Push to outlaw gay conversion therapy in the US should be mirrored in Australia, gay rights group says

By Isabella Higgins – Updated 27 Jul 2015, 3:58pm Listen online

A gay rights group in Australia is pushing for psychiatric therapies designed to convert people to heterosexuality to be outlawed as a bill is put before the US Congress to do exactly that.

Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International is pushing for gay conversion therapy to be made illegal Australia-wide.

Founder Anthony Venn-Brown was once an Evangelist pastor with the Assemblies of God church, struggling with his sexuality and undergoing conversion therapy.

“It is harmful to people to try and change their sexual orientation, in fact it’s not just harmful, it’s impossible,” he said.

Brisbane man Johan de Joot has spent more than 15 years in conversion therapy, hoping to change his sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

At 22 he was desperate to have his sexual feelings for men “fixed”.

“I went to my pastor and I told him that I was struggling with same-sex attraction and he suggested that homosexuality is an abomination,” he said.

“So that started a journey for me of basically doing everything I can, in my power to change.”

Mr de Joot said he was trying anything he thought might “cure” being gay.

“On Sunday I was crying out to God, on Monday I was having sex with a man, the rest of the week I was beating myself up so bad that by Saturday I wanted to commit suicide,” he said.

By age 38, Mr de Joot realised his sexuality was not something that could be cured.

“I have come to the conclusion it is not a choice I don’t think anyone in their right mind would choose to be gay, there’s so much hatred in the world towards gay people,” he said.

Ten professional groups still offer conversion therapy

Mr de Joot did three years of therapy at an organisation called Liberty Incorporated and now he wants it to be shut down.

“Liberty Incorporated 10 years later are still running, they’re charging $80 for a one-hour counselling session,” he said.

Mr Venn-Brown said there were still about 10 professional organisations offering such treatments across Australia.

There is too much evidence to suggest that it’s actually damaging to people.

ASP sexual health expert Damian Briggs

But even if they were closed down, he said he believed therapy sessions would still be offered by churches so legislative change like the one being proposed in the US was needed.

Venn-Brown is aware of where the problem lies. “In many churches today and church leaders they have never really researched the whole issue of sexual orientation; they are coming from a biblical perspective,” he said.

“[Legislative change] would send a very clear message to young people and also, another thing is that it would be a message to the churches of how far behind they are in their understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

To make changes nationwide, a bill would need to pass Federal Parliament.

“That message that will come from that, from having that legislation in place will definitely have a very, very positive impact,” Mr Venn-Brown said.

Educate churches ‘sexual orientation is not a disorder’

Mr Venn-Brown named education as the key for change.

“It’s about reaching out to church leaders and churches and denominations to create a dialogue with them and to educate and inform them,” he said.

“Because the evidence is there, it is so solid that number one of course, that sexual orientation is not a disorder.

“Any pastor or youth leader, who was saying to some young gay men, ‘Look, we can pray to you’, if this legislation is in place they will definitely be thinking twice about that.”

Every professional health body in Australia is opposed to conversion therapy, including the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

ASP sexual health expert Damian Briggs said the group had reviewed the evidence and literature on conversion therapy and found there was no evidence to support it was a “good thing”.

“There is too much evidence to suggest that it’s actually damaging to people,” he said.

“We believe that APS members shouldn’t be doing it we believe that psychologists more generally shouldn’t be doing it.”

You can listen to the ABC report online here