Former Disney Channel star opens up about undergoing conversion therapy on his days off

Matthew Scott Montgomery
Matthew Scott Montgomery Photo: Screenshot

Former Disney Channel actor Matthew Scott Montgomery recently opened up about secretly undergoing so-called “conversion therapy” while appearing in hit kids’ shows like Shake It Up, So Random!, Jessie, and Austin & Ally.

Montgomery first discussed his experience with the harmful and discredited practice on TikTok a few years ago, but on the most recent episode of Christy Carlson Romano’s podcast Vulnerable, he described the circumstances that led him to the bogus “treatment” as well as how he found his way out of it.

“Conversion therapy” has been described as a form of psychological torture, which purports to change queer people’s sexual orientation. The American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and many other professional healthcare associations consider the practice harmful and say that it is based on pseudoscience.

On the September 19 episode of Vulnerable, Montgomery told Romano that he grew up as a queer kid in North Carolina waking up every morning and thinking “Oh no, I’m still alive. What do I do?” He described his parents as “very, very conservative,” and said that he was violently bullied at his private Christian school, where he was taught that “gay people were the most evil thing that could possibly exist.”

After moving to L.A. and getting his start as an actor in the Del Shores play Yellow, he came out to his parents at age 19. Soon after he said that his father told him that he had arranged for Montgomery to undergo “reparative therapy.”

“I was over 18, so I technically went to conversion therapy on my own free will,” Montgomery said. “However, you have to understand in the environment I grew up in you’re taught that you deserve to be punished all the time.”

As his career took off, he began working six days a week for Disney in the early 2010s. But he said that on his days off he was secretly going to “conversion therapy.”

“At the time, the career stuff was going so well that I was still in this broken prison brain of thinking, ‘I’m on red carpets, I’m on TV every week, this is too good. I should be punished on my days off,’” he explained.

Montgomery stressed that the folks at Disney were unaware of his “treatment.” He also claimed that the Christian facility where he was subjected to “conversion therapy” touted itself as a place where aspiring gay actors could be turned straight in an effort to make it in Hollywood. He described a secretive system of waiting rooms designed to conceal clients’ identities. “They didn’t want you to know who the celebrities were going through these doors,” he said.

Montgomery said that the “treatment” began with an approximation of traditional talk therapy. “What they taught there at this place was that there’s no such thing as a gay man; there are straight boys who are born with sensitive artistic temperaments who have emotionally overbearing mothers and emotionally unavailable fathers. And when I experience shame or insecurity, I seek out SSA, which is same-sex attraction and I want the love of a straight man, which I’m never going to get. So, they’re trying to break you of that.”

He described having to do endless worksheets, apologize to his father, and even play football. Eventually, he was subjected to electric shock therapy.

“I would have these silver rods that I’d have to hold in my hands. And they’re really covert and tricky about how they got you to do it. They were like, ‘Today we’re going to try something a little bit different. Just try holding these.’” He said that over several weeks the electric shocks progressed from “light buzzing” to more painful shocks as he was asked to imagine different scenarios. “They would try to build up your tolerance to the electric shocking until it was painful,” Montgomery said.

“Something happened to me one day where I was like, ‘I’m not doing this anymore. I don’t have to be here. There’s nothing wrong with me.’ One day I just kind of woke up.”

He credited acting, particularly in the Del Shore play. “That play Yellow that I did, [my character] was abused for being gay, but then I get adopted by the family next door and they loved me and accepted me, they accepted my character,” he explained. “I think that was the experience that I actually needed, because I got the experience of what it was like to have a family not only love me but celebrate me and really accept me.”

He also said he found acceptance and love with fellow queer Disney stars like Hayley Kiyoko and Demi Lovato. “At that point, I was able to begin to carefully curate a life that was filled with love and art and expression, that was satisfying me and making me so happy in a way that I’d never been before,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh, wait, I don’t deserve to be punished. Life is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be filled with love and joy and I’m so proud of the work I’m doing and the person that I’ve become, and there are these people around me that really love me and celebrate me. I don’t have to do this anymore.’”

Montgomery said that since he first told his story on TikTok, he’s had other male actors approach him to say that they went to the same facility he did. “They understand what it’s like. They’ve been through it, and there are certain side effects you deal with. It’s a lot to mentally unpack,” he explained. “The most important thing that I would say right now is that if you’re watching this or if you’re listening to this and you either have been through ‘conversion therapy’ or are thinking about it or your parents are making you or somebody’s making you, there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s not a thing in the world wrong with you.”

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