‘Ludicrous practice’ of gay conversion therapy to be scrutinised

Thursday 21 September 2017 6:30pm

By Shalailah Medhora

Western Australia and the ACT will re-examine their existing laws on so-called “gay conversion therapy” to see if they need strengthening.

But opponents of the practice say governments should focus their attention on an un-regulated counselling sector first, as the so-called therapy is largely “underground”.

Prominent campaigner for the No camp, Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby, last week told BuzzFeed that parents should have the option to send their children to gay conversion therapy.

“Should people be forced to go to conversion therapy? No, absolutely not. Now, children — they are under the care and responsibility of their parents, so I think if someone’s a minor, it is up to their parents. And I think parental rights should be respected,” he said.

In February, Hack brought you the news that Victoria was the first jurisdiction in the world to bring specific laws against gay conversion therapy for adults as well as minors.

Victoria’s Health Complaints Commissioner was given the power to investigate and ban practitioners who engaged in the therapy, which claims to be able to “cure” people of their homosexuality.

‘Abhorrent practice’

WA’s Health Minister Roger Cook told Hack that he’ll scrutinise his state’s laws to see if they need strengthening.

“I intend to look closely at what Victoria has done to see if there is a need to follow suit in WA, however there are no current plans to introduce legislation specifically focused on this issue,” he said in a statement.

I do not support the ludicrous practice of apparent gay conversion therapy.”

The ACT is doing the same thing.

“The ACT Government believes we have sufficient legal protections in place so that these practices can’t take place,” ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr told Hack in a statement.

“That said, in light of these moves from Victoria I will be instructing the relevant areas of Government to ensure that this is the case.”

Mr Barr, who is Australia’s first openly gay leader of a state or territory, labelled the practice “abhorrent”.

“This practice is a disgusting and offensive relic of an unenlightened age long since passed. No right thinking person could possibly support it.”

Un-regulated counselling

But Nathan Despott from the Brave Network told Hack that existing laws need to be able to investigate what is a “devious, deceptive and underground movement”.

“The counselling sector is not regulated in Australia,” Nathan said.

He said laws need to be able to investigate operations “from a community level” because gay conversion therapy and ex-gay movements aren’t always obvious and don’t necessarily advertise themselves as cures to homosexuality.

“Unless there is a law that has the ability to investigate at that level, they lack the potency they need,” he said.

Neither the ACT nor WA has a commissioner similar to Victoria’s.

Medical groups like the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have slammed gay conversion therapy.

“Gay conversion therapy is unethical, harmful and not supported by medical evidence,” RACP President, Dr Catherine Yelland, said.

The World Medical Association also rejected the practice back in 2013.

“They have no medical indication and represent a serious threat to the health and human rights of those so treated,” it said in a statement.

‘The struggle was endless’

At the age of 18, in the late 1960s, Anthony Venn-Brown decided to become a born-again Christian in the Pentecostal Church.

By then, he knew he was gay.

I thought I’d been dealt the death card, that this was a curse.”

But he thought that prayer and hard work could rid him of his homosexuality.

“Those feelings and those desires were still there, and that then became a constant conflict for me. The eternal struggle was so endless,” Anthony said.

“All the time praying, and quoting Bible verses and going for prayer and then eventually having exorcisms and just being so desperate to change.”

At the age of 21, he’d checked himself into a “therapeutic” centre that claimed it could cure him of his “curse”. Moombara House was run by the Bundeena Christian Fellowship, and he would be there for six months.

He said it was “an emotionally abusive” environment.

“There were times when I was humiliated and put down in front of others… I had no freedom, there was a minder looking after me the whole time.”

Turning back to God

After leaving Moombara House, he decided to become a preacher himself. He married, and had two children.

It was daily [struggle] because there wasn’t one day I wasn’t gay.”

After more than 20 years of hiding his sexuality and experiencing feelings of shame for being gay, Anthony fell in love with a man. He describes it as a “wake-up call”.

“I could no longer ignore or deny I was gay, because for the first time there was love, there was tenderness, there was affection, there was intimacy,” he said.

“I spent 22 years fighting this. I’ve been through ex-gay programs, I’d done 40-day fasts, I’ve had demons cast out of me, I prayed every day, and here I am. So this is the reality, this will never go away,” Anthony said.

He came out publicly to his family and his congregation. But he would be forced to leave it all behind.

In the late 1990s, Anthony formed an online chat group for survivors of ex-gay or gay conversion therapy.

“That got to about 400 members.”

He reckons thousands of Australians had gone through what he went through.

In 2004 he wrote a book, A Life of Unlearning. Its first and second editions sold out.

“My inbox – oh my God, they just poured in. Hundreds and hundreds of emails of people saying, your story is my story,” Anthony said.

“So when Lyle Shelton says parents should have the right to send their kids over to a therapist to change their sexual orientation, it’s criminal, absolutely criminal.”

He said nationwide laws need to be put in place to stop the practice from continuing.