I have been monitoring ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy leaders,organisations and activities for nearly two decades. I’ve seen, heard and experienced a lot in that time.
- Do people get help from ex-gay/reparative/conversion ministries?
- Has anyone suicided because of an ex-gay/reparative/conversion program?
- What is your attitude towards ‘former’ homosexuals who get married?
- Why are you so committed to seeing all ex-gay/reparative/conversion organisations close in Australia?
- Aren’t you working against freedom of choice and speech?
- Do you hate ex-gay leaders? It appears you attack them.
- Are you glad to see “ex-gay” leaders “fall”?
Previously these people and organisations went pretty much unchallenged regarding their claims, concepts and practices. Indeed, when these organisations were founded (Exodus commenced in 1976), they were essentially aligned with much of what society thought about homosexuality. At that time, in most western countries, it was illegal for two people of the same gender to have an emotional/physical relationship. Even though homosexuality had been de-classified as a mental illness in 1973, societal attitudes had not shifted significantly. Christian ministries took on what mental health professionals decided to leave alone (page 4).
Having struggled myself for over 22 years to come to terms with my sexual orientation promised on many occasions that God could change me to straight and lived with the false hope, I determined that I would do all I could to ensure that others had a different experience.
“I don’t want one person to live one day in the unnecessary internal torment I lived in for 22 years”. Anthony Venn-Brown
Challenging ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy concepts and holding leaders and organisations accountable has not come without a degree misunderstanding, criticism and even hostility.
Case in point below.
In the comments section of The Saturday Paper article Australia’s anti-gay churches shift focus to Asia Pacific, PeterSalt12 wrote (click here to read comment online)
“A V-B, before denouncing those who try to help people who want out. Just because you failed to resist the temptations and gave to them does not mean it is impossible. That impossible message you and others promote is what causes many to suicide. It is not the message of hope and the help Ron Brookman and Shirley Baskett and others have given so many over the years. You claim you were born that way – for which there is NO scientific, genetic, or medical evidence whatsoever, – and you know it. Which is why you protest so much against those who tell the truth and who try to help others.
“You should apologize to everyone you have campaigned against, or assisted to campaign against, who help people deal with unwanted same-sex attraction, Anthony, not just Ron Brookman. You won’t accept that anyone can overcome their homosexual feelings – you suggest they are just hiding from them as I understand you did to Ron. You have done it again on this page by stating “And those that choose straight marriage as the final solution are left with not only their own trauma to deal with but the devastation their hope created in the lives of others.” That is so unkind to the many who have successfully beaten something you could not. Failure by one person to give up smoking does not mean that everyone who does is really hiding behind something, any more than someone who marries after sorting out the sexual part of their brain. You just can’t accept that people like Ron can really turn their lives around because it reminds you that you have failed do so.
This would be a good time to make sure that people REALLY understand my beliefs and intentions and to answer the common questions I am asked.
Do people get help from ex-gay/reparative/conversion ministries?
Of course they do, there is no denying that. Some even say they saved them from suicide.
Imagine this for a moment. You are a young person in a church, you have a Christian family, your life revolves around church, and all your friends are Christians. You may even go to a Christian school.
What have you heard about homosexuality and gay people?
- “It’s an abomination”
- “God hates their ‘sin’, but loves the sinner”
- “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”
- “Homosexuals have an agenda to destroy God’s blueprint for society by destroying the traditional family model”
- “All homosexuals live a debauched ‘lifestyle’ of endless sexual encounters, drugs etc”.
Then you begin to become aware of your attraction to the same gender. That means you ‘might’ be gay. You may have dabbled. You might have gone online and found gay porn. You are tormented and there is so much shame attached to this that you daren’t tell anyone. It’s your dark secret. But not with God. You pray. You pray with every bit of faith you can muster over and over again for God to change you but it doesn’t go away. You ask for forgiveness over and over again and promise God it will never happen again. You plead and bargain with God saying things like “If you deliver me from this then I will dedicate my whole life to your service”. But nothing changes.
Because you haven’t been able to overcome this yourself, you look elsewhere for answers. You discover that there are Christian organisations that help people like yourself with ‘unwanted same sex attractions’. You pluck up the courage to make contact via email or a phone call. Or even more dangerous, you find an online course that promises “Freedom from the bondage of homosexuality” They tell you they can help. In fact, they tell you that they also used to be gay but now they are married and have children. And not only them but 1,000’s have. They remind you “heterosexuality is not the goal“. …..but it’s your goal and the reason why you took the courageous step to reach out for help. So you ignore the advice and focus on the fact that they are married with children just like YOU want. After all, who would want to be a “homosexual”, it’s not “natural”? At last, possibly in years, hope returns. Finally, you have someone to talk to about this. Someone who will support you in your ‘struggle’. The relief is enormous. I remember vividly what that feeling was like. But it’s
Has anyone suicided because of an ex-gay/reparative/conversion program?
Simple answer NO. Before a person gets involved in these ministries, either through one on one counselling, group meetings or conferences they have already been on quite a journey. No Christian person wakes up one day and says, “I have same sex attractions I’ll head of the nearest ex-gay organisation immediately”. As mentioned above this has been their dark secret and struggle for some time. The pattern of self-hatred and self-loathing is already established. The gay self is the dark self that must be destroyed. The problem that arises now is that this becomes an even stronger focus and the cognitive dissonance increases. The conflict between their faith and sexuality in now paramount and MUST be overcome. So to answer the question. These organisations don’t cause suicide but contribute and at times magnify its potential. This can happen not only during the program but more likely afterwards. On top of years of negative conditioning about yourself, then focusing totally on your homosexuality for a few months, or years, you leave the program/counselling unchanged. You now have more to deal with; a reinforced sense of shame and failure because you’ve been constantly reminded that others like Sy Rogers have “changed”. You believe that you are a really bad and weak individual because you haven’t overcome your “same sex attractions”.
All these experiences above do not contribute to a healthy sense of well being. In fact, totally the opposite. Depression and other mental issues develop. We will actually never be able to count the cost this has had on individuals or how many have actually been lost through suicide.
What is your attitude towards ‘former’ homosexuals who get married?
I wish them well. It’s their life and their choice and I have to respect that choice, as I would expect them to respect mine to live as an out and proud gay man. I have seen a few of these marriages work. But only with complete honesty. On the outside, they appear to work. I have no idea what goes on in the home or bedroom. Nor do I want to know. It’s none of my business. If ever I was asked by someone if I’d encourage or recommend it, the answer of course would be no. History tells us very few mixed orientation marriages are sustainable lifelong. Is the other partner aware of what challenges lie ahead for them marrying a partner with “same sex attractions”?.
Why are you so committed to seeing all ex-gay/reparative/conversion organisations close in Australia?
Even if I didn’t have this goal then it would happen anyway. I am just one of the people who have spoken up about the harm these organisations have caused. In addition, number and impact wise, these organisations are diminishing. Considering societies acceptance of gay relationships, the number of people who have gay family members and friends they love, the exponential growth of the gay Christian movement and the increasing number of affirming churches, the ex-gay/reparative/conversion organisations message “you are broken and God can heal you” is becoming increasingly irrelevant.
I blame my autobiography for creating this mission. Since 2004, when “A Life of Unlearning” was released, I have been the first contact point for 1,000’s of LGBT people from Christian backgrounds. Many of those had been impacted by the ex-gay philosophy “homosexuality is a sin, you are broken, God can heal/change you”. It’s a like my inbox became a microscope into a hidden world as many isolated and alienated people found someone they relate to; often for the first time. This was also one reason why we founded Freedom2b and I dedicate 6 years of service to developing it. I would challenge anyone to sit down and read the 100’s of emails I have received and not be deeply moved by the pain, harm and regrets many of these people have. Having discovered the harm and suffering of so many individuals, it would have been inhumane and irresponsible for me to sit back and do nothing. Whilst there are stories out there of ‘change’, very few ex-gay leaders have been exposed to the vast numbers of stories like this. Alan Chambers, former president of Exodus listened and then apologised to the LGBT community.
Aren’t you working against freedom of choice and speech?
Actually, I am working for freedom of speech and choice. Now people have more information to make informed/rational choices. What many in the ex-gay world have failed to realise is that the western world has had a massive shift in their understanding on many things over the last forty years. One of those has been the basic human rights of each individual. When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, racism was a pretty much a part of culture and people rarely responded negatively to racial slurs or jokes. Try that today in your workplace or sport and see where that gets you. Thankfully, we are a better, more tolerant society today where people are treated equally no matter. It is now illegal to discriminate. The same could be said about sexual orientation. Once ignorance on these issues was accepted but today we are more informed. That is why there is such a backlash when people make anti-gay jokes, demeanour LGBT people or the community. Or when religious leaders or organisations suggest there is something wrong with us and that we can change. Churches need to catch up. Ex-gay ministries are peddling an extremely outdated message and modality. It’s sad they need to be reminded of that in 2014.
Do you hate ex-gay leaders? It appears you attack them.
No. It would be hypocritical of me to hate people because they currently believe something I believed myself for decades. It’s a journey. As for attacking, I can see that some people might perceive that. When an ex-gay leader has made false or misleading statements then I have challenged or corrected them. Particularly when those misleading statements have been made before parliamentary committees speaking against marriage equality being passed in
Australia. I stand by what I have said and written as the truth. That is open to challenge at any time.
If I hated ex-gay leaders then I would not have flown to the USA this time last year to attend a conference full of them. When I was invited by Alan Chambers to attend the Exodus conference I had no idea that this would be the final and I would get to witness the historic moment it was announced that America’s leading ex-gay organisation was closing down. I am enormously grateful for Alan Chambers trust by allowing me into that space.
Are you glad to see “ex-gay” leaders “fail”?
Some are I know, but not me. I have compassion for them. I personally have lived through a very public scandal and I know how traumatic that is and the dark places it can take you to as well as the potential for tragic results (Read Gay Mormon, excommunicated from his church, commits suicide).
I know of ex-gay leaders here in Australia who, let’s say, have not always lived up to what they have publicly portrayed. If I was the nasty and vindictive person, out to destroy people as some have suggested, I would have passed that information on to my media contacts or publicly exposed them myself. I wouldn’t wish a public scandal on my worst enemy, let alone be the initiator of it. I still live by the rule “treat others as you would like to be treated yourself”.
I have always endeavoured to reach out in dialogue with ex-gay leaders. Sometimes that has been completely rejected. Others have been willing to sit down at the table and talk. Maybe it’s the potential outcome that worries some.
The door is still open.
My strategy remains the same.
© Anthony Venn-Brown