“Telling someone who is already psychologically struggling that they are “holding onto sin” is horrifying. Saying to that person that the reason they are not changing is that they don’t have enough faith or don’t really want to change can be life-threatening. I attempted suicide numerous times during that period of my life. I ended up in the hospital emergency department several times, and they prescribed me a cocktail of anti-depressant medications and underwent years of psychotherapy.”
I am a 53-year-old gay Christian male, and this is my story:
I first realised that I was gay at twelve or thirteen years of age. I was horrified at this discovery. Up until that point, homosexuality was something I knew nothing about. I was abused during my primary school years, which only compounded my struggles. I blamed myself, if I wasn’t gay, I never would have been abused, I thought.
Coming from a traditional European and Catholic background, it set my role as a man from an early age, my father often reminded me what a “real man” looked like. “Real men” were Catholic men who married, had children, worked hard and actively contributed to society. In his eyes, gay men did none of these and therefore were not to be considered “real men”.
In my early teens, my sexuality became more prevalent, my desires for same-sex intimacy came to the forefront, and I began exploring and engaging in sexual activities with other guys. My parents soon became aware of my “deviancy” and my father in particularly made it clear that there was no place in our family for a gay son. I was a disgrace to him and the entire family and if I was ever caught engaging in sexual activities with another guy, I would no longer be welcome in our home.
Throughout my teens, I battled against these “unwanted same-sex desires” My family, my church and my friends all told me that being gay was a sin, an abomination before God and I was destined for hell if I continued in my sinful ways. So much was the psychological pressure I experienced that I attempted suicide at the age of 16 years. There was nothing that I wouldn’t do to become “normal”.
I converted to Evangelical Christianity when I was twenty years old and attended a Baptist Church for almost twenty-five years. This is where I first experienced conversion therapy. I sought the support of my Pastor for my ongoing “homosexual struggles”. For a period of several weeks, we met together, and he prayed with me, counselled me, laid hands on me and performed exorcisms to “set me free from the spirit of homosexuality”. These exorcisms took the form of being locked into a private room with several male church leaders and my Pastor, having hands laid upon me and “casting out the spirit of homosexuality” and the “demon of perversion”, forcefully being held to the ground and shouted upon. It made me feel humiliated and totally unworthy. I was terrified! This would go on for hours on end until all the demons and spirits had been “cast out into the pit of hell” and once they were gone, then supposedly God, the Holy Spirit, had transformed me into a heterosexual. But of course, this was never the case. My Pastor assured me that if I wanted to change, I could. I needed to repent of my sinfulness, resist the devil, and turn to Jesus for healing. If I didn’t change it was my fault, not God’s!
My Pastor continued counselling me, but eventually, he realised that I needed professional counselling. My state of mind was very fragile. Constant thoughts of suicide plagued me. I was depressed. I hated myself for being gay and I didn’t want to be this way. I was being bullied at school, ridiculed by my older brother, and my father was threatening to put a gun to my head if he ever caught me with another guy. He rightly feared the very real possibility that I would harm myself, so he first referred me to a Christian counsellor who did her best to counsel me, but she only added to my confusion and guilt. I returned to my pastor a few weeks later explaining that the counsellor was unable to deal with “the root cause” so in a last-ditch effort to “cure me” he referred me to an “Ex-gay” program known as The Living Waters Program. The program promised not only “healing” but a complete transformation from “gay to straight”.
After attending weeks of group meetings, counselling, and prayer sessions, I began to believe the lie that God was “healing me” and I was going to become heterosexual, all I needed to do was, “turn from my sinful lifestyle” and God would do the rest. Looking back, I realise that organisations like Exodus International, the creators of The Living Waters Program and those groups that use their program and others like them, prey on the vulnerability of people like me. I was young, and I desperately wanted to change and become “normal”.Being guilt-ridden and depressed, I was exactly the type of person these organisations and people prey upon.
Naturally, my same-sex attractions were never cured, and I quickly grew more depressed and suicidal. I wanted so much to please God and my parents. I wanted to be straight, and “Living Waters” promised that I could be. Each time I resisted “engaging in homosexual activity” this was a sign that healing was taking place, they told me. I read all the books and pamphlets I was given. I prayed. I attended group therapy sessions, completed the workbooks, and did everything that was asked of me, but nothing changed.
I returned to my Pastor the following Sunday, and we looked at other options. He suggested trying to arrange a meeting with a minister who claimed to be a “former homosexual” and had experience assisting those with unwanted same-sex attractions, sexual addictions and relationship problems. He’d become the leader of the Living Waters program. I attended his church a few times and enrolled in the program once again. Once again, despite my efforts, the daily prayers, the weekly meetings and prayer and deliverance groups, nothing changed. I fell into a downhill spiral of depression all over again and became suicidal again. I was a failure.
These conversion therapy organisations and practitioners promise a “cure” through prayer and counselling, but when that “cure” doesn’t come, they offer little by way of support, other than to further instil shame and guilt by telling you that you are not trying hard enough. Over and over again, I was told that I lacked faith, I wasn’t doing enough, and I was “giving into Satan” and this is why I was not changing. I must be holding onto an unconfessed sin; I need to let go of that sin if I want to change.
Telling someone who is already psychologically struggling that they are “holding onto sin” is horrifying. Saying to that person that the reason they are not changing is that they don’t have enough faith or don’t really want to change can be life-threatening. I attempted suicide numerous times during that period of my life. I ended up in the hospital emergency department several times, and they prescribed me a cocktail of anti-depressant medications and underwent years of psychotherapy. I was diagnosed with a “severe anxiety disorder” which I believe is in part, a result of my experiences with conversion therapy.
To this very day, I am still haunted by memories and nightmares of my time in the Living Waters program. I still struggle with my sexuality.
Thankfully several years ago I was able to find support through an online forum known as “Freedom2Be” where people who are struggling to reconcile their sexuality with their faith, or those who have had negative experiences with “ex-gay” reparative counselling, can come together and support one another. Sadly, this forum has since been shut however, I continue to have contact with its founder Mr Anthony Venn Brown.
I am in a much better place today, but I still have some work to do in order to finally fully accept and embrace my sexual orientation.
I now know that “curing homosexuality” is not possible and organisations that promote it should be banned.
I don’t ever want to see another person going through the guilt and shame or the depression and pain that I experienced because of false and misleading practices promoted by “ex-gay” conversion therapy advocates. Although the vast majority, if not all the “ex-gay” organisations in Australia have shut down. But there are still some religious organisations and churches that openly promote the belief that homosexuality can be cured through faith in Jesus, and this is dangerous.
I urge the NSW government to act before it’s too late and we lose another life to suicide.
More conversion “therapy” survivor stories HERE
Anthony Venn-Brown says: “I’ve been hearing stories like this for 23 years now. I want them to stop. We can’t legislate to change an outdated, ill-informed religious belief about sexuality and gender, but we can create awareness and pass laws that protect vulnerable LGBTQ people from harm. You can help create awareness by sharing this story and also signing the Equality Australia’s petition in support of Alex Greenwich’s Equality Bill.”
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