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New book details LDS teen's 'humiliating' gay conversion therapy in Utah

Courtesy: Alex Cooper

(KUTV) Alex Cooper's memories of standing against a wall -- wearing a backpack full of rocks -- are still fresh.

"I did not know how many hours I had been standing there, quietly trying to manage the pain by shifting my weight from foot to foot," the 21-year-old writes in her new book, "Saving Alex," published this month.

The book details Cooper's eight-month long experience with conversion therapy at a house in St. George. Her LDS parents sent her there in 2010 after she came out as gay.

"Your family doesn't want you. God has no place for people like you in His plan," she remembers the couple who lived at the house telling her as she stood at the wall.

Cooper said the couple told her multiple times she was there because she was gay, and the husband-and-wife duo was trying to change her sexuality.

It's a practice Cooper, who was raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, describes as "exhausting and humiliating." She said it needs to stop.

"It's like sending you to therapy to change your eye color," she said in an interview Tuesday with 2News after a speech at Weber State University. "It's not going to work. What it's going to do is damage you."

During her time at the house, Cooper writes, she attempted suicide once and tried to escape several times -- always with dire consequences. In one case, she said, the man who lived at the home quickly punished her.

"I came to my feet in front of him," Cooper writes. "He made a fist and punched me in the gut, knocking the wind out of me. I doubled over and choked for breath."

Eventually, the teen was allowed to attend Snow Canyon High School and, through a fellow gay student, was put in touch with Salt Lake attorney Paul C. Burke.

"When she first called me, I was floored," Burke said.

Over the next year, Burke represented Cooper in the juvenile court system, eventually helping her win the right to live as an openly gay teenager.

"The court order allowed Alex to live her life authentically," said Burke. "It allowed her to rebuild her relationship with her parents."

Recently, Cooper said, her mother apologized.

"They thought they were doing the best thing for me," said Cooper. "I think that's what a lot of parents are under the impression of, that they're doing the best thing for their child."

She and her lawyer said they're pushing for states -- such as Utah -- to outlaw gay conversion therapy. Several states already ban it for minors.

Cooper said she is no longer a practicing member of the Mormon faith. 2News asked the church about its stance on conversion therapy.

"The Church denounces any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices," said LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins.

"We hope those who experience the complex realities of same-sex attraction find compassion and understanding from family members, professional counselors and church members."

Follow Daniel Woodruff on Twitter @danielmwoodruff for breaking news, updates and more.

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