zach really trying to, very earnestly help this person that he had in front of him, and going, ‘How do I say or do something that can help affect change?’ I didn’t go through conversion therapy myself, but my husband did. After seeing the film… you don’t need to have gone through conversion therapy to resonate with the message. To resonate with people living as their true best self… having people’s health and best interest at heart and how we make that something that’s possible for every single person.”
When asked if Zach is mad or resentful towards his parents for sending him to conversion therapy in the first place, he explains how he believes they were also just led astray by someone they trusted in the religious community.
“I don’t think my parents ever wanted to harm me. They’ve seen the film, and it was very uncomfortable for them, which I guess makes sense. My dad has profusely apologized like, ‘I just had no idea, you know? A pastor told us this is what we were supposed to do, and we didn’t know any better, and so we just did it.’”
So much gentle, intentional love and healing was poured into the making of this film.
“Almost everyone on the creative team has some connection to the story, even if they didn’t go through conversion therapy, someone who is close to them has. With the cinematography to the music, the lighting, all of it has that connection. So there’s a lot of care.”
Singer wants one thing clear about the project.
“We hope that Conversion as a film is a story of survival and hope… this film does amplify the voices of survivors and is meant to be a resource to help people get out of it. To help people be informed, to not put people into it, and to give people an avenue or several avenues that they may go down in order to help affect change and stopping this. So it isn’t just a passive story of a look back at this thing that once happened. This is ‘Look at what’s happening now. Look where we can go.’ Let’s get there.”
Meiners added that there isn’t a set date for the release yet, but will be released this year.