Lesbian Recounts 8 Months of 'Reparative Therapy' Torture in Utah
A lesbian Mormon teenager was forced to wear a backpack full of stones for 18 hours a day as part of an effort to make her straight, she reveals in a new book.Â
When Alex Cooper, now 21, came out to her Mormon parents in 2009 at the age of 15, they first kicked her out, then decided they were going to "fix" her.
They took her to the home of fellow Mormons Tiana and Johnny SialeÂ in St. George, Utah, where Cooper was subject to eight months of captivity and torture, according to her book, Saving Alex.
The Siales, who had no licenses or training in counseling, would force Cooper to stand facing a wall holding a backpack full of stones so she would "feel the burden she was carrying by choosing to be gay."
"I felt angry, indignant, determined to find a way out," Cooper writes. "Then the loneliness settled in."Â
The Siales told Cooper: "Your family doesn't want you. God has no place for people like you in His plan." She developed sores on her shoulders and cramps in her back.Â Cooper attempted suicide and repeatedly tried to escape, but when she was caught, the Siales allegedly beat her.Â
"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."
Cooper says visitors to the Siales' home in heavily Mormon St. George knew about the abuse, but did nothing to stop it. Â
Reading her book, Saving Alex, I broke down in bitter tears, amazed how religion separates families in the name of "love" :( @saving_alexâ€” Monica Jean (@MonicaJeaninTN) March 8, 2016
Finally, the Siales allowed Cooper to attend a local high school, where she discovered the Gay-Straight Alliance. She was introduced to a Salt Lake City attorney, Paul Burke, who fought for a year to obtain a court order barring her parents from forcing her into reparative therapy.Â Cooper was the first openly gayÂ teenager to win such legal protections in Utah.
Cooper, who now lives as an out lesbian in Portland, Oregon, and is no longer a practicing Mormon, ultimately chose not to prosecute the Siales.Â
â€œAs long as I was sitting in a courtroom looking at them I couldnâ€™t move on with my life, and thatâ€™s what I needed to do,â€ Cooper said of the Siales in an interview with Publishers Weekly.Â
She has also reconciled with her parents, saying she believes they were only doing what they felt was right, and following the tenets of the Mormon faith.Â
"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 told The Salt Lake Tribune.Â
"I don't blame my parents," Cooper told KUTV. "I am able to share my life with them, and it's awesome."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which once conducted shock and vomit aversion therapy on homosexual members at Brigham Young University, no longer advocates so-called "reparative therapy." However, it still teaches that gay sex is sinful, and in November the church unveiled a policy declaring same-sex couples "apostates" and barring their children from being baptized.Â
More than 30 young LGBT Mormons reportedly have committed suicide in the wake of the policy.Â
In response to Cooper's book, the Mormon church issued a statement saying it "denounces any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices," according to KUTV.Â
"We hope those who experience the complex realities of same-sex attraction find compassion and understanding from family members, professional counselors and church members,"Â LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins said. Â
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