I underwent weekends of exorcisms to pray the gay away
The horrifying reality of conversion therapy.
I swear I never
ecember 4, 2019 – 9:22AM
It was the late seventies and everything in Anthony Venn Brown’s life was going according to his plans.
He was a successful preacher in the Assemblies of God church. It’s a religion that’s been in the news a bit recently, because of another one of its famous members – Israel Folau.
But, back to Anthony. As well as being a preacher, he was married and a father to two girls.
So far, so typical – except this preacher was hiding a secret that was burning him up. Anthony was gay.
And this fact was eventually going to be unearthed changing his life first for the worse and then for the better – but not before it tore down everything about the life he’d built.
“Homosexuality was a sin”
Having grown up in Sydney in the fifties, when homosexuality was not only a ‘sin’ in God’s eyes but an actual crime, Anthony’s fear of being exposed wasn’t just based on society’s expectations, it was also a matter of his freedom.
“I was living with the fear that I could be arrested and put in a juvenile delinquents home or in an institution like near us at Gladesville, there was the – as we called them in those days – ‘loony bins’,” he tells Kidspot.
“It wasn’t till later on all that changed, so there were people in there who were gay and lesbian who were having treatment because of their sexual orientation. So that’s pretty frightening when you’re growing up. And that’s when I turn to God.”
Anthony didn’t just ‘turn to God’ – he dedicated his life to God’s service. In the seventies, the charismatic renewal movement gained popularity in Australia. This was a new kind of Christianity. It involved being filled with the holy spirit, speaking in tongues and healing through prayer.
The movement intrigued Anthony and after describing what he felt as a call to ministry; he attended Faith Bible College, a pastoral and missionary training centre in New Zealand.
Anthony as a young man was lost and ashamed – and today, is a mentor and support to young LGBTQI people everywhere. Image: Instagram.
“The homosexual ‘problem'”
It was here that he confessed to the college’s principal his “homosexual problem”. In response, the principal suggested something extreme.
“[I] went through the whole history of what happened, and he said ‘well this is probably a demonic spirit that needs to be cast out’ and so I was sent to the top of the range of exorcists in Auckland, for three weekends with exorcisms.”
What followed was a deeply traumatic experience, and another few decades of shame and secrets before Anthony had his secrets exposed and was forced to confront who he truly was, and realise that there was no shame at all in it.
And while this came at deep personal cost to Anthony and his family, he now dedicates his life to a different mission: helping young gay people who have been forced into exile by religion.
It was a night about eight years after coming out that he first felt what he would describe as pride in his sexuality.
“There was a night I was volunteering for the AIDS Council of New South Wales,” he says.
“We would go into bars and give out condoms and engage people in conversation. And this one night at the Oxford hotel there was a guy standing in line, and I just started talking with him and he was telling me about how many funerals he’d been to, how many of his friends he’d lost and he was – he had survivor’s guilt.
“And I just was commiserating, being empathetic and I said ‘oh yeah, it’s terrible being gay isn’t it?’ because things hadn’t worked out too well for me. And he replied, ‘What do you mean? I love being gay! You know, if I could choose being gay I’d choose to be gay.’ And I thought that was just fabulous.”
You can find out more about the full story in the bestseller A Life of Unlearning