INTERVIEW-Film director warns of backlash against U.S. gay conversion bans

by Thomson Reuters Foundation | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 10 September 2019 08:29 GMT

By Michael Taylor

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An American filmmaker, whose latest LGBT+ documentary looks at so-called gay "conversion therapy", has welcomed moves by U.S. states to outlaw the practice for minors but warned of a growing backlash by conservatives seeking courts to overturn such bans.

Daniel Karslake's film "For We Know Not What We Do", being screened at the Hong Kong Lesbian & Gay Film Festival this week, examines transgender people, their families, religion, and conversion therapy.

It is a follow-up to his 2007 documentary "For The Bible Tells Me So" that looked at five religious families who found out they had a lesbian or gay child. It was short-listed for the 2008 Academy Award and translated into 23 languages.

"Much of what is happening in the U.S. is headed in the right direction but there is counterforce that is really gaining power with this current administration," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Tuesday by phone.

"There is a lot of new understanding about conversion therapy that is very positive, but a whole group of people that are digging in their heels and trying to reverse that."

Conversion therapy rests on the belief that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is a mental illness that can be cured. It is widely discredited by medics and in the West.

Malta, Ecuador and Brazil have banned conversion therapy, while Britain, along with parts of Canada and Australia, are mulling bans, according to ILGA, a network of LGBT+ rights groups.

A growing United States movement to ban the therapy, at least for people under 18, is gaining momentum.

Eighteen states have banned conversion therapy for minors, with legislation pending in 21 more, according to Born Perfect, an advocacy group that wants to ban the practice.

Most children are signed up by their parents although many adults also seek treatment on their own.

While Karslake is focused on banning conversion therapy for minors, he also said adults who are trying to change "the way we are made" was an ongoing and important conversation to be had but could be "dangerous and damaging" to the individual.


Karslake, who lives in Berlin with his husband, began looking to make a follow-up documentary after he received renewed threats in 2015 following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in favour of same-sex marriage.

Then in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, the filmmaker said he was shocked by the presidential candidates' debates and the anti-LGBT+ rhetoric.

"It had just been a couple of months since marriage equality had become the law of the land in the U.S. - I started to see this backlash happening," he said.

"It became very clear that marriage equality was the last straw and conservatives were really fighting back at the state level, and having a lot of success."

While Karslake's first film focused on religious families of gay and lesbian children, the new documentary includes transgender people and conversion therapy that uses religion.

It is not a film necessarily made for the LGBT+ community, he said, but for "straight people who are not yet with us".

"You cannot really change minds without changing hearts - so this is a story-based film about family," he said.

"My hope is that people who most need to see the film - who are generally more conservative and religious - see it and are moved by it to think twice about putting their own child in conversion therapy."

Karslake's next film project is about censorship in Hollywood during the 1930s and the influence by the Nazi regime. (Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

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