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Just five days after her extended family launched a GoFundMe campaign and lawsuit, a Texas teen named Sarah has been released from the Christian boarding school where she was allegedly sent to “pray the gay away.”
Late Thursday, Heartlight Ministries posted a statement to its website announcing that the girl at the center of the widely publicized #SaveSarah campaign had returned home.
It is disheartening to see that this young woman has had elements of her story made widely public without her consent. The assertion that this teen was held at Heartlight Ministries against her will, or that Heartlight provides any ‘treatment’ services for sexuality identity, are categorically untrue…While this young woman is no longer at Heartlight, should she ever personally choose to return, we would welcome her with open arms.
The teen’s parents also released a statement to the newspaper.
Neither the family nor the Christian facility would confirm whether Sarah had left due to a lawsuit filed by her aunt to get her released. The GoFundMe campaign was created in order to cover attorney’s fees in the case, and raised over $64,ooo in five days.
Also on Thursday, the teen’s cousin Joey Jordan posted an update to the GoFundMe page celebrating Sarah’s return home.
We are understandably excited by today’s developments, and hopeful for what this means for Sarah’s ability to live her life as her true self. And we are hopeful that one day soon all the other LBGT teens out there who face rejection by their families and attempts to “fix” their sexuality will be accepted for who they are.
Another cousin—Supergirl star Jeremy Jordan—had been a major driving factor behind the storm of publicity that rose around the campaign. Jordan tweeted on Thursday, thanking fans for helping to get his cousin released from the boarding school.
The origin story of the campaign to #SaveSarah seems to be split along family lines, with the girl’s mother denying that she was sent to “pray the gay away” while other family members claim the LGBT teen was sent to Heartlight with hopes that her sexuality could be reprogrammed.
According to a Wednesday investigation in the Statesman, the trouble began when Sarah planned to attend prom with her girlfriend and became suicidal after clashing with her parents about the relationship. In a lawsuit examined by the Statesman before court records were sealed earlier this week, harrowing details came to light.
“Days before the girls’ prom last month, Sarah posted on Twitter that her parents had forbidden her from going because they opposed her attending with her girlfriend,” wrote Statesman reporter Elizabeth Findell. “She urged her friends to ‘be ready at all times during prom to form a human wall.’ A week later, she went to Heartlight.”
On the Heartlight Ministries website, a popup containing the statement about #SaveSarah appears with every page click. While the boarding school denied that it offers gay conversion therapy, its approach to counseling LGBT youth is unclear. On a webpage describing the program’s philosophy, Heartlight says only that it “entails a biblical counseling approach.” A second page detailing the program’s spiritual emphasis reveals what appears to be strict adherence to literal interpretations of the Bible.
“We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God,” reads the Heartlight Ministries boarding school statement on spiritual education. “We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost, that they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.”
Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.