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'It gets better'

Conversion therapy survivor brings a story of hope to LGBTQ+ youth



Motivational speaker Angel Adams (left) underwent gay-to-straight “conversion therapy” three times.

GREG BOLLINGER

For as long as she can remember, Angel Adams wanted to be a missionary. She began traveling the world doing that work at age 14 after moving to Sand Springs. It became her identity—her passion, her purpose. There was just one problem: Adams was gay.

After more than a decade of global mission work, from the orphanages of Chernobyl to the Philippines and Mexico, she was outed at age 28 and removed from the program. “[My orientation] wasn’t acceptable to them … it was a huge blow,” she said.

Adams was told she would be allowed to continue her work within the church and missionary program on one condition: that she undergo gay-to-straight “conversion therapy.” Desperate to continue her life’s work, Adams went through the excruciating process three times.

“The programs were awful,” Adams said. She had to be away from her family for months at a time. Adams did everything required of her, but she was kicked out of the program anyway. 

Adams was no stranger to hardship. “We grew up super crazy poor—no electricity, no running water, no plumbing. I was 14 the first time I’d ever used a telephone. Our whole house was just one room. We went to the bathroom outside,” she said. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in a million years. I can’t even imagine what life would be, who I would be, without it. But that was the family joke, that I was already a missionary living in those conditions.”

But Adams’ experience in conversion therapy was an altogether different sort of trauma. “I felt like I lost my whole reason for being alive. I remember laying in the floor of my makeshift bedroom crying—crying out, praying—not understanding why things were happening,” Adams said. “I felt like I’d given so much of my life and was a good person. I was like, ‘Where are the people who have gone through this? If I’m supposed to believe in this, in you, in the Bible, your words, where are they? Where is the person that’s supposed to help me through this that’s going to keep me alive?’”

This harrowing experience led to a new mission in Adams’ life. Now, as a motivational speaker, she brings a message of hope and purpose to LGBTQ+ groups across the region. She frequently speaks at schools, and churches when they’ll have her.

In many ways, Adams’ work as a motivational speaker is an extension of her past life as a missionary. “We were all about helping people, giving them hope that there are better things ahead,” she said. “Everyone is constantly going through something, but it turns around. It’s not permanent.”

So-called conversion or reparative therapy represents what the Human Rights Campaign calls “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” Many states have banned the harmful practice, which can lead to suicide, but Oklahoma isn’t one of them.

The discredited “therapy” has been in the headlines recently, as McKrae Game—founder of the faith-based conversion program, Hope for Wholeness Network—came out as gay, warning against the dangers of the practice.  “It’s all in my past, but way too many continue believing there is something wrong with themselves and wrong with people who choose to live their lives honestly and open as gay, lesbian, trans, etc.,” Game wrote on Facebook. “The very harmful cycle of self-shame and condemnation has to stop.”

For Adams, ending that harmful cycle was a matter of self preservation. “I’m gay. That’s just the way I am,” she said. “I would have ended up dying if I kept trying to do all that stuff.”    

When thinking about her third and final experience at a conversion program, she’s reminded of a Bible passage in Ecclesiastes. “It says that there’s nothing new under the sun. Everyone—someone, somewhere—has gone through something similar to you.”

Adams was angry, but she turned that anger into hope. It inspired her to make connections and help others find the will to carry on during their own darkest moments. “I decided maybe that’s my purpose now, to bring people together. To let people know: Someone has gone through this. You’re not alone. You can make it. This is temporary. I want to connect people. They don’t have to be Christian or believe in anything except for themselves—and hope.” 

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