Reflections: Conversion Therapy Survivors Dialogue – Part 1
By Katie Koncan, Senior Development Officer
November 2nd was a day I had been looking forward to for the past 7 weeks. On that remarkably crisp and sunny November morning, I was lucky enough to be allowed to attend a private dialogue event of individuals, researchers, allies and activists, leaders, and policy whizzes who were all experts in their own ways on one topic: conversion therapy. I do want to acknowledge that I was allowed to be there. This was a private event on a topic that is highly charged, deeply personal, and rife with emotions for many in the room. As a heterosexual cisgender fundraiser without lived experience, it was a privilege to be able to attend and engage. I’m very grateful my fellow attendees welcomed my presence as an ally.
A lot of our work was focused and goal oriented–discussing what supports survivors need, what institutional change can look like, policy and legislative action options, and how do we communicate about this to the public to raise awareness and garner support. Interspersed with this, folks shared what they experienced and their challenges coming out of conversion therapy. Their stories ranged, but they were consistently heart-wrenching. I struggled to control the lump in my throat more than once, listening to the vulnerability of these perfect strangers sharing some of their greatest pains.
What I took away from their stories is that their trauma is not something that is experienced in a singular moment, or on a particular day. It’s not like a car crash; there isn’t a moment of impact where injury is sustained, followed by stillness, and then care and attention can be administered for healing to begin.
With this kind of trauma, the stillness doesn’t necessarily come. The injury continues, ongoing, often for years. One is left in a sustained moment-of-impact, where care and healing is attempted, but how can we heal if we’re being continuously re-injured?
What I witnessed was a group of incredibly brave people, of different backgrounds and identities, trying to still–years later–find their way through that injury to heal.
For those who have survived, the damages to identity, self-worth, and mental well-being linger. And then there’s some who haven’t.
This isn’t to characterize all as victims. Despite the immense pain they’ve endured, there was also amazing resilience in the room. Finding the strength to be there and share their stories takes real bravery and power. And that bravery and commitment to galvanize change for the better was what was truly inspiring. It’s because of that, that I know the changes and support we’re seeking are possible.
But what does this have to do with public health, and why we as a public health charity were there? Stay tuned for part 2 of my reflections where I’ll dig deeper into the “bigger picture” takeaways from this event. If you want to spur change now, join the movement, and make sure thousands of survivors can access the justice and support they need. You can make a gift to support this work, subscribe to our monthly newsletter, and engage with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where we’re talking a lot about this issue.