'Pray Away' Shows Julie Rodgers' Fight to Escape Conversion Therapy. Here's Where She Is Now.

·3-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

At one point in Julie Rodgers life, she gave impassioned speeches at Exodus International conferences. That, for most of Rodgers' late adolescence wasn't just a normal thing—it was a good thing. It was proof that the meetings she had through Living Hope, a ministry under the umbrella of Exodus International, was working. But as nearly every single queer person subjected to conversion or reparative therapy knows, the trauma of conversion therapy is simply that: trauma. In the years since joining and subsequently leaving Exodus International, Rodgers' life has changed entirely.

Rodgers is one of the subjects at the core of Pray Awaythe Netflix documentary that follows the eventual dissolution of Exodus International, which was at one time the world's largest network of ministries boasting conversion therapy. For Rodgers, her journey in the documentary begins with a montage of her and her fiancée posing for engagement photos, but a future with her wife wasn't always what she imagined. Growing up conservative Christian in a Baptist church, Rodgers came out to her mother at 16. Her mother soon after introduced her to Ricky Chelette, who is an executive director of Living Hope.

As a teenager, Rodgers became radicalized within the ministry, with explanations as to why she was gay, rooted in false science. The ministry went as far to decide, along with her family, that Rodgers should quit softball and go to a Christian college. At that point, Rodgers started speaking at Exodus International conferences, sharing her story. Chelette, who suggested she start speaking, also pushed Rodgers into adding details of a sexual assault into her testimony, despite her insistence that she didn't want to. Initially, she refused, but with added pressure, Rodgers included it.

Eventually, Rodgers experience dovetailed into depression and self-harm. All the while, Rodgers continued to give speeches for Exodus International and act as a face for the movement. Rodgers left Living Hope as Exodus International was dissolving. In that time, she has not only started recovering from her time with Living Hope and the ex-gay movement, but she is living her life openly as a lesbian. At the end of the documentary, Pray Away saw Rodgers and her fiancée at the wedding they had been planning throughout.

Rodgers, since leaving the Living Hope ministry, has maintained her faith, reconciling her sexuality with her faith. In her journey, she hasn't found exception in her religion for homosexuality, but acceptance. She adds that she is "healthier and happier" for knowing who she actually is.

On top of leaving the church and finding acceptance in a new Christian community, Rodgers has continued speaking about her experience as a survivor of conversion therapy, while finding new ways to help LGBTQ children who are at-risk. In summer of 2021, she released her debut memoir, Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story and started the Outlove Project, a campaign alongside the Trevor Project to help at-risk queer children and end suicide and self-harm.

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