PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY, Va.-- Is homosexuality a choice?
That's what 29-year-old Adam Trimmer was taught while growing up in Prince George and attending a Southern Baptist church.
At the age of 17 Trimmer revealed to his mother, Paulette, a closely held secret.
"We were sitting at a stoplight and he said, 'Mom, I have something to tell you,'" Paulette recalled.
Adam told his mother he was gay.
"I looked at him and said, 'Adam, a man shall not lay with another man," she responded. "When he came out to me I quote scripture to him. I did not hug him and I did not tell him I love him."
A year later in college, Adam attempted suicide feeling rejected by his parents and his first love.
While in the hospital recovering, a youth pastor recommended Adam seek help through reparative or conversion therapy.
"Healing from homosexuality, that was the verbiage that was presented to me," Adam explained. "I believed [the pastor] and I was ready to change. He recommended Exodus International."
Since the 1970's, the American Psychiatric Association established homosexuality wasn't a mental disorder.
However, since then multiple religious organizations, like Exodus International, offer conversion therapy to individuals who aim to move from a homosexual to a heterosexual lifestyle.
James Parrish, the executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Virginia in Richmond, has lobbied the General Assembly to ban the controversial practice for years.
"It is fraudulent and it is junk science," Parrish stated. "It is operating under the assumption that there’s something wrong with being gay and there’s nothing wrong with being gay. Unfortunately, some of these parents think they are helping their children, but they’re actually putting kids in harms way."
A bill that would prohibit licensed professionals from performing the therapy on minors was voted down in the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee back in January.
State Sen. Amanda Chase (R-District 11), who represents parts of Chesterfield County, all of Colonial Heights and Amelia County, was one of eight republicans who voted against the bill.
"I don’t think the government should be in the business of restricting free speech and that’s what we are talking about here," Chase said. "If the pastor is also a licensed counselor he should not be afraid of losing his license. We want freedom for all of our constituents we don’t want to shut down that opportunity for help if they want do that."
Chase said she would support a ban on therapy that includes abuse of the patient such as shock or torture therapy.
Currently, 14 states ban conversion therapy for minors.
Jeff Johnston from the religious group Focus on the Family argued those examples are rare and God can help those willing to leave a gay lifestyle.
"I have met dozens and dozens of people who have had deep change and deep transformation and that's why we continue to advocate for their freedom," Johnston stated.
Multiple medical associations warn against the practice explaining it does more harm than good and research shows children who undergo conversion therapy are more likely to commit suicide.
Equality Virginia's Parrish considers all forms of conversion therapy as abuse, which can be harmful to an individual.
"We’ve stood in front of them year in year out and showed the science and the data that this puts kids in danger," he stated.
Adam parents helped raise money to pay for a retreat that taught him he was attracted to men because of an overbearing mother and an emotionally absent father.
"[I was told] your parents are the reason why you’re gay and at that moment I was able to take away the blame that I was placing on myself and put that blame on my parents," he explained.
Adam became distant from his parents.
"They had brainwashed Adam thinking it was my fault that I was a bad mother and his dad was a bad father," Paulette said. "Exodus all about destroyed our relationship. He came home hating me hating, his dad and being so upset with himself."
Adam met a man who promised to help him through connections in the program.
"There was an ex-gay mentor that I went to see for a week in North Carolina where we cuddled in his bed to be straight," he recalled. "Any type of attractions we were supposed to fight so if we felt any type of arousal we had to stop and talk about it. Then we tried to cuddle again and we did that for a week."
A new movie out in theaters called Boy Erased depicts classes to teach boys how to act more straight.
"All that was happening was I was entering a life of suppression," Adam explained.
Exodus International's owner shut down his organization saying he's never seen it work. He also issued a public apology.
However, the practice of conversion therapy is still occurring in Central Virginia.
One organization that Adam sought help through was the Christian ministry, Set Free Richmond, which currently lists its address on Monument Avenue.
"Set Free offers personal consultation, support groups, training, workshops and conferences for strugglers, family and loved ones, and churches looking for real answers to some of life’s most difficult challenges," according to their website.
Acting-Executive Director Bob Perry said in a statement:
We totally disavow conversion therapy 100 percent and do not engage in it ever. We believe God’s love for people is absolute. The individual reaches out to us for help and we reach back. We help if we can and cannot always help. We are not out here trying to make people straight - but help with where they are.
Perry said they work with hundreds of churches along the East Coast and approximately 20 to 30 individuals seek their help each month. That number increases during the holidays.
The licensed minister said it is standard policy to stay away from working with minors, especially if they are unwilling participants.
Paulette Trimmer regrets helping her son attend conversion therapy sessions.
"It’s misleading and conversion therapy can destroy families. That’s not good, that’s not good," she said.
Adam left conversion therapy on his own and is now openly gay. He created the support group Love Actually Won RVA for survivors of conversion therapy.
His mother wishes she told her son that she loved him when he came out to her nearly 10 years ago.
"He knows where I stand with the Bible and that’s not going to change. But my love for my son is not going to change," Paulette stated.