A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Sexual orientation isn't something people can control through behavior change. Gay conversion therapy has had significant mental health consequences, is said to result in statistical rise in likelihood of suicide among teenagers. Some church leaders have made statements about God punishing or not loving people for being gay. Others suggest God loves people for who they are. Faith can help people heal; church groups can provide community. Resources are offered for anyone grappling with feelings of suicide or self-harm.
Positive Role Models
People who were former leaders of the gay conversion movement now repent for the damage done by their own lobbying and work on behalf of the movement and related organizations and political campaigns. They try to apologize and make amends by speaking out now about the harms of so-called gay conversion therapy. Most say they denied their own homosexual or bisexual feelings for years but now are able to freely admit to them.
Violence & Scariness
People talk about suffering anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts as a result of gay conversion therapy. They describe panic attacks, deep depression, purposefully burning their own skin. A woman talks about all the friends she lost to AIDS in the 1990s. A man warns a group of concerned parents about school counselors who tell kids questioning their sexual identity to "chop up their bodies" or take hormones. Other spokespeople admit they used "fear tactics" to promote conversion therapy. A woman says she was raped in college. A man says he was told he has "blood on his hands" for the work he did for a gay conversion therapy organization.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Reference to intimacy in the form of masturbation, mutual masturbation, relationships, marriage, procreation, prostitution, the way male and female organs "fit together," pornography.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
"F--k you" is seen in print.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Products & Purchases
60 Minutes, Newsweek, C-SPAN, Will & Grace, Facebook, YouTube, Mac.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A man mentions former drug and alcohol abuse. A woman mentions smoking a cigarette. Another man talks about getting drunk.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the Ryan Murphy-produced Pray Away deals with the controversial and difficult topic of faith-based groups engaging in conversion therapy, which attempts to change people's sexual orientation or gender identity. A lot of mature themes are discussed involving sexuality, gender, marriage, mental health, and physical well-being. People involved in the movement and "survivors" of gay conversion therapy talk about their own resulting experiences with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol and drug abuse, and self-harm (for example, in the form of burning one's own skin). Statistics are offered to affirm that teens put through this form of "therapy" are twice as likely to kill themselves. Church leaders are shown in archive footage vowing that AIDS was a punishment; therapy proponents talk about homosexuality as a "perversion," a crime, a sickness, and sinful. There's reference to intimacy in the form of masturbation, mutual masturbation, relationships, marriage, procreation, prostitution, the way male and female organs "fit together," and pornography. "F--k you" is seen in passing in print. A man mentions former drug and alcohol abuse. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
A nimble blending of past and present footage and testimonies from key firsthand sources offers a devastating exposé of a controversial and ongoing movement in this documentary. Pray Away opens to the sound of pouring rain and closes on disturbing statistics about the lasting impact of conversion therapy; in between, the mood remains purposefully melancholy. Interviewees bring the statistics to distressing life with honest revelations about deeply personal experiences. A former teen subject of the therapy describes her self-harming in detail, a previous national spokesperson lets the camera into a private counseling session that has for nearly a decade helped her grapple with her former role in the movement, and others lay bare the anxiety and depression that resulted from years of denying their own truths. As one man, who had been the most public face of successful conversion therapy for years before he was photographed at a gay bar, put it, changed behavior (getting married, not acting on his homosexual impulses) never equaled changed feelings. Now, these former "ex-gay" leaders of the movement, all of whom have since admitted their true sexuality, say all they can do to make amends is to speak up loudly against conversion therapy.
One fascinating aspect of the movement depicted in the film is its profound intertwining with Christian faith, which wrapped sexuality, gender, relationships, and love up with shame, guilt, obedience, and God's approval. It's powerful when one "survivor" demonstrates how faith has also been part of her healing process, and she and her fiancée are wed in a beautiful church in the film's second half. The movement is also shown to have picked up political steam during the George W. Bush administration and among conservative leaders of that time. The documentary makes no attempt to balance its stance, and one subject becomes the unwitting anti-hero. A self-described former transvestite, Jeffrey McCall offers to pray with passersby at a strip mall, provides apparently unqualified therapy to concerned parents, and organizes a "Freedom March" to spread the word of his own salvation through Jesus. McCall presumably agreed to be included in the film, while other contemporary leaders of the movement declined. He seems to be positioned by the makers of the film as the continuation today of all that the former leaders denounce.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Our Editors Recommend
Movies with LGBTQ+ Characters
TV Shows with LGBTQ+ Characters
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate