You Can’t Change What We Never Chose: An Interview with Conversion Therapy Survivor Sam Brinton

As Pride Month comes to a close we must remember an important issue that we are still battling against; the fight to end conversion therapy. This is the legal and harmful practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The methods can be physically painful, psychologically damaging or, as in most cases, both. Sam Brinton is a survivor of conversion therapy and is helping to lead the fight toward its illegalization with their organization 50 Bills 50 States.

1. At what age were you forced into conversion therapy?

I was forced into conversion therapy at the age of 10. My family and I were missionaries spreading the word of Christ so we moved around a lot. One day, I was playing with my other missionary friends when we found a Play Boy magazine. Everyone was really excited and intrigued by it but I wasn’t, instead, I started praying for them. I told my parents and my father was happy that I wasn’t really a part of it, that I didn’t have those feelings. But I told him “yeah but sometimes I do have those feelings for my friend Dale”.

I had no idea I was gay, so I didn’t see a problem with telling my dad, but he began to beat me until I became unconscious.

My father would continue to hit me to so-called “beat the gay out” until my mother said, “this obviously isn’t working, we should put him in conversion therapy,”. I went through conversion therapy for 2 and a half years.

2.  What methods did they use to “turn you straight” per say?

They told me things like how they had exterminated all other gay children, that I was the only gay person left, that the government would kill me, how God hated me, and other horrible things like that.

Then they began to physically hurt me by tying my hands and putting ice on them while showing me erotic pictures of men and they later wrapped hot coils around my hands showing me more of those pictures.

It went all the way up to electro-shock therapy, but they didn’t hurt me when they showed me pictures of women because they wanted me to associate men with pain.

3. What effects did conversion therapy have on you?

I became suicidal, I tried to kill myself at least 4 times because I had become so depressed and alone.

To this day I still feel the effects, I still feel pain when I touch a man.

When I touch a man I feel little shocks but it has gotten much better and manageable than before.

4. Are you still a person of faith, after everything that happened? If so, how was it reconciling the two?

Yes, I have reconnected and practice my faith today.

The way I see it, what happened to me and the people that believe in conversion therapy are not a reflection of my religion.

My faith has truly helped me cope with what happened, I recognize that religion might not help everybody but it has helped me forgive. I have forgiven my family for what they did to me because not forgiving them would not change what happened

5. Conversion therapy is still a big issue, yet many LGBT+ organizations do not focus on it. Why do you think that is?

I think the biggest reason is that many people don’t know that it’s still happening and that it’s still legal. Which is why we need people to talk about it, we need to create a dialogue and have more press coverage on this issue.

Video courtesy of 50 Bills 50 States

6. How has the organization 50 Bills 50 States helped in the fight against conversion therapy?

We are trying to illegalize conversion therapy practices towards minors across the country.

Just last night we helped to pass a bill in Rhode Island illegalizing conversion therapy. The work we’ve done has been incredible, we had 5 states last year and 4 states this year pass bills to illegalize conversion therapy.

We currently have conversion therapy bills submitted to 34 states, I think within a decade we can end this across the country. 50 Bills 50 states also tries to help those currently going through conversion therapy, like right now I’m talking with a 13 and 17-year-old in Texas, but it can be dangerous because we don’t want to get the child in trouble.

7. Our vice-president Mike Pence has indicated in the past that he supports conversion therapy, what obstacles does this create for the fight against conversion therapy?

Well, he said that a long time ago maybe I am being too positive but I hope he has changed his mind.

Thankfully, he operates at the federal level and this is a state issue, meaning he can’t do very much since he doesn’t control the state. Now in terms of having a champion in the White House, this is a huge blow.

President Obama came out and said he was against conversion therapy, which was a huge win for us but that will not happen with this administration. Pence is evil but there is not much bad he can do.

8. How can the everyday person, especially teenagers, be a part of 50 Bills 50 States?

We really need people to spread the word, go on social media, use the #BornPerfect, letting people know what’s going on is the easiest way to help.

You can sign up to volunteer on our site and connect to what you can do in your state. In October, we are having a week where every single person volunteering for 50 Bills 50 states will write and protest against conversion therapy in their states.

9. How do you make sure that laws protect trans youth?

The trans community is absolutely included in all our work. In the official bills, conversion therapy is referred to as sexual orientation change efforts but this still includes protecting children from the conversion of their gender identity. We have used this term in court to protect trans youth and it has protected them every time.

10. Finally, what message do you hope to send by sharing your experiences?

I like to end all my speeches and conversations about conversion therapy with this: you can’t change what I never chose.

The idea that a parent can change something that a child should not be forced to change is hateful. They are trying to erase us as LGBT people and it needs to end.

To help in the fight against conversion therapy visit the 50 Bills 50 States website to find out how you can help and join the #BornPerfect campaign.



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