Directed by Joel Edgerton, Focus Features’ drama film ‘Boy Erased’ revolves around Jared Eamons, a young gay man who attends Love in Action’s gay conversion therapy assessment program to get converted to a heterosexual. The therapy program is run by Victor Sykes, the director of Love in Action. Victor and the other members of the Christian organization shame Jared and other participants of the program for being queer. The film progresses through Jared’s efforts to escape from Victor and his organization. Intrigued by Victor, we set out to find out whether the character is based on a real person. Well, here’s what we can share about the same!
Is Victor Sykes Based on a Real Person?
Yes, Victor Sykes is based on a real person. The character is based on John J. Smid, the former director of Memphis-based ex-gay ministry Love in Action. He was born in Denver, Colorado. Before joining the evangelical group, Smid was married to a woman and had two daughters with her. In 1979, he separated from his wife upon “deciding” that he was gay. In the late 1980s, he was drawn to the teachings of evangelical Christianity, which led him to Love in Action. He married his second wife in 1988 and became the executive director of Love in Action in 1990.
Smid created and implemented the “Refuge” program at Love in Action, which focused on gay conversion therapy for teenagers. “I hope we can help men and women overcome… mindsets counterproductive to their walk in Christ,” Smid said about conversion therapy in 2005. Garrard Conley, the inspiration behind the film’s protagonist, Jared Eamons, was one of the teenagers who attended Smid’s gay conversion therapy. “‘I had developed an addictive habit of masturbation that carried into my marriage,’ Smid wrote [in a testimony], Garrard wrote about Smid in ‘Boy Erased: A Memoir,’ the source text of the film.
The author added, […] “Rising out of this sin, Smid now believed a higher power had elected him to lead other gays out of their addiction into successful marriages.” Smid resigned from his position at Love in Action in 2008 after reportedly confronting legal issues, public backlash, and internal battles within the organization. The gay conversion therapy program he conceived for Love in Action was discontinued in 2007.
Where is John Smid Now?
After leaving Love in Action, Smid apologized for his involvement in gay conversion therapy at Love in Action. “If you have been wounded by me or harmed through the hands of my leadership, please come to me and allow an opportunity for me to personally apologize with the hope that we can both be released from the bondage of unforgiveness,” he wrote in his website in 2010. “[R]egarding the most highly publicized ‘Refuge Program’ for teens that was held through Love in Action. If I could go back and do anything differently based on what I know today — it would be the Refuge Program… I am very sorry for the ways that Refuge further wounded teens that were already in a very delicate place in life,” he added.
Smid eventually admitted that his conversion therapies didn’t really change someone’s sexual orientation. “The transformation for the vast majority of homosexuals will not include a change of sexual orientation,” Smid admitted, as per Garrard’s book. “As if this is all it takes—Smid’s admitting to the obvious lie he’d sold me and my family —to repair the damages inflicted on all of us,” Garrard wrote about Smid’s words in the source text of the film. In 2012, Smid published a memoir titled ‘Ex’d Out: How I Fired the Shame Committee,” which details his attempts to part ways with the ex-gay community to lead an “authentic life.”
Smid was involved in the making of Morgan Jon Fox’s documentary film ‘This Is What Love in Action Looks Like,’ which revolves around the life of Zach Stark, another teenager who attended Love in Action’s gay conversion therapy. Smid also formed the LGBTQ+-affirming Grace Rivers Ministry and started speaking publicly about the harm of conversion therapy. He divorced his second wife in 2011 and eventually got together with Larry McQueen. They got married in 2014. The couple lived for a long while in Paris, Texas, before announcing that they were moving to Pearcy, a census-designated place in Arkansas, in March 2022. Smid currently works as a furniture maker.
“I believe that due to my former notoriety, my marriage will definitely have its impact,” Smid told Towleroad about his marriage with Larry. “I believe it is encouraging for other former ex-gays, and maybe even those who are still trying to hold on to their ex-gay belief system. We think our relationship reveals something very normal, not strange or deceptive gay stereotypes. We have come to realize that our marriage is very much the same as your average heterosexual marriage,” he added.