LGBTQ+ activist Sam Brinton brings conversion therapy fight to Beloit
Sam Brinton is an MIT graduate, nuclear energy advisor for President Donald Trump and Congress, and an LGBTQ+ activist leading the battle against conversion therapy.
On Thursday, March 16, Beloit College’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance hosted Sam Brinton (who prefers “they/them” pronouns) in Mayer Hall to discuss their own experience as a conversion therapy survivor and how they’re now working to make conversion therapy illegal.
Survivors are often silent about their experience, which is why Brinton wanted to share their own story. Standing tall in bright red, glittery platform heels they “wanted to put a very glittery face on [the audience’s] ideas about conversion therapy.”
Brinton was raised in, what they described as, a “typical family.”
“We were atypical in the sense that we were Southern Baptist missionaries,” they described. Brinton’s family moved a lot throughout their childhood but it was when they were living in a commune in Florida that they happened upon a Playboy magazine. Sam was proud of being unaffected by the magazine and mistook this for sanctity. While telling their father about how “righteous” they were, they did admit that they sometimes had less-than-holy thoughts about their male friend.
“Next thing I know, I was waking up in the E.R.”
Brinton’s father had knocked them out cold. It would not be the first time their father beat them hard enough to land them in a hospital. But after some time, when this didn’t seem to work, Brinton’s mother would suggest trying something else.
What followed was “a very traumatic part of my life,” Brinton said.
“One of the first things I was told was that I was the last gay person on Earth,” they recall. “I was told that the government had come through and killed every single gay person” and that the government had done this because “gay people brought AIDS to America.”
But, the most painful thing they were told was that they were an “abomination” and that God hated them. “The one constant in my life was that God loved me and now He didn’t,” they explained.
Following this, Brinton would undergo months of therapy where photos of men were associated with pain including freezing, burning and electroshock.
It wouldn’t be until they were an undergraduate at Kansas State University that they would meet another gay person and realize they were not the last gay person on Earth. “All of a sudden I wasn’t alone,” they said.
Sam would go on to receive their master’s degree in nuclear engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was a nuclear energy advisor for former President Barack Obama and is currently still an advisor for President Trump.
They have also spoken at the United Nations, where they spoke about how the U.S. government “had failed me” and was still failing thousands of children around the country.
“Hundreds of centers” are still advertising conversion therapy and “thousands of children every year” undergo conversion therapy which is still legal in many states.
“The problem is that people think it doesn’t happen anymore,” Brinton explained.
Brinton’s goal is to “put the conversion therapy industry out of business.” To do this, Brinton established the #50Bills50states campaign. The goal is to have every single state submit legislation to ban conversion therapy. It’s not a campaign hoping to have every single state pass legislation because they recognize that this is unlikely to happen, but it is a campaign hoping “to protect LGBT youth from conversion therapy because if you see a state is debating whether it should even be legal, you’re gonna think twice [about putting your child through it],” they said.
Since the start of the campaign California, New Jersey, Washington D.C, Oregon, Illinois and Vermont have all made conversion therapy illegal. Licensed professionals cannot engage in sexual orientation change efforts for anyone under 18 and any efforts are considered illegal.
Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and West Virginia have all introduced legislation to ban conversion therapy.
Brinton also announced to the audience that Wisconsin would be introducing legislation to ban conversion therapy within a week and half.
At the end of their talk, Brinton urged audience members to do a few things. “This is your homework,” they said. “Just talk to three people about the issue.” Silence is not acceptable, they argued.
They also asked audience members to post about #50Bills50States and #BornPerfect, another campaign leading on a variety of issues to end conversion therapy, within 24 hours. Brinton also told students to “write an op-ed for your student paper” and recommended that everyone should “please thank your legislator” because “legislators needs to know they’re going to be supported” recognizing that legislation like the kind they’re trying to pass is not often popular.
While Brinton recognizes that they can’t stop a pastor or parents from forcing their kids to go through the very painful experience of conversion therapy they can do their best to make sure a licensed therapist is no longer able to put a child through it. In the end, Brinton just hopes that the “next generation will not have to deal with this problem.”