In a new memoir, Alex Cooper writes about being abused and held hostage at a gay conversion house in Utah after she told her Mormon parents she was attracted to women when she was 15 years old.
In Saving Alex, Cooper, who is now 21, writes about attempting suicide and trying to escape the home where she was held for months by a couple who told her: "Your family doesn't want you. God has no place for people like you in His plan," KUTV Salt Lake City reported Tuesday.
"Alex was physically and verbally abused, and many days she was forced to stand facing a wall wearing a heavy backpack full of rocks," says her book publisher, HarperCollins.
In an interview with KUTV, Cooper described the futility of ex-gay therapy, sometimes called "reparative" or "conversion therapy." "It's like sending you to therapy to change your eye color," she said, "It's not going to work. What it's going to do is damage you."
As a teen, Cooper was removed from her home in California and sent to an ex-gay house in Utah run by a couple who "used faith to punish and terrorize her," says her publisher, HarperCollins.
"With the help of a dedicated legal team in Salt Lake City, Alex eventually escaped and made legal history in Utah by winning the right to live under the law’s protection as an openly gay teenager," reported the publishing company.
Many states such as New York, New Jersey, California, Oregon and Illinois have banned conversion therapy for minors. However, the ban applies only to state-licensed therapists; unlicensed ones, such as the one Cooper attended, retain the religious freedom to continue their practices.
Conversion therapy — which aims to turn LGBT people straight and cisgender — has been denounced as junk science by every major medical and psychological organization in the country. In addition to the state-level bans mentioned above, congressional Democrats earlier this year introduced a bill that asks the Federal Trade Commission to ban all conversion therapy practices (for any age) nationwide, labeling the ineffective, harmful "therapy" as fraud.
Cooper told KUTV that her mother apologized to her. "They thought they were doing the best thing for me," Cooper told the station. "I think that's what a lot of parents are under the impression of, that they're doing the best thing for their child."
Cooper is no longer Mormon and said she and her lawyer are urging states such as Utah to ban conversion therapy. Church spokesman Eric Hawkins told the station that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not condone programs such as the one Cooper was forced to attend.
"The Church denounces any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices," he said.
"We hope those who experience the complex realities of same-sex attraction find compassion and understanding from family members, professional counselors and church members."