Dear Alana is the new podcast exploring the devastating impact of conversion therapy

On the left, a photo of Alana Chen. On the right, the cover of new podcast Dear Alana.

New podcast Dear Alana is exploring the life and tragic death of Alana Chen, a 24-year-old woman who took her life after years of conversion therapy and suppressing her sexuality. 

Warning: this article contains discussion of suicide.

Despite having a profound and traumatic impact on the lives of endless queer people, it still feels like the topic of conversion therapy hasn’t properly been explored in mainstream media.

The abhorrent practice, which refers to attempts to “cure” LGBTQ+ people of their sexuality or gender identity through various methods, remains legal in countries across the globe – including in the UK and the US.

In 2019, residents in Boulder, Colorado, witnessed exactly how the practice can ruin queer people’s lives. Alana Chen disappeared in December 2019, before being found dead a few days later.

Journals left behind by Alana detailed how she was deeply religious and committed to God, with a desire to one day become a nun. Yet, when she was just 14, she confessed to a priest in her church that she was attracted to women.

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According to her journals, he responded by allegedly telling her that it would be a “mortal sin” for her to engage in a queer relationship, and instructed her not to tell her parents. In the seven years that followed, she secretly underwent conversion therapy, which her family believe ultimately led to her suicide.

Church officials denied that so-called conversion therapy took place.

In Dear Alana, an eight-part podcast series from Tenderfoot TV that has just begun streaming, host Simon Kent Fung explores Chen’s life and experiences with religious manipulation, her untimely death, and the prevalence of conversion therapies today. 

Kent Fung also tries to navigate and reflect on his own experiences as someone who underwent conversion therapy for nearly a decade and was “torn apart” by “the struggle” as he attempted to become a priest. 

In a two-minute introductory episode, Kent Fung describes Chen as “a shy girl from Boulder who loved fashion and camping, [who] wanted to be a nun since she was a teenager.”

According to its official synopsis, the Dear Alana podcast series is a story of “teenage rebellion”, “spiritual manipulation” and “the price we pay to belong in the systems that pay no price at all”.

On the Alana Faith Chen Foundation website, which was set up by Chen’s family following her suicide, her family say they want to keep her story alive.

“Alana always said she wanted to write a book about her experience. Her story is meant to be shared, to spark change, and to help anyone suffering from religious abuse and exclusion of any kind know that they are not alone,” the site reads.

Currently, only the first few episodes of the series are available to listen to. In the 32-minute-long first episode, Kent Fung meets Chen’s mother Joyce and sets the scene for how he plans on uncovering what happened to her.

Episode two sees him delve into his own history of wanting to become a priest and the conversion therapy that followed. He also shares the story of how a young Alana Chen met a “controversial priest” who would go on to advise her to become a nun.

More episodes of Dear Alana are expected be uploaded to streaming services in the coming weeks.

Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact the Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). ​Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.

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