The Juan Morel Campos High School chapter of the national Lambda Literary Book Club hosted a special guest in April. Garrard Conley, author of “Boy Erased” visited the students, who selected his book to read, and it also happened to be his birthday!
“Spent my birthday doing the thing I love most – talking gay stuff w/high school students,” Garrard Conley tweeted.
“Boy Erased” is Conley’s memoir of his experience with a gay conversion therapy program his parents forced him to take as a youth. It was recently made into a film released last fall starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe. During his visit with the Juan Morel Campos students, Conley conveyed his strong hope that churches will discard the prejudice that causes them to reject LGBTQ people. He revealed that he (raised in the Baptist church) and his husband (raised in the Islamic faith) are not accepted by their faiths even though they were raised with God at the center of their lives. “Queer people are not asking you to give up your faith or beliefs in God. We are asking to let us join in that relationship,” a tweet from Lambda Literary Foundation’s LGBTQ Writers in Schools Program that Conley retweeted minutes after he left the students. Conley’s overall message to the kids: you are fine just the way you are — society is what needs to evolve. We need to not translate the bible word for word and take a deeper meaning overall to spirituality and really just need to love one another and look past the sexuality of people.
Blythe Smith has taught for the past 18 years at Juan Morel Campos High School. She brought the Lambda Literary Book Club to the school after she went to a professional development event held last June, which focused on guiding NYC schools to be more inclusive and ‘safe’ spaces for students that identify as LGBTQ. This book club was brought to her attention then, and she applied to open a chapter at the school. Once she got word her application was accepted she put out an open call to the high schoolers. “Boy Erased” was the first book the club chose.
“Through the course of this book club, students have come out (that weren’t out previously to anyone), they’ve shared their own stories of parents not accepting them and giving them ultimatums to change, and most importantly they’ve been heard and accepted by one another and they’re hopeful about their future lives, even if it might entail some negativity along the way. I feel very lucky to have been a part of this group and I hope that this experience has had a lasting impact on this group of students,” said Blythe Smith.