On Monday, 24-year-old Alana Chen was found dead near the Boulder County foothills in Colorado, presumably the result of suicide.
While more specifics have not yet been released to the public, Chen made news a couple of months ago when she spoke to the Denver Post about the trauma that results from gay conversion therapy. Colorado recently banned such treatment for minors — any professionals caught offering conversion torture treatments would lose their licenses — but there was an exemption in the law for faith-based counselors.
Chen had come out in high school, about a decade ago, and she told the newspaper that the priest at her Catholic church told her “not to tell her parents.” I guess the fear was that they might accept her instead of demanding that she undergo conversion therapy. He continued to “counsel” her throughout high school. She later receiving more anti-LGBTQ counseling from the church and Catholic Charities’ Sacred Heart Counseling.
“I felt a lot of shame and anxiety,” Chen said. “I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Was I going to hell? But I was still extremely faithful, and I felt like the church and the counseling was the thing that was saving me. The worse I got, the more I clung to it.”
Chen wound up in a psychiatric hospital in 2016 after her family found scars on her arms from selfharming. She distanced herself from the church, stopped attending CU Boulder and started longterm mental health treatment.
“I think the church’s counsel is what led me to be hospitalized,” said Chen, now 23 and going to college in Arizona. “I was feeling so much shame that I was comforted by the thought of hurting myself. I’ve now basically completely lost my faith. I don’t know what I believe about God, but I think if there is a God, he doesn’t need me talking to him anymore.“
It’s possible — though it hasn’t been confirmed — that she felt there was no way to reconcile her sexual orientation with the anti-gay threats constantly made by religious leaders. Her choices were never acting on her feelings and desires… or getting tortured in Hell.
These stories aren’t going to go away as long as religious organizations — evangelical megachurches, Southern Baptists, the Catholic Church, etc — continue pushing this fiction that there’s something existentially wrong with pursuing a same-sex relationship.
What’s another dead LGBTQ person to them as long as they get to keep demonizing gays and lesbians, blocking trans people from using public bathrooms, and voting for people who oppose LGBTQ rights? It’s a trade-off religious institutions are apparently perfectly happy to make.
Religion ruined Alana Chen’s life, possibly to the point where she decided to end it.
There are so many people out there who would have embraced her and loved her and accepted her. Maybe she knew that. But it’s also possible that none of the outlets available to her were enough to overcome a lifetime of religious indoctrination.
There’s a memorial fund for Chen in case you’d like to make a donation.
(Thanks to Eddie for the link)