Jeremy, as a gay teen, experienced a dangerous mix of Opus Dei, a committed Roman Catholic family and school, a Catholic suppression/celibacy organisation and misguided priests and therapists.

I knew I was gay from 13 years old, and came out to my friends and family a few years later.

I grew up in the conservative Catholic sect, Opus Dei. The Opus Dei affiliated school I went to, Redfield College, was an environment rife with homophobia. We were taught that sexually active gay people were ‘intrinsically morally evil’ and destined for hell.

The school’s Latin motto translates to ‘the truth will set you free’ was cruelly ironic, given that myself and others were told to not only hide and repress our true sexuality and but to also change it.

After I came out to my mum as gay at 16, she told my school tutor without my knowledge. I remember a conversation with my tutor in which he said I must never act on my attraction to other boys, or come out, and confided in me that he too, had experienced but overcome similar ‘same-sex attraction’.

My parents took me to a child psychiatrist on the north shore when I was 16 and dealing with depression and the passing of my brother. I vividly remember in one session the ostensibly reputable doctor offered me therapy to suppress my attraction to boys.

He said that we could try therapeutic practices that would help me not to act on my sexual feelings. I was really taken aback and shocked. I didn’t think that this was something that went on still, and especially with a seemingly secular psychiatrist. I declined this therapy.

Shortly after declining that therapy from the psychiatrist, my parents took me to see a Jesuit Catholic priest. I remember being taken to this priest against my will, crying in the car on the way to and during the session.

Although the priest was kind and sympathetic, I found the focus and ‘therapy’ on how to suppress my sexual feelings deeply upsetting. This therapy would involve prayer if I had ‘impure thoughts’, methods to force myself to not act on my sexuality and conversations about the implications of being gay on my eternal soul.

I remember nights trying to hold my breath to make any sexual arousal go away. I remember nights where I would cry myself to sleep, thinking that I was sinful and destined to be damned to hell.

After a few sessions, I remember being in the car with my mum on the way home, breaking down crying saying I was growing to hate a part of myself. Shortly after this, against my mum’s pleading, I refused to go to anymore sessions. As soon as I was able I moved out of my parents’ home.

Although my brush with conversion practices was only fleeting, it has left lasting scars.

Conversion practices of all kinds encourage dark thought patterns and self loathing and the protections must extend to gender diverse people, given the high rates of suicide for young trans people.

To this day, I still know people involved in a Catholic organisation called ‘Courage International’, which offers online and in-person support for same-sex attracted people to remain celibate.

The techniques are adapted from an Alcoholics Anonymous-style 12-step program. Groups like Courage International have re-branded themselves away from conversion to suppression, however, the outcome of suffering is the same.

I consider myself very lucky. I never sought out conversion therapy. I rejected the views of the religion in which I was raised and became atheist by the age of 20.

I have since received real therapy in my 20s that helped me overcome the trauma of the conversion therapy I experienced.

There are so many others who have had much worse experiences with conversion practices. I especially fear for the children and teenagers of highly religious communities in New South Wales, where these abhorrent practices still go on.

If we as a society want to promote human flourishing the safety of the individual must come before religious views. God isn’t real, but people are, and I think that should be, especially in a secular society, our No. 1 priority.

You wouldn’t send your child to places that promote eating disorders or self harm. And yet that is exactly what conversion practices are, a form of self harm. These practices must be outlawed to save lives.

Jeremy Smith

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 these to stop. We can’t legislate to change an outdated, ill-informed religious belief about sexuality and gender identity, but we can create awareness and pass laws that protect vulnerable LGBTQ people from harm. You can help create awareness by sharing this story”

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