NOMINATION FOR THE 2015 ACON HONOUR AWARDS
We would like to nominate Anthony Venn-Brown for his 15 years of work to bring ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy practices and organisations to an end in Australia.
For over four decades in Australia and overseas, ex-gay/reparative/conversion ministries have preached the same message.
- Homosexuality is sin
- Gay and lesbian people are broken
- God make gay people straight.
The harm these messages have caused to 10,000’s of LGBT individuals is horrendous through debilitating mental health issues and lives have been lost through suicide. A actual toll of lives destroyed or lost is something we will never be able to count.
Here is an example of the emails Anthony receives from former ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy participants.
“I just wanted you to know that you are an inspiration to me for the work you do. Reading A Life of Unlearning assisted my mental health and acceptance for myself in a tangible way. I used to be on six antipsychotic drugs and now I’m only on one mild antidepressant. Thank you. It truly did help. I’ve always been taught that God hates me. I made a lot of friends in conversion therapy. Out of forty, only six are still alive (one died naturally, the rest suicide.)” Matt
Anthony was a leader in the Assemblies of God and regular preacher in mega-churches of Australia, such as Hillsong, and overseas. For 22 years he believed the ‘ex-gay’ message and struggled to change through psychiatric treatment, exorcisms and six months in a residential ‘ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy’ program. After sixteen years of marriage he had to eventually admit that nothing had changed. At this time, Anthony faced the toughest decision of his life; be true to himself (which would result in losing everything he held dear) or live a lie.
He resigned from the ministry and left everything he’d known in 1992 to live as an openly gay man. This was not an empowering coming out though, but was clouded with shame and scandal. Like many people from faith backgrounds, his coming out did not automatically resolve the years of conflict with his faith and sexuality. It would be another six years before he found that resolution and was able to talk about the trauma he’d been through. It was in the late 90’s that he began to connect with others who’d had similar experiences and became interested in ensuring that others did not have to go through similar devastating experiences.
Overview of ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy myth-busting activities
Anthony has been monitoring ex-gay/conversion/reparative organisations and speaking out against them in Australia and overseas since 2000. After leaving an ‘ex-gay’ program, unsuccessful candidates are often vulnerable and traumatized as they try to deal with not only years of internalized homophobia but also a sense of shame and failure. In 2000 Anthony commenced and moderated Australia’s only support group for survivors of ‘ex-gay’ ministries. This online community grew to over 400 people. It was during this time Anthony began to realise there were more impacted by these ministries than previously thought and also became acutely aware of the damage ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapies and organisations had caused. Mental health issues, thoughts of suicide and depression were common amongst the stories shared secretly online.
In 2005 Anthony co-founded Freedom2b and under his six year leadership it became the largest network of LGBT people from Christian backgrounds in Australia. A significant number of those involved in Freedom2b had also been through ex-gay/reparative/conversion programs. It was in this safe space they found help and comfort through the online forum and chapter meetings with others who’d had similar experiences.
Six strategies to end the harm
Anthony set a goal to see all ex-gay/reparative/conversion organisations close in Australia and developed six strategies to achieve this.
- Tell his story as often as possible
- Raise awareness and educate about the harm of ex-gay/reparative/conversion teachings and practices through articles, social media and internet presence where people could access honest and realistic information. Particularly closeted youth who normally wouldn’t have access to this information in their churches.
- Encourage former ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy participants to tell their stories
- Encourage former ex-gay/reparative/conversion organization leaders to tell their stories and apologize
- Raise awareness through the gay and mainstream media
- Create dialogues with current ex-gay leaders
Knowing it was important to network with others around the world that were doing a similar work, in 2007 Anthony attended the first ‘Ex-gay Survivors Conference’ in California USA as the only representative from Australia. This was made possible by the generous financial support of a number of individuals and the SGLBA. At this conference he was able to network with individuals and groups such as Beyond Ex-gay, The Ex-gay Watch, Box Turtle Bulletin, Truth Wins Out, Soulforce and Courage in the UK doing similar work. He has continued to maintain these relationships in order to gain information and update them on developments in Australia.
Examples of strategy implementation
Strategy 1 – tell his story often
In 2004 Anthony’s autobiography, ‘A Life of Unlearning’ was published which detailed his 22 years of internal struggle with the perceived conflict of his sexuality and Christian faith. A Life of Unlearning became an Australian best-seller and both editions sold out. A third edition will be released in October 2015. In his autobiography, Anthony devoted an entire chapter to the six months in the ex-gay/reparative/conversion program. He was one of the first in the first in the world to do such a program. A Life of Unlearning opened media opportunities to create awareness not only of the existence of such organisations but also how devastating the experience can be for gay and lesbian people. Anthony repeatedly shared his story in the press and radio interviews as well as television shows such as ‘60 Minutes’, ‘Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show’, ‘Mornings with Kerri Anne’ and ABC’s Hungry Beast.
Strategy 2 – raise awareness.
Anthony has written extensively about ex-gay issues, becoming Australia’s foremost authority on the topic. This has made him the go-to person for journalists and researchers seeking more information. His four most popular articles on the topic have been viewed by 10,000’s of people around the world.
- Situational Heterosexuality
- The Sy Rogers Story (An Anthony Venn-Brown Perspective)
- Common Themes in ‘Ex-gay’ Stories
- Unwanted same sex attraction – what is it?
Anthony’s articles on the topic of “unwanted same sex attraction” (the term currently used by ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy organisations) often appear on the first page of a Google search on the subject. Previously the first eight pages were taken up with anti-gay material when a similar search was done.
In 2011 a number of extreme churches invited Adam Hood (a raving ex-gay from the US) to come to
Australia to speak. Paul Martin and Alex Greenwich and Anthony combined resources and successfully campaigned for his meetings in public halls to be closed down. Since returning to the US Adam Hood as gone underground.
Over the years, Anthony has been approached by a number of documentary makers who wanted to cover the ex-gay/reparative/conversion story in Australia. It seemed lots of people thought it was a good idea but no one was able to follow through. In 2011 Rambling Women Media approached Anthony about a documentary they wanted to make called The Cure that would explore both sides of the story. Anthony provided the documentary makers with resources and contacts to be interviewed. The documentary was premiered at the 2012 Mardi Gras film festival and has been showed at Queer film festivals all over Australia. This excellent documentary also created awareness in the mainstream media and is the only documentary made about ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy in Australia.
In October 2013, member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich presented a motion in NSW parliament that ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapies be banned in the state. This was handed over to a government inquiry. In February this year Anthony lodged a 9,500 word submission to the Inquiry into the promotion of false or misleading health-related information or practices detailing his personal and 15 years experience in this area..
Strategy 3 – conversion therapy survivors.
In order to implement strategy 3, when the media contacted Anthony to connect them with individuals willing to tell their stories he worked behind the scenes to ensure these people were treated with respect and safety. Firstly he ensured the journalists were aware of ex-gay survivors’ vulnerability. Even though it might have been years since they went through a program, telling their stories can be re-traumatizing for them. Then he spent time with those individuals to make sure they were in a good place emotionally and psychologically to tell their stories. Finally he supported them through the interview process and after the story went to air or print. There are now many other ex-gay survivor stories collated and published on the internet.
In 2010 Anthony organised a group of Ex-gay Survivors to march in the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras under the banner of Freedom2b. This was an extremely life changing experience for many ex-gay survivors and an important step in their journey from gay shame to gay pride.
Strategy 4 – former conversion therapy leaders.
Anthony has also invested considerable time tracking down Australian former ex-gay leaders and encouraging them to write formal apologies. Some were hesitant at first as they were concerned about ramifications but eventually four agreed and their stories posted on the internet. These were released in Australia and internationally in 2007. There are now seven of these testimonials on the Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International blog.
Strategy 5 – gay and mainstream media
It would be impossible to list all the interviews and articles that refer to Anthony’s work in this area over the years. These have included radio, TV, and print, both mainstream and gay media as well. Here are some recent articles and interviews.
- Push to outlaw gay conversion therapy in the US should be mirrored in Australia, gay rights group says ABC interview
- Survivors tell their horror stories of ex-gay therapy treatments in Australia com.au interview
- Undercover in a gay conversion camp Woman’s Weekly article
Strategy 6 – reach out to current conversion therapy leaders.
In October 2006 Anthony called in to a Christian radio program that was discussing homosexuality and Christianity with the leader of Exodus Asia Pacific, John Metyard. During the call Anthony inquired if John would be willing to continue to the dialogue off air. Believing that a respectful dialogue was more effective than a raging debate, Anthony reached out to John. Over the next few months John and Anthony developed a warm conversation via email about gay Christians. Anthony flew to Brisbane to meet with John who, at the meeting, agreed to write a formal statement about his change in beliefs. This included “In the past I have been ardent in my opinion that homosexual orientation was unquestioningly a result of the ‘fall’ and God’s intention was therefore always to heal the same-sex attracted believer and help them to be ‘whole’. In the past I have frequently spoken publicly in support of these views. However, my position is now somewhat different. I now believe that it is crucially important that we all learn to respect the rights and choices of gay and lesbian believers as they work through the complexities of their unique situation with God in their own way and in their own time. Anthony put John’s statements out on the internet in 2007. This was significant as it would be another five years before Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, would make similar statements.
In 2010 Anthony began reaching out to Alan Chambers, the president of the largest ex-gay organisation in the world, Exodus International. Over the following two years that engagement became more open and warmer. Anthony became a part of a secret group where Alan Chambers and other Exodus leaders where confronted with tragedies that the Exodus ‘change is possible’ message created. This contributed to Alan Chamber apology to the LGBT community. Because of his engagement with Alan Chambers, Anthony was one of only two LGBT people invited to attend the 2013 Exodus conference in Los Angeles. At the time Anthony was unaware that this would be the final conference and that Exodus would close its doors forever. Anthony has written a detailed the behind the scenes account of all that led up to these events also included the 8 factors that created the tipping point which will be released in his new book later in 2015.
When Anthony began this work in 2000 there were approximately 40 separate groups and ministries offering ‘healing to homosexuals’. Over the years, whilst monitoring ex-gay organisations, Anthony kept a track of the numbers. By 2012 two thirds had closed down. Since that time the largest and longest running ex-gay organisation in Australia, Living Waters Australia, closed down in 2014. Anthony organised a vigil in memory of those we’ve lost and been harmed through ex-gay/reparative/conversion organisations. Anthony had also spoken out publicly about the leader of Living Waters ministry misleading the senate inquiry on marriage equality that he was a ‘former’ homosexual.
Currently there are only a handful of organisations left in Australia and whilst not totally gay affirming some have dropped the ‘change is possible’ message. Anthony continues to monitor their activities and is looking forward to the day when the unnecessary suffering caused by ignorance and misinformation about sexuality and gender identity within religious contexts ceases.
Finally, it should be noted that Anthony has done this work on a volunteer basis.
The current organisation Anthony founded, Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International, is creating understanding, acceptance and equality for LGBTI people; particularly in the area of faith and religion through dialogue and education. Ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy continues to be a part of the organisations focus.
We thank you for your consideration
Ian Green (President)
Tim Daly (Secretary)
Bill Wang (Treasurer)
The Board of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International