LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Aaron Aupperle

AaronAupperlePhoto.jpg

Title

LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Aaron Aupperle

Subject

Queer Omaha Archives
Sexual minorities -- Nebraska -- Omaha
Interviews
Oral Histories (document genre)

Description

Click here to access the interview, LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Aaron Aupperle

Mr. Aaron Aupperle, conversion therapy survivor and LGBTQ+ advocate, was interviewed by Luke Wegener on May 1, 2019 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Aupperle shared information about his upbringing in Lincoln, Nebraska, surviving abuse and bullying as a child, being raised Christ Lutheran Missouri Synod, attending ex-gay ministry Love In Action's residential treatment program, his portrayal in the movie Boy Erased, his work at Lincoln's Bryan East Hospital, and his advocacy to ban conversion therapy.

Biographical Sketch 

Mr. Aaron Aupperle, born in Lincoln, Nebraska, is a white, gay man, LGBTQ+ advocate, and conversion therapy survivor. Aupperle grew up in Lincoln in the 1970’s and 1980’s, attending Hawthorne ElementaryLefler Middle School, and Lincoln High School (1989-1993). After graduating high school, Aupperle took classes at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln from 1993-1994, Southeast Community College from 2005-2010, and graduated with his BA in Liberal Arts from Doane College in 2015. 

As a child, Aupperle was raised Christ Lutheran Missouri Synod, a conservative religion that considers homosexuality a sin. After coming out to his parents in the early 1990’s and his father’s subsequent death, Aupperle began seeing a Christian counselor at the request of his mother. Additionally, Aupperle found a support group for those struggling with their sexuality, and its leader recommended Love in Action, one of the largest and oldest ex-gay ministries in the world and part of ex-gay umbrella organization Exodus International. 

In both 1995 and 1998, Aupperle traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to attend residential gay conversion programs run by Love in Action. During his second stay, a “mock funeral” was staged for Aupperle after he violated camp rules by having a sexual relationship with a coworker. This traumatic experience was portrayed in the 2018 film Boy Erased, based on the memoir by conversion therapy survivor Garrard Conley. In the movie, fictional character “Cameron,” who is loosely based on Aupperleendures the mock funeral scene, which is an exaggerated version of Aupperle’s real life experience at Love in Action. 

Since 2000, Aupperle has worked for Lincoln’s Bryan East Hospital, both as a Radiology Film Librarian (2000-2013) and Distribution Specialist (2013-present). In recent years, Aupperle has used his experience at Love in Action to speak about the harm of conversion therapy and advocate for LGBTQ+ affirming causes. Aupperle introduced Boy Erased at Film Streams movie theater in Omaha in November 2018, after attending the movie’s premiere a month earlier in New York City. In fall  2018, Aupperle was also featured as a guest on the podcast UnErased: The History of Conversion Therapy in America. 

In February 2019, Aupperle testified at the Nebraska State Legislature in support of Senator Megan Hunt’s Legislative Bill 167, which aims to restrict conversion therapy in the state. Aupperle was the keynote speaker for Lincoln Star City Pride’s Stellar Legacy Dinner held in April 2019. 

As of May 2019, Aupperle lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.  

Interview Summary 

Mr. Aaron Aupperle, conversion therapy survivor and LGBTQ+ advocate, was interviewed by Luke Wegener on May 1, 2019 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Aupperle was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in the mid-1970's and grew up with three older sisters. By the time he entered junior high at Lefler Middle School, Aupperle knew he was gay, but did not have a label for his feelings. Aupperle was seen as “feminine” by his classmates and was relentlessly bullied during his 8th grade year. He felt isolated, alone, and went through a major episode of depression.  

At home, Aupperle dealt with a verbally abusive father and generally unsupportive home atmosphere. Raised in the conservative Christ Lutheran Missouri Synod church, Aupperle's family considered homosexuality a sin. After his mothered discovered romantic letters from another boy while cleaning his room, Aupperle officially came out to both of his parents in 1993 at age 17. At his mother’s request, Aupperle began seeing a Christian counselor and attending a support group for those struggling with their sexuality. The leader of that group, vocal ex-gay supporter Gordon Opp, recommended that Aupperle attend Love in Action, one of the largest and oldest ex-gay ministries in the world and part of ex-gay umbrella organization Exodus International. 

In both 1995 and 1998, Aupperle traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to attend residential gay conversion programs run by Love in Action. Not sure what to expect, Aupperle imagined the experience would be more like the MTV reality show The Real WorldAupperle initially agreed to attend the program because of his reckless and sexually compulsive behavior, which he was told was linked to him being gay. He believed that if he was “cured” of his homosexuality, the sex addiction would follow. However, of the five “levels” participants were expected to move through, Aupperle never moved beyond the first. 

Aupperle’s first experience at the program in 1995 was markedly different than his second, as it was a “transition” year for the organization. When he returned in 1998, Aupperle experienced a nervous breakdown upon entering campus grounds and almost left, but was coached by Executive Director of Love in Action, John Smid, to stay. At the time of his second stay, the program was much stricter and more frightening to Aupperle. During this stay, a “mock funeral” was staged for Aupperle after it was discovered that he violated camp rules by having a sexual relationship with a coworker. Staff made Aupperle lie on a table while program members delivered eulogies meant to shame and scare him. This traumatic experience was portrayed in the 2018 film Boy Erased, based on the memoir by conversion therapy survivor Garrard Conley. In the movie, fictional character “Cameron,” who is loosely based on Aupperleendures the mock funeral scene, which is an exaggerated version of Aupperle’s real life experience at Love in Action. 

Since 2000, Aupperle has worked for Lincoln’s Bryan East Hospital, both as a Radiology Film Librarian (2000-2013) and Distribution Specialist (2013-present). In recent years, Aupperle has used his experience at Love in Action to speak about the harm of conversion therapy and advocate for LGBTQ+ affirming causes. Aupperle introduced Boy Erased at Film Streams movie theater in Omaha in November 2018, after attending the movie’s premiere a month earlier in New York City. In fall of 2018, Aupperle was also featured as a guest on the podcast UnErased: The History of Conversion Therapy in America. 

In February 2019, Aupperle testified at the Nebraska State Legislature in support of Senator Megan Hunt’s Legislative Bill 167, which aims to restrict conversion therapy in the state. Aupperle was the keynote speaker for Lincoln Star City Pride’s Stellar Legacy Dinner, held in April 2019. 

As of May 2019, Aupperle lives in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

In this interview, Aupperle also discusses his struggles with self-esteem and shame since his time at Love in Action, his relationship with a former long-term partner, and his dreams for the future. 

Interview Notes

Trigger warning for domestic violence.

A cat can be briefly heard in the background.

Creator

Luke Wegener

Publisher

University of Nebraska at Omaha Libraries

Date

2019 May 1

Relation

LGBTQ+ Oral History Collection finding aid available at https://archives.nebraska.edu/repositories/4/resources/604

Format

mp3

Language

English

Type

audio

Identifier

UNO-0240_Aaron-Aupperle

Interviewer

Luke Wegener

Interviewee

Aaron Aupperle

Duration

1:25:13

Citation

Luke Wegener, “LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Aaron Aupperle,” Omaha Stories: Oral Histories of Omaha, Nebraska, accessed October 17, 2021, https://omahastories.omeka.net/items/show/275.

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