Gay conversion therapy was not an American evangelical import into Australia as has been assumed. With the focus on recent developments in the United States, such as individual states banning ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapies and President Obama also calling for the practice to be banned many people believe the concept to be an American invention.

Conversion therapy was being practiced in Australia at least seven years before it was formalised in the US when Exodus International was founded in 1976..Anthony Venn-Brown, founder of Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International, has revealed he was possibly one of the first in the world to go through a formal conversion therapy program living in Sydney in 1972. He detailed the trauma he experienced in a residential program in his autobiography A Life of Unlearning. According to Venn-Brown, it was like a rehabilitation program he entered because they could turn him from gay to straight.

“Like mental health professionals of the day, the leaders of this program believed I was homosexual because of my upbringing and that I could be cured,” Venn-Brown said.

“In order to become straight, I had to pray a lot, read the bible daily, confess my sin and have demons cast out of me. They went through my wardrobe and took all clothing they believed was ‘gay’ and made sure I only did ‘manly’ chores in a concerted effort to masculinise me,” Venn-Brown added.

Since 2000, Venn-Brown has worked with hundreds of survivors of ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapies and
programs. It began with an online support group he commenced the same year with over four hundred members.

“It became clear very early in my journey helping survivors, the horrendous damage these programs have caused individuals. I knew it was bad I just didn’t realise how bad. Depression, mental health issues, thoughts of suicide as well as attempts were common themes. There are people who have taken their lives because of the shame of their homosexuality and failed attempts to turn from gay to straight.” Venn-Brown said.

Venn-Brown says that the recent developments in the US are encouraging but wonders why we have not seen the
same thing happen in Australia.

In 2014, the Association of Christian Counsellors in the UK banned the practice of reparative therapy but the Australian Christian Counsellors Association has yet to develop a policy or make a statement. Some Christian counsellors in Australia still believe homosexuality is disordered and can be changed.

Alex Greenwich, member for Sydney, proposed banning reparative therapy in New South Wales in 2013. Venn-Brown lodged a submission to the Inquiry into the promotion of false or misleading health-related information or practices,  detailing his fifteen years experience and observations in this area but nothing has happened since.

“Whilst I’m glad that ex-gay/reparative/conversion organisations continue to decline in Australia, legal protection for minors against these practices sends the right message. Firstly to LGBT youth that they are accepted and protected. It also sends a clear message to practitioners  that their philosophy, that homosexuality is disordered, is archaic and harmful and will not be tolerated in our enlightened and accepting Australian society.” Venn-Brown concluded.

Media inquires

Anthony Venn-Brown
Founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International (ABBI)
Author of ‘A Life of Unlearning – a preacher’s struggle with his homosexuality. church and faith’
M: +61 (0)416 015 231
E: info@abbi.org.au
Twitter: @gayambassador
Honoured to be voted one of the 25 Most Influential Gay & Lesbian Australians (2007 & 2009) and finalist for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award
Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International’s mission is to create understanding and acceptance for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual. transgender, intersex) people, empower community members and build bridges with religious organisations and leaders
For more information on Anthony Venn-Brown’s expertise in the ex-gay/reparative/conversion area click here