By Declan Gooch
On a drizzly Saturday night, as the city’s party hotspots cranked into gear, a small group of people sat silent inside Oxford Street’s Stonewall Hotel to remember those traumatised by so-called gay conversion therapy.
Seventeen kilometres away, in the southern Sydney suburb of Ramsgate, one of Australia’s last remaining ex-gay ministries closed its doors with a special service.
Anthony Venn-Brown, CEO of Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International, organised the Stonewall vigil, which was originally to be held outdoors at Taylor Square until the rain arrived.
He told City News the solemn commemoration was more appropriate than a celebration of Living Waters’ closure.
“We do know that some individuals in these programs have been so tormented about their faith and their sexuality and driven to depression, to attempt suicide,” he said.
“We should be remembering the terrible impact of those things.”
Mr Venn-Brown was once a preacher at some of Sydney’s biggest churches, such as Hillsong. He was also married with children.
But after the agony of going through an ex-gay program and trying to suppress his sexuality, he saw the process for what it was.
“When I came to terms with all of that…I didn’t want one person to live one day in the internal torment that I lived in for 22 years.”
About 20 people attended the vigil, including gay advocates from religious groups – including pastor Mike Hercock of the Surry Hills Baptist Church. He said Living Waters’ closure points to broader issues of equal rights.
“Things like marriage equality are important, because what they do is they put on the agenda legitimacy as a gay person and a gay couple that the church can’t ignore,” said Mr Hercock.
Dr Margaret Mayman, a minister at the Pitt Street Uniting Church, was recently able to marry her partner in New Zealand after its government passed marriage equality legislation.
“We can celebrate that young people are growing up in a different world…and that we need to hold on to those things to give us hope, so that we keep going and do the work that’s still needed,” she said.
A representative from Living Waters Australia did not respond to requests for comment. The ministry is known to have closed its doors due to a declining membership base.