Isabella Higgins reported this story on Monday, July 27, 2015
From The World Today ABC website.
ELEANOR HALL: Psychiatric therapies designed to convert people to heterosexuality may sound like something from an outdated era, but gay conversion therapies are still legal here and in the United States.
Now a bill is being put before the US Congress to outlaw them, and a gay rights group is calling for the law to be changed here as well, as Isabella Higgins reports.
ISABELLA HIGGINS: For Johan de Joot, conversion therapy seemed like the answers to his prayers.
He was 22, a practicing Christian and he desperately wanted to have his sexual feelings for men “fixed.”
JOHAN DE JOOT: 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. So that started a journey for me of basically doing everything I can, in my power to change.
ISABELLA HIGGINS: The Brisbane man spent over 15 years in conversion therapy, which aims to change someone’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.
He was trying anything he thought might “cure” his gayness.
JOHAN DE JOOT: 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.
ISABELLA HIGGINS: By the time he was 38, he realised his sexuality was not something that could be cured.
JOHAN DE JOOT: I have come to the conclusion that 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.
ISABELLA HIGGINS: Johan did three years of therapy at an organisation called Liberty Incorporated.
Now he wants it to be shut down.
JOHAN DE JOOT: Liberty Incorporated 10 years later are still running; they’re charging $80 for a one hour counselling session.
ISABELLA HIGGINS: A gay rights organisation called Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International is pushing for conversion therapy to be outlawed Australia-wide.
Anthony Venn-Brown runs the group.
He was once an Evangelist pastor with the Assemblies of God church, struggling with his sexuality and undergoing conversion therapy.
ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: It is harmful to people to try and change their sexual orientation in fact it’s not just harmful it’s impossible.
ISABELLA HIGGINS: He says there are still about 10 professional organisations offering these treatments across Australia.
But even if they were closed down, he thinks the therapy sessions would still be offered by churches.
Anthony Venn Brown says legislative change like the one being proposed in the US is needed.
ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: 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.
ISABELLA HIGGINS: Do you think legislative change is the best way to stop churches from practicing this?
ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: Well first of all it would, it 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.
ISABELLA HIGGINS: To make changes nation-wide, a bill would need to pass Federal Parliament.
ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: That message that will come from that, from having that legislation in place will definitely have a very, very positive impact.
ISABELLA HIGGINS: What’s the best way to foster a change in churches?
ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: The number one thing of course is about education; it’s about reaching out to church leaders and churches and denominations to create a dialogue with them and to educate and inform them. Because the evidence is there, it is so solid that number one 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.
ISABELLA HIGGINS: Every professional health body in Australia is opposed to conversion therapy.
Damian Briggs is an expert in sexual health from the Australian Psychological Association (APS).
DAMIAN BRIGGS: The APS has reviewed the evidence and literature on conversion therapy and come to the position that there is no evidence to support that it is unequivocally is a good thing, there is too much evidence to suggest that it’s actually damaging to people.
ISABELLA HIGGINS: He says conversion therapies treat homosexuality as a mental condition that can be cured.
DAMIAN BRIGGS: We believe that APS members shouldn’t be doing it; we believe that psychologists more generally shouldn’t be doing it.
ISABELLA HIGGINS: In the meantime the gay rights community will be closely watching what happens in the US.
ELEANOR HALL: Isabella Higgins with that report.