Camps practicing 'gay conversion' therapy

Camps practicing gay 'conversion therapy'

You just saw it right here on KVUE - 20/20 got an in-depth look at Christian-run youth camps that practice so-called gay conversion therapy for teens.

The controversial mix of counseling and treatments is aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation, but one Austin woman says this is not the answer.

Susan Cottrell is the mother of five children. 

When Annie, her second oldest, was 20-year-old, she told her mother she had a "same-sex attraction."

"As a devout evangelical, we realized this is never going to fly in the church," Cottrell said.

Fellow church members told her homosexuality is a sin you can't accept.

"I knew that was a stock answer," Cottrell said.

Cottrell said she made the decision to leave the church.

"I told Annie I loved her and nothing changed about that, Cottrell explained. 

Cottrell said acceptance is an approach to which some in her shoes are opposed. She learned this in a private Facebook group she started for LGBTQ parents about an alternative to acceptance, gay conversion therapy camps for teens.

"Reparative therapy or ex-gay therapy doesn't work," Cottrell said. "It's not therapy at all."

An ABC 20/20 investigation into this practice asked a woman from that Facebook group to go undercover in Alabama to visit one of these camps. There she met with a pastor who told her for a $120,000 a year, he can change someone's sexuality. He said with a parent's written permission, he could use physical punishment on their children if they act out.

"The woman undercover said I saw these kids who looked like shells of human beings, like they had no soul left because it had been beaten out of them," Cottrell said.

Cottrell said faith parents of LGBTQ children need to know this is not the answer. She advises love and acceptance through her non-profit "FreedHearts," two educational books and blog.

"We have online courses that we offer," Cottrell said

Her work connects Cottrell with more than 250,000 parents a month.

"I have gotten overwhelmingly positive responses," she said.

It's been seven years since Annie told her mother she's gay and since then Cottrell's youngest daughter, Hannah, has also come out.

"I let them be who they are and in return I'm much closer to my kids and a much better mother," Cottrell said.

To watch the 20/20 episode, click here.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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