Shocking stories of extreme “reparative” therapy committed on LGBTQ youth have been on a decline in recent years thanks to shifting public opinion and new laws. But a new book from an ex-Mormon detailing her experience as a teen is a sobering reminder of the unresolved trauma still out there.
When Alex Cooper, now 21, told her Mormon parents she was gay at 15 years old, their initial reaction was to kick her out. That would be tragic enough as it is had they not later decided they could “fix” her instead.
Against her will, Alex was taken to the home of fellow Mormons Tiana and Johnny Siale in St. George, Utah, where she was forced into round-the-clock “treatment” for eight months.
That treatment included being forced to face a wall while carrying a backpack filled with heavy stones so she would “feel the burden she was carrying by choosing to be gay,” and being beaten by the Siales.
“I felt angry, indignant, determined to find a way out,” Cooper writes in her new memoir, Saving Alex. “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.” Sores broke out on her shoulders from carrying the backpack, and her back regularly cramped.
She tried to escape on numerous occasions, and even resorted to attempting suicide. On at least one occasion when she attempted to leave, she was allegedly beaten.
“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.”
When the Siales finally allowed Alex to attend a local public high school, she discovered the campus Gay-Straight Alliance and was put in touch with Paul Burke, an attorney in Salt Lake City.
Burke fought for a year to obtain a court order barring Alex’s parents from forcing her into ex-gay therapy. She became the first openly gay teen to win such a protection in the state of Utah.
Alex now lives as an out lesbian in Portland, OR, and is choosing to process her experience by sharing her story rather than prosecuting the Siales.
“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 in an interview with Publishers Weekly.
She added that she doesn’t blame her parents, who she feels were only trying to do what was best with the misinformation they had.
While the Mormon church no longer advocates so-called reparative therapy, they still teach that gay sex is deeply sinful.
In November of last year, the church outlined a new policy that declares same-sex couples apostates, and bans their children from being baptized.
Only four states — California, New Jersey, Oregon and Illinois — plus Washington, D.C., ban ex-gay therapy on minors.