In 2019, Lifetime told Alex Cooper’s story via film titled Trapped: The Alex Cooper Story. It told the tale of a lesbian teenager subjected to conversion therapy by her Mormon parents. Cooper was subjected to inhumane torture by a family in St. George, Utah, considered specialists in conversion therapy.
Fortunately, Alex escaped, ending her 8-month ordeal at the hands of the Simms. Alex Cooper is a real person who endured everything depicted in the film and her book Saving Alex. Cooper’s story isn’t unique in the United States, as hundreds of thousands of people undergo conversion therapy to ‘cure’ their queerness.
Alex’s parents surrendered their parental rights to specialists in conversion therapy
Alex’s ordeal started when she came home with a hickey. She hadn’t planned to come out yet, but the hickey forced her to bring forward her revelation. “I told my mom it was from a girl,” Cooper told People. I didn’t fit into the religion being gay, but I didn’t expect my parents’ reaction to be as drastic as it was.”
Her mom kicked her out of their home, and Alex moved in with a friend. Cooper’s parents came for her two weeks later with her bags packed and arranged in the car. They told her she would spend some time with her grandparents.
Cooper figured that her parents needed some time to come to terms with her revelation – but her mother’s constant sobbing in the front seat didn’t make sense. When they arrived at their grandparents’ home in Utah, they got into the car, and her dad kept driving.
After a short drive, they arrived at the Simms’ house. Much to her horror, Alex’s parents and grandparents started unpacking her belongings. It then dawned on her that her family sent her here because she was gay.
“‘Mom, please, don’t leave me here!’ I pleaded,” Cooper wrote on Reader’s Digest. Her pleas fell on deaf ears. She didn’t know that her parents had surrendered their parental rights to the Simms. Cooper wrote:
“That’s when I got angry. “I hate you!” I yelled. My mom, dad, and grandparents gave me a sad look, then turned and left the living room. I heard the front door open and then click closed. Outside, the car engine started. They didn’t even say goodbye.”
Alex’s parents learned about the Simms through her grandparents, who were in the same church ward as the Simms. “My grandparents knew they were practicing conversion therapy and approached them after my parents came to them not knowing what to do [about my being gay],” Cooper told NewNowNext.
Cooper escaped after the Simms threatened to withdraw her from school
The Simms let Cooper know straight away that the community wouldn’t help her escape. About a month into her stay, the torture started. The family explained that gay people got to the telestial kingdom, the Mormon version of hell.
They explained that she wasn’t gay – she simply thought she was gay, and the Simms would help dispel such evil ideas from her mind. Cooper was made to wear a bag filled with rocks until she gave up the identity of her girlfriend in California. She wrote.
“‘Alex,’ she said. ‘This backpack represents the physical burden of being gay. This is what your mind and emotions are putting you through because of the choices you have made. You are going to wear this from the time you wake up until you go to bed every day.’”
The Simms grew impatient with Alex and added another rock to her backpack to increase her pain. Suffering from near-constant pain, Alex surrendered and gave them the information they wanted.
Alex and the other kids formed plans to escape, but they always failed, leading to further divisions between the captives. She cried for help anytime she was allowed outside, but nobody helped, proving that the community supported what the Simms did.
“They [the Simms] got weird pleasure from hurting and torturing children, even their own children,” Alex said. The Simms allowed Alex to attend Snow Canyon High School, where she got introduced to the Gay-Straight Alliance at the school.
The Gay-Straight Alliance introduced her to a lawyer who agreed to represent Cooper pro bono. Unfortunately, Cooper missed class during her meeting with the lawyer.
The Simms learned of her absence and announced that they would pull her out of school and reinstate the backpack punishment. Alex was devastated and resolved to escape her hellish prison.
A Utah judge ruled that Alex was allowed to date whomever she wanted
Alex waited for everyone to fall asleep before slipping away. Thanks to a generous bus driver, she made it to Snow Canyon High School, where she pleaded for help. “‘I’m not going back,’” I blurted out. “‘Not one more day.’”
Child Protective Services showed up and enrolled her in a Youth Crisis Center. The administrators assured her that they wouldn’t allow her to return to the Simms home.
Protected by a court order declaring that she was free to date whomever she wanted, Alex moved in with her grandparents and completed high school. Alex told NewNowNext that she didn’t expect such a ruling from a Utah court:
“Definitely not. Especially in St. George, in southern Utah. But it happened, and it was really thanks to Paul Burke and the NCLR [National Center for Lesbian Rights], which made sure that I’m able to live authentically and freely. My parents also had to go to mandatory PFLAG meetings, and it helped a lot.”
Cooper rebuilt her relationship with her parents, who learned to accept her without giving up their Mormon religion. She told The Queer Review:
“I feel like we have a great relationship. They still practice their religion, but at the same time they want to see me happy and they don’t want me to be out of their lives. They actually just spent their first pride with me.”
Alex went on to date a bishop’s daughter and currently lives with her girlfriend in Portland, Oregon. Cooper regrets that she never reunited with her California girlfriend after her parents sent her to conversion therapy.
Cooper doesn’t resent her parents or grandparents but holds deep contempt for the Simms. She said: “I didn’t blame my parents for what happened, but I do blame the Simms 100%. I try to get over my anger for them—it’s been a lot of years—but I do hate them. I think they’re terrible people.”
She works to end conversion therapy and is an advocate for the queer community
The Simms were forced to stop conversion therapy, but the practice is still common in America. Alex Cooper works for the Human Rights Campaign to try and end the practice.
Cooper has pioneered efforts to make conversion therapy illegal. She told NewNowNext:
“All these laws being passed against conversion therapy are amazing. When I first started talking about it, it was legal in every state. Now it’s legal in 33 states, which is still too many, but it’s a huge amount of progress.”
At the time of writing, 20 states, the District of Columbia, and 100 municipalities have banned conversion therapy on minors. The ban also applies to adults in the District of Columbia.
Due to judicial intervention, attempts to ban conversion therapy in some states have failed. Nevertheless, Alex and others continue to spread awareness about the inhumane procedure and hope to see it criminalized throughout the United States. She said:
“There are so many ways for conversion therapy to go under the radar of the law. If you’re an adult and want conversion therapy, you can do it, but if you’re a parent, you can’t make your child do it. So the more awareness the better.”