"And I knew who I am was not going to change": Mathew Shurka's powerful speech against conversion therapy at the 2018 GLAAD Gala San Francisco

Speaking before hundreds at the 2018 GLAAD Gala San Francisco, activist and co-founder of Born Perfect Mathew Shurka recounted a heart wrenching history of his experience with conversion therapy.

After attempting to come out to his father at the age of sixteen, he was introduced to a so-called “conversion therapist.” From being told to act like a boy to being barred from any perceived sources of effeminate behavior, Shurka suffered; for three years, he wasn’t even allowed to talk to his mother or sisters. “What I couldn’t escape from was how much I was suffering,” explained Shurka. “I was failing in school, I was lacking in my mother's love, and for two years I was contemplating suicide. I knew that I was gay. And I knew who I am was not going to change.”

According to the Williams Institute, an estimated 698,000 LGBTQ people have gone through a similar experience as Shurka’s. Despite major medical associations, including the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization, denouncing the practice as scientifically invalid and unethical, conversion therapy continues to be a widespread problem in the United States. In addition to being ineffective, conversion therapy has been associated with depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

Finding support in friends, mentors, and openly-LGBTQ individuals, Shurka was able to accept himself. He said, “I spent a decade of my life going through and undoing the harms of conversion therapy.”

As a survivor of conversion therapy, he became determined to help other LGBTQ people going through similar experiences. In 2014, Shurka joined the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) to co-found the Born Perfect campaign. Seeking to protect LGBTQ youth from the harms of conversion therapy, the campaign has been working diligently with lawmakers to pass legislation banning this dangerous practice. GLAAD is now working with Born Perfect on a campaign to raise awarenes for the harms caused by conversion therapy.

Shurka has been a leader in this movement, sharing his story and highlighting the dangers of this practice. “I testified in ten state hearings and met with over a hundred state legislators in this year alone,” Shurka announced. “Five states have passed bills to ban conversion therapy since January, bringing the total number of states protecting LGBTQ youth from converison therapy to 14.” 

Mathew Shurka, Alyson Stoner, and Alyssa Milano at the 2018 San Francisco Gala

GLAAD and Shurka have also served as advisors on conversion therapy for major motion pictures on the subject, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which was released last August, and Boy Erased, which will be released this upcoming November. He believes that these films will change the national conversation and show realities of this dangerous and ineffective practice. “My personal promise is to end conversion therapy,” he said at the end of his inspiring speech. “I know we will succeed.”

Emmy Award-winning comedian Leslie Jordan, star of the upcoming new FOX sitcom The Cool Kids, hosted the 2018 GLAAD Gala San Francisco. The ceremony featured a fun performance by transgender pop sensation Kim Petras. RuPaul’s Drag Race judge Ross Mathews was honored with the Davidson/Valenti Award, presented by longtime friend and Drag Race co-judge, Michelle Visage. Veteran journalist and Afropunk Chief Content Officer, Emil Wilbekin, was also honored with the Ric Weiland Award for growing LGBTQ inclusion in tech. Actresses Mj Rodriguez and Josie Totah also appeared during the show. 

The GLAAD Gala San Francisco celebrates and features storytellers and tech innovators who accelerate LGBTQ acceptance. The GLAAD Gala San Francisco is presented by Gilead, Ketel One Family-Made Vodka, and Wells Fargo. The evening also featured a special message from Olympic medalist Adam Rippon talking about Ketel One Family-Made Vodka’s commitment to the LGBTQ community, quality, and the importance of family, as well as its eight-year partnership with GLAAD.