It’s Pride month in the United States, and while celebrations of diversity and inclusion are underway, many in the LGBTQIA+ community are struggling with a very dark and troubling past. For some community members, there is pain lurking below the surface, a pain that exists because of a practice widely known as conversion therapy. This form of torture is as much a threat to youth in America today as it has been for the last century. The ‘Troubled Teen Industry’ has been keeping this method of ‘therapy’ nestled tightly under its umbrella of programs, aimed at profiting off of some of our most vulnerable youth.

In the year,1899, Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, a German psychiatrist, made the first public claim to have allegedly cured, a homosexual man of his sexual orientation. Shrenck-Notzing came to this conclusion, through a series of forced heterosexual encounters, electric shocks, and intense sessions of hypnosis. Conversion therapy was touted as a successful treatment over the course of the twentieth century, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Not only do these “treatments’‘  prove to be harmful and ineffective, there are numerous studies that show how such practices have created long term, negative psychological and physiological effects. In addition, many of these practices were carried out and tested on the BIPOC community before being predominantly used on the white, upper class in the early trials of the 1900’s. Conversion therapy has since been proven to be a pseudoscience, however legislation on this topic is still a state-by-state decision in the United States. Despite these recent bans, conversion therapy already had infultrated the work of both medical practitioners and religious facilities for close to a century, which ultimately became the precursor to its applications within the ‘Troubled Teen Industry.’

The ‘Troubled Teen Industry’ has a long and storied history of abuse, operating as an entire multifaceted system, luring in parents with grand promises they ultimately fall short of delivering. 

“Bad things started happening to me and I saw how the staff responded,” Grant G. said in an interview with Breaking Code Silence. “I realized that I had no allies and that no one was coming to rescue me. You are a walking target for sex abuse as a young gay person in a program.”

Grant’s parents were told that Spring Creek Lodge Academy had the necessary tools to help “fix” their son. As an LGBTQIA+ child, Grant had already faced adversity within his family, schoolmates, and neighbors, yet now he found himself locked in a camp with no access to properly report the abuse he would endure over the course of his stay in Montana, an entire 12 months. 

“I attended weekly private ‘therapy’ sessions with Ellen Talboom, overseen by Mickey Manning. These women knew more about me than anyone else on staff. There was a strong emphasis on how I identified, and whether or not I may be transgender.” It is important to note that Grant does not identify as transgender. “I was treated differently because of my sexuality, and I was told my life and my time at the program would greatly improve if I changed my ‘behavior.’ I wasn’t capable of hiding my authentic self and was instead labeled stubborn and resisting the treatment.”

“Jim was the staff in charge of the Jr. Staff, he openly referred to me as a ‘sissy faggot’ which set the tone for how the other students would treat me.” Grant explained that to this day he still struggles with the effects of this, almost 15 years later. “I don’t think they (parents) fully understand the scope of my experience at SCLA. It’s difficult when the trauma is not fully validated.”

Spring Creek Lodge Academy was shut down in 2009 after a number of human rights complaints, allegations of abuse and neglect, lawsuits, and suicides caused a large decline in enrollment. That, however, didn’t stop those who had been operating the program from opening a number of other small satellite facilities across Montana, including some by Mickey Manning. This trend of shutting down and reopening has been consistent among the many facilities that have faced a similar fate, making it hard for prospective families to fully understand the history of abuse that owners have left behind.

Going undercover as a prospective parent, Breaking Code Silence got on a phone call with Tyler O., one the former Directors of Spring Creek Lodge Academy, who has since opened his own facility, as well as an unnamed female representative from a company formerly called ‘Teen Recovery’, a service that was paid by the TTI facilities to funnel kids into their programs. We asked them point blank if they could help turn our child ‘straight,’ their response: “That’s absolutely something we deal with every day. We can help you.”

They then went on to offer us “$3,000 off the monthly tuition” which is usually $6,000 per month. These facilities are part of a billion-dollar industry in America and they continue to profit off of gullible parents, and vulnerable youth. Currently only 20 U.S. States have made conversion therapy illegal. However, facilities within the ‘troubled teen industry’ create a loophole to this ban by offering services labeled as “behavioral modification”, “wilderness therapy”, or “boot camps.” These unregulated programs act as a breeding ground for neglect, abuse, and hate crimes that at times are specifically targeted at LGBTQIA+ youth.

A number of studies have been done on the long term affects of conversion therapy and have shown an increase in “anger, anxiety, confusion, depression, grief, guilt, hopelessness, deteriorated relationships with family, loss of social support, loss of faith, poor self-image, social isolation, intimacy difficulties, intrusive imagery, suicidal ideation, self-hatred, and sexual dysfunction.”

Breaking Code Silence has been fighting to end the ‘troubled teen industry’ by fighting for the rights of all children in congregate care, and this includes children in the LGBTQIA+ community. Gay rights are human rights, and through advocacy, awareness, legislation, and research, Breaking Code Silence is taking a compound and comprehensive approach to engaging the public in conversations that will in turn end this hidden system of child abuse that is rampant in America. With over 1,000 residential treatment facilities in operation today, the fight to end this abuse has only just begun.

The learn more about Breaking Code Silence and hear about how you can get involved click here

If you are in an urgent situation and need help call 911.
If you are having suicidal feelings call toll-free 1-800-273-8255. or text HOME to 741741
If you are LGBTQ and in need of support call the Trevor Project hotline 1-866-488-7386.
If you are a child being abused or know of a child being abused, please call 1-800-422-4453.