Presentation at the
Human Rights Conference
Sydney World Pride 2023
Anthony Venn-Brown OAM
Founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International
Author of the bestseller A Life of Unlearning
Watch on ABC iView (Starts at 15:45)
“In 1952, the year after I was born, the American Psychiatric Association released their first Diagnostic Statistic Manual of mental disorders. They labelled people like me perverts, deviates, psychotic and sociopaths.
In that same decade, the now infamous NSW Police Commissioner, Colin Delaney, who I discovered in my research was a friend of my fathers, declared as the newly appointed Police Commissioner, he had two major goals. One was to reduce the road toll, and the second was to wipe homosexuality out of Sydney, which had apparently reached epidemic proportions.
The awakening sexual orientation in my teens was frightening and confronting; the options were treatment, imprisonment, or institutionalization. Two things were clear to me. Never tell a soul about your thoughts and feelings and do everything possible to eradicate it. I tried everything to stop it. Nothing worked.
In 1969 I became a born again Christian, believing that God would somehow be the answer to my problem. Of course, this compounded the growing self-hatred and self-loathing. Now longer was I just a pervert and deviate, I was a sinner of the vilest kind, and unless I destroyed these fleshly desires, I would spend eternity in hell.
No matter how much I prayed, fasted or had the demons of homosexuality and masturbation cast out of me, the thoughts, feelings and behaviours persisted.
In 1972, There were only two Christian programs in the world to “cure” people of homosexuality, one in New York state and the other in the southern suburbs of Sydney. At 21, believing this was my last resort, I admitted myself into the residential program and was told it would take 1-2 years to make me straight. I had a minder watching over me all day. Items of clothing, like my precious pink socks and bikini underwear, were removed as they were considered too gay. I could only do gender specific tasks around the property, like outdoor maintenance. All this, along with much prayer and bible reading, was meant to transform me. After 6 months, I couldn’t take any more of the emotional and psychological abuse, so I left.
Fast forward to 2020. I was provided a cottage to live in during the pandemic in the Royal National Park south of Sydney. What I hadn’t considered was that it was the same area as the conversion “therapy” residential program. Triggers were everywhere I went and looked, reminding me of those traumatic times in 1972 . The property and church still existed. Through a series of synchronistic events which would take too long to explain, I received a call from a leader of the church who said, “Our Church needs to become LGBTQ affirming. Can you help us with that?” There would not have been a more perfect person in Australia to help them. The organisation I founded, Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International (ABBI), works with Christian churches, leaders and organizations to ensure they are genuinely affirming of LGBTQ people.
I tell churches that to do this properly will take 1-2 years to reduce polarization and minimize harm. It begins with working with the leadership and progressively working down to the congregation to dispel myths and educate everyone on the lives and experiences of LGBTQ people.
After stops and starts because of the pandemic on Sunday, the 27th March, 2022, a service was held, where not only did the church announce it was officially totally affirming, they issued a personal apology to me and the others that had been harmed through their previous ignorance about sexual orientation and gender identity. That was, of course, a moving and profound moment.
What was even more special to me was that we all walked out on to the veranda of the property where I’d had my last encounter with the leader of the church. My sister and brother in law had come to rescue me. Before I could escape, she pulled me back and told my sister and brother in law that I was one of Sydney’s worst homosexuals and continued to completely assassinate my character. Standing in the very same place on the veranda, surrounded by the church members, family and friends, I took back my power and declared who I was. I was NOT broken or needed fixing. I was loved, complete and whole. You can watch that moment on our YouTube channel.
The LGBTQ community is well-known for its resilience. But without hope and, dare I say it, without faith, there is no resilience. Hope and faith fuel us to reach our goal. That is why we much never give up hope. Fifty years is a long time to wait for a “sorry, we were wrong”, but it came.
The words of Paul in 1 Corinthians are true. Now these three things abide; faith, hope and Love. But the greatest of these is LOVE.”
Well done, Anthony.