“The years of self-hate had led me to the darkest point of my life. I had no neutral support to help me reconcile my feelings with the teachings of the church. I was shattered, alone, and deeply confused! My mindset and mantra at this time was focussed on the question: “Is my family better off with a gay dad or a dead dad?”

I was born in the Sutherland Shire in 1960, to a non-religious family, and became conscious of my same-sex attraction at about the age of 9. In this period homosexuality was shunned in society, and terrified me as a pre-teen boy. I hid these feelings from my family.

During my teens, I was convinced by a school friend to attend a local church youth group as a social activity. At the age of 15, knowing that I was different but seeking answers to questions of spirituality I was drawn into fundamentalist/conservative church culture. The acceptance, social connections and teachings eventually led me to a personal commitment to Christianity at age 17. I knew that my orientation was in total conflict with church culture and feared the “hell” that waited for gay people. It wasn’t long before I realised that above all other topics, LGBTIQ+ people carry the highest level of disgust of any other minority group. I suppressed my feelings and constructed a facade as a “normal” heterosexual male.

From what I was told, I believed that same-sex orientation could be overcome by prayer and following the teachings of fundamentalist Christianity. During this time, I met a lady within our “Christian Surfers” circles and married at age 23.

In order to distract myself from my internal core issues, I spent the next 17 years pouring myself into my marriage, work, and leadership roles within my Churches of Christ congregation. While I prayed daily that God would take away my feelings, the internal conflict persisted, leading to an increased level of self-hatred.  I would sometimes go to large Pentecostal church rallies seeking healing, but never divulged my struggle, knowing I would be ‘marked’ and disowned by my community.

Eventually, all this took its toll and brought my life to a crisis around the age of 40. While recovering from major depression, I was under the care of a clinical psychologist. Once again, because of fear, I didn’t divulge my same-sex attraction in these sessions, but I did become aware of the interplay of internalised stress on my wellbeing.

During this time, my anxiety over my homosexuality became unbearable, and I contacted a gay conversion organisation seeking change & healing. I was also dealing with increasing levels of suicidal thoughts. This terrified me. I reached out to a well-known conversion “therapy” organisation, Exodus. After several email interactions, I knew that if I followed through, it would drive me faster down the path to suicide, so I ceased communications.

The years of self-hate had led me to the darkest point of my life. I had no neutral support to help me reconcile my feelings with the teachings of the church. I was shattered, alone, and deeply confused! My mindset and mantra at this time was focussed on the question: “Is my family better off with a gay dad or a dead dad?”

Thankfully, I later heard that the NSW Government provided professional counselling and support via organisations such as the Sydney Sexual Health Clinic. I secretly registered with this service and started a process of unpacking my fears, feelings, and trauma driving my life.

In hindsight this service was one of a few wise decisions that helped me both understand myself and work towards telling my loved ones of my feelings, turmoil and fears. In conjunction with this, and over the next few years, I reached out for LGBTQ community support through a social group, the Gay & Married Men’s Association (GAMMA) and a few non-church friends. This was a big step as I’d  previously shunned gay people, lest it crack my carefully crafted facade.

My wife, children, family, and church community became aware that I identified as a gay man. This was traumatic for my wife and children, but also triggered retribution from my church hierarchy, ministry team, and the rest of my church. I kept attending with my children for the next 2 years, but in every attendance, I felt alienated and the object of disgust. Close friends would avoid eye contact or conversations, save a few. This experience in a church is like being tagged as a deviant, leper, family wrecker, groomer, which was almost unbearable. I also visited a local Emergency Service multiple times, with symptoms similar to a heart attack, but did not share this with my family.

The government counselling services and community support were my only source of acceptance and peace for many years, and my appreciation would be hard to put into words. While I am living a more transparent, consistent and authentic life these days, social situations, particularly with fundamentalism, triggers repeated trauma from the days where the “Gay or Gone?” mantra was driving me beyond my ability to cope.

I strongly believe that Gay Conversion practices MUST be banned by law, to protect others, particularly young people, who are facing questions of identity and their place within religious environments. Churches are full of sincere and loving people with good intentions, but their lack of knowledge about sexuality means they do not understand how such practices are damaging and increase the risk of harm to vulnerable and hurting people.

Craig

More information about so called “conversion therapy’ HERE

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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