A WEBSITE that pushes the “gay cure” message led a young Australian to the brink of suicide.What’s more frightening is that the same message is still being pushed online and was once available to users via an app on the Apple iTunes store.Timothy*, 19, went online as a 15-year-old seeking to rid his mind of homosexual thoughts and feelings. He found what he was looking for at www.settingcaptivesfree.com, a website offering faith-based courses to help Christians overcome their “sins”.
But the conversations he had with “counsellors” running a free, 60-day “Door of Hope” program almost killed him.
“It was a free course and was done through the website and with e-mails to a mentor,” Timothy told news.com.au.
“My mentor was a man in Ohio, who was middle-aged. He had apparently completed the course which qualified him to be a counsellor to me and a mentor throughout the program. I only knew his first name and email address and he would email me everyday making sure I was doing the work and reading the bible and giving me tips on how to overcome temptation.”
Things escalated quickly at the end of each day when the mentor asked his pupil what would become a series of increasingly invasive questions.
“(He) asked the same questions — Have you masturbated? Have you thought about men? Have you sinned? — and required that I go into detail in my response. I felt strange disclosing these things to a random man that I had never met. I didn’t know who else was seeing my responses. The content was very shaming.”
Timothy’s shame turned to suicidal thoughts and eventually an attempt to take his own life.
“I was not making any progress and thought that I never would. Suicide seemed to me like less of a sin than homosexuality,” he said.
“It made me feel disgusted with myself, as if I was sick and outside of God’s love because I could never fulfil what they wanted of me. I couldn’t change who I was.
“I was so densely full of anger and hatred and pain and I finally couldn’t take it any more and it all came up and exploded out.”
He said only when sitting in a mental health ward with bandages on his arms did he realise that his mind had been poisoned.
“I knew if I didn’t change my life and if I didn’t accept myself then next time wouldn’t be an attempt at my life it would be a death sentence. Knowing that helps me not to go back.”
Still, what he learned over several months had a lasting negative effect on him.
“I believe religious homophobia has led to my mental problems, to my addictions, to my daily struggles,” he said.
A Setting Captives Free app, promising to help users find “freedom from the bondage of homosexuality”, was pulled from the iTunes store in 2013 after a petition gathered thousands of signatures. Apple’s developer guidelines do not allow the promotion of hatred toward groups or people based on race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Setting Captives Free was founded by Mike Cleveland who says his own desires to “view porn” were so shameful he “won’t go into detail” about them.
Earlier this month, “survivors” of ex-gay ministries, many operating today in Sydney and Brisbane, detailed their struggles. They told news.com.au how they were starved, forced into exorcisms, banned from masturbating and brainwashed into believing they could “pray the gay away”.
Former leaders of ex-gay ministries, including Simon Tinkler from Ministry One and Alan LeMay from Living Waters, said they have since seen the error of their ways.
Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International, headed by conversion therapy survivor Anthony Venn-Brown, revealed in 2012 that two-thirds of ex-gay ministries operating in Australia a decade ago no longer exist.
If www.settingcaptivesfree.com is any indication, the ministries and their messages may have found a new home online.
*Timothy’s full name has been withheld to protect his identity.
If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.