CEO Annual Report 2022

Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International (ABBI) is committed to ending the unnecessary suffering caused by ignorance and misinformation about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Our mission is to create understanding, acceptance and a better world for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) people.

We do this by empowering community members, providing education and resources, building bridges with Christian leaders, organisations and churches, and utilising media/social networking opportunities.

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Preamble

As I’ve gone back over the last 18 months preparing this report, I’m reminded how much Covid influenced our lives with lockdowns, restrictions and limitations. It wasn’t business-as-usual; it was ‘how do we adapt’?

As a substantial amount of our work is online through email, website, creating resources and using social media the disruption wasn’t huge. Working from home, whilst new for some, is what I have done for years. Zoom became our friend and enabled us to gather people together. We found creative ways to do things we previously had not considered.

One thing I could never get used to, was speaking at online conferences. Speaking to a computer screen is not really my idea of interaction. As a former Pentecostal preacher, I do my best work in front of a live audience……lol.

The year in review

Going back over the calendar, communications, and posts to see what has been achieved is always encouraging and sometimes surprising. Here are some highlights.

Consultations

Having worked with thousands for LGBTQ people from Christian backgrounds over the years and particularly with conversion ‘therapy’ survivors, I’m often called upon to share my experience and insights with various organisations.

Here are some organisations I’ve worked with this year.

  • LGBTIQ+ Health Australia
  • The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
  • The New Zealand Ministry of Justice in preliminary discussions regarding the banning of conversion therapy
  • The Tasmanian Conversion Practices Survivor Support Group
  • Improving Spiritual Health Care for LGBT Australians: Beyond Conversion Practices Research – Steering Committee Latrobe University
  • Meeting with a variety of church leaders from Canberra and surrounding area
  • Endeavour College – Adelaide

Conferences and presentations

8th International Conference on Gender, Sexuality and Queer Theology

I was thrilled to be invited to give the opening address at the 8th International Conference on Gender, Sexuality and Queer Theology, hosted by the Jakarta Theological Seminary (JTS).

Founded in 1934, JTS is the oldest ecumenical theological college in Indonesia and has a strong tradition of learning, transformative spirituality, and a creative community. The work they are doing amongst gender and sexually diverse people in Indonesia is unique and ground-breaking.

Because of sensitivities within Indonesia, the session was not recorded but a PDF of the presentation “Normal is a cycle on a washing machine” is available on our website.

Included2021 with affirming Salvation Army leaders and members

Another exciting opportunity was to speak at the Included2021 conference. Included2021 was a global conference for Salvation Army leaders and members who are committed to creating LGBTQ inclusion in the denomination.

I gave a presentation on Conversion Therapy, its history, evolution, and the impact on individual’s lives.

An edited version of that is now available on our YouTube channel. What is conversion ‘therapy’ – a complete guide

#WalkingBetweenWorlds Central Church Port Kembla

After several stops and starts because of Covid, we finally got to do a #WalkingBetweenWorlds seminar for Central Church at Port Kembla.

#WalkingBetweenWorlds Central Church Port Kembla.

A church moving towards becoming affirming, the Pastor and leadership felt sponsoring a seminar like this was a good step forward. It was definitely one of the most successful seminars we’ve run.

Here’s some feedback from participants:

  • I wish with all my heart this was given to me when I was a suicidal teenager praying God would make me a boy, so I didn’t have to face this painful world.
  • Thank you for changing the future of Australian churches.
  • Excellent presentation. Easy to listen to. Engaging, relevant.
  • I am very grateful for this experience. I was moved by the vulnerability and inclusivity of the presenter and church community.
  • This was so helpful. All people from both worlds need to hear this.
  • An excellent and refreshing seminar- very well done.
  • This workshop exceeded my expectations. The humour was welcome as well.

Read more feedback in the newsletter report.

#WalkingBetweenWorlds Darwin Memorial Uniting Church

Darwin Memorial Uniting Church hosted the one-day training seminar as a contribution to the annual Top End Pride.

“Wonderful, challenging, thought-provoking” said one minister from the Salvation Army who attended. “Presenter – Brilliant. Content – Awesome,” said another.

Many commented that they were unaware of the depths of conflict many LGBTQ from church backgrounds experienced.

When asked what things they liked most about the training, common responses were, the personal stories, the strategies to help LGBTQ people of faith find resolution and the personal and engaging style of the presenter.

The Darwin Memorial Uniting Church, Northern Territory, Australia.

IMAGE SOURCE: N.T. Modern

On the Saturday afternoon, I sat on a panel with the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Natasha Fyles, other politicians, and community leaders, talking about LGBTQ equality and ending discrimination.

A minister’s breakfast and evening public meeting were included in the program.

On the Saturday afternoon, I sat on a panel with the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Natasha Fyles, other politicians, and community leaders, talking about LGBTQ equality and ending discrimination.

Shameless Sexuality: Life After Purity Culture Conference.

Having worked with 1,000s of LGBTQ people from Christian backgrounds, I’ve had lots of experience with LGBTQ Religious Trauma.

I was invited to join a line-up of 15 speakers at the Shameless Sexuality: Life After Purity Culture conference in the United States.

In my presentation ‘A Life of Unlearning – from Gay Shame to Gay Pride’, I covered four themes.

  1. Scripture resolution process.
  2. Belief resolution options.
  3. Sexuality resolution process.
  4. 14 strategies I’ve used to manage my PTSD.

The above presentation is also available on our YouTube Channel.

Other speaking opportunities included:

Resources – Resources – Resources

“The enemy is not individuals, churches, conversion ‘therapy’ organisations or political parties; the enemy is ignorance. Change is created by focusing our energies on overcoming the latter instead of attacking the former.”

– Anthony Venn-Brown

Website

Our website continues to be a source of information for people searching for information and answers, especially those who wish to do this anonymously.

The ABBI site has Australia’s largest collection of articles, information and research on conversion “therapy” and has been a critical resource for academics, legislators, human rights advocates, journalists etc. We have a page dedicated to the topic.

Blog posts – 18 new blog posts have been added.

The top 5 posts have been:

  1. Pray Away – Netflix documentary – Review
  2. Gays and Lesbians in the Military – WWll
  3. Sy Rogers misled me, and I tried to be straight for the next 27 years
  4. World Suicide Prevention Day – a look at LGBTQ religious suicide
  5. Citipointe Christian College stop it. Just stop it.

Our top 3 posts of all time have been:

0 views.
#1 When a married straight man falls in love with another man.
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#2 LGBTQ Welcoming, accepting, affirming – don’t get stuck.
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#3 Can a straight person become gay?

The number one post has been #1 since it was originally posted. It seems there are a lot of gay men in straight marriages out there looking for answers.

The ABBI YouTube Channel

Since the beginning of the 2021 financial year (1 July 2021), these videos have been added to our YouTube channel for people to view and share.

Creating a space for change

This concept, originally created in 2008, is the foundation of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International’s philosophy and approach. It has been the structure to create a safe space for churches, religious organisations and leaders to engage and learn more about LGBTQ people and their community.

This concept is the very foundation of the work of ABBI. Recorded in the Open Door Church in Los Angeles.

Christian parents’ misguided love and their gay son – the enemy is ignorance.

A heart-wrenching story told by the parents themselves. Rob and Linda’s story of their son Ryan demonstrates how ignorance about sexual orientation and an ill-informed outdated Christian belief system can slowly destroy no matter how much we love.  “Unintentionally we had taught Ryan to hate his sexuality. And since sexuality cannot be separated from self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself.” Linda Mueller Robertson.

Homosexuality and Christianity – a respectful dialogue.

A 2006 interview with Dr Shane Clifton (Alphacrucis College), Ron Brookman (Living Waters) and myself. This interview continued to be played to students in the college for years afterwards until Dr Clifton’s employment was terminated. When the video was released recently, several people said it was influential in their becoming LGBTQ-affirming.

Homosexuality and the Pentecostal Church.

A brief (23:34) documentary project by some of Dr Shane Clifton’s students from Alphacrucis College.

The Cure.

The only Australian documentary on conversion “therapy”.

Dad’s coming out.

60 Minutes (Australia) segment on being gay and in a straight marriage.

Here I am.

A documentary about coming out and Christian families.

The bedroom commandments.

A documentary on the intersection of sexuality and religion. Various people were interviewed, including myself and the Hon. Michael Kirby.

LGBTQ Religious Trauma, Resolution Options and PTSD.

A presentation from the Religious Trauma Conference in the United States.

Anthony Venn-Brown on John Gatfield’s Viewpoint.

It’s embarrassing. It was the morning after the huge book launch of A Life of Unlearning in 2004. It was my very first TV interview. I felt railroaded. “So, how many men have you slept with?” he asked. It was Sky News.

Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Dragonflies – Rev Josephine Inkpin.

Conversion ‘therapy’ – everything you wanted to know.

A presentation to a Salvation Army conference.

AVB – a non-academic academic?

When I finished High School in 1969, I missed out on university matriculation by one subject. I had planned to go to a theological seminary, but the lack of a university entrance grade meant I took the path of attending a Bible College instead.

Well done! Anthony's research read 4,000 reads.

Looking back over the years, I’d call myself a self-learner. I never read fiction, always non-fiction. When I was in the ministry, I was always reading relevant books on apologetics, spiritual gifts, church growth, evangelism, and personal development.

I remember when I walked away from everything, that left a learning void in my life. I wasn’t motivated to learn anything.

That changed once I found reconciliation. Suddenly, several new genres opened up to me.

The science sexual orientation, the six passages of the bible presumed to speak about homosexuality, religion and sexuality, LGBTQ history and of course conversion “therapy” have all been topics I’ve found intriguing.

I now upload my papers onto Academia.edu and also ResearchGate. Recently I discovered that my article, HOW, WHEN AND WHY HILLSONG BANNED “EX-GAY” REFERRALS was used and quoted extensively in the UK gay press, in the Pink News article, Shameful history of anti-gay megachurch Hillsong as disgraced founder resigns amid misconduct claims.

Every now and then I receive encouraging messages like this one.

A Life of Unlearning – still relevant

A Life of Unlearning | Anthony Venn-Brown

A Life of Unlearning is now in its third edition. Who would have thought, now 18 years since it was first published in 2004, that it would still be selling and impacting lives?

This Facebook message received recently is one of the many showing how profoundly people are often impacted.

“Thank you for writing #alifeofunlearning”. It took me less than 48 hours to cry my way through it. It could have been my autobiography…. Up until the point where you were forced ‘out’.

I totally broke down when you wrote about thinking about driving off the highway to end it all – that is exactly what happened to me just last year.

I have spoken to a few close friends (2 gay one not) about coming out. Two are wonderfully supportive, but bizarrely, one of the gay ones is telling me not to because of the pain it will cause my wife. So the next stage is to talk to my wife and my denomination. I have written out what i am going to say and I’m thinking about when to do it. Probably after Christmas.

All of that is not the point of this pm – the point is that while you hit a raw nerve in me and unleashed deep emotions I’ve been burying, you also gave me hope. You made me feel that there were others out there and i am not alone. Probably even more importantly though is that i can take these next steps knowing it doesn’t have to be all bad. At times i’ve felt that i was going to walk into darkness. Strange, as I’ve been living in darkness way too long.

For your book, I cannot thank you enough.”

Discounts are available for bulk purchases and remember that all proceeds go to the work of ABBI.

Submissions

ABBI is often called upon to make submissions to government inquiries. In the past, this has included Marriage Equality, Religious Freedom and LGBTQ Conversion Practices (conversion ‘therapy’).

This year we have lodged two government submissions to protect LGBTQ people from harm and discrimination:

  1. Religious Discrimination Bill – Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee (Australia)
  2. New South Wales, Australia Equality Bill

News items – titbits

  • In March 2022 LinkedIn named me one of Australia’s Top 20 LGBTQIA+ Voices.
  • In June 2022 I attended the second Queer History Conference at the San Francisco State Conference. Whilst in the US I also went to Missouri to do some research for my next book.
  • In August 2022 we hosted a free viewing of the documentary Cured.
  • Hillsong. As I knew Brian Houston from when he moved to Australia and preached regularly for him from his first meeting in a school hall, I had a number of filmmakers approaching me to be a part of their documentaries. After initial conversations, it was clear that being involved with these was not aligned with our mission and would have muddied the name of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International. There was one documentary maker, however, who was different. After our initial communications, I felt our contribution was going to be important and respected. After 3 months back-and-forth negotiations, they agreed to give us complete editorial control over what content and how our contribution was used. This is generally unheard of. I feel confident that ABBI’s contribution will be helpful to LGBTQ people not only in Hillsong Churches but also Evangelical and Pentecostal megachurches around the world. The documentary will be released in a few months.

Subscribers to our newsletter will hear about this first.

And now the BIG one

Bundeena House Christian Community becomes affirming and apologises for past conversion “therapy” practices.

If you’ve read my autobiography, you’ll know that in 1972, I was in a residential Christian program operating out of a church in Sydney’s south to rid myself of my homosexuality. Moombara and Bundeena House were properties owned and operated by the church.

Through a series of amazing synchronistic events that would boggle the mind of any mathematician, I reconnected with the church during the first COVID-19 lockdown and began consulting with the leadership and the church.

The final outcome was that on Sunday 27 March 2022, the church became officially affirming and apologised to me and others for the past harms.

Bundeena Church group in front of the Church.
Bundeena Church Sign.
Statement of affirmation:

“At Bundeena House Christian Community, we believe that every person is created in God’s image. All are equally worthy of respect, dignity and love, regardless of gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, ability, race or ethnicity. Everyone is welcomed, supported and affirmed to grow in their relationship with God, self and each other. Everyone is encouraged to use their gifts and abilities to serve God and others.”

The apology:

“Today we want to speak about wrongs in the past history of the Bundeena House Christian Community and to acknowledge the suffering which so many experienced as a result of the community’s stance on issues of sexuality.

  • We are sorry for our past belief that any person’s sexuality was unacceptable to God and needed to be changed, and for our attempts to do so.
  • We are sorry that we promoted the belief that anyone’s intrinsic sexuality would be condemned by God and by the church at large.
  • We are sorry for the harshness with which many were treated and the condemnation which was directed at LGBT people.
  • We are sorry for the spiritual and emotional suffering and damage which were direct consequences of the beliefs we espoused and the practices we undertook.
  • We are sorry that we were in these ways not channels of the love and mercy of God.”

Eventually, a video will be put together of the event, but you can have a sneak peek at a special part of the proceedings above.

For those who like numbers

Our emphasis is always focusing on overcoming ignorance and misinformation with truth and facts. ABBI gets information out there through as many channels as possible. These include media, social networks, our website’s resources, and posts, training, etc.

Our social media profile continues to grow and is used regularly to distribute up-to-date and relevant information.

The actual impact of our work is often hard to measure. However, the visits to our website give some indication of our growing reach.

For a more detailed breakdown of the numbers, download the annual report. You will find the numbers on page 13.

2023 What’s happening

This year Sydney is hosting World Pride. It’s going to be an incredible time like Sydney and Australia have never seen before. Imagine the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on steroids.

ABBI will be involved in several events. Look out of us at Fair Day. In conjunction with World Pride is a 3 day Human Rights Conference. ABBI is responsible for organising an Interfaith Caucus on the 28th of February as a part of the conference.

All going well, a new book will be published in 2023 which will lift the veil on a certain individual in the Christian world who wasn’t what they appeared or proclaimed to be ………………… (you’ll have to wait and see). It’ll be controversial, but its purpose is to dispel myths and false narratives about sexuality and gender identity with facts and the truth.

Next year, we have an anniversary. ABBI will have been in existence officially for 10 years. I think we should have a party, or something, don’t you?

Financial support

There is only one way our organisation continues. We receive no government funding. Where would be without our #ABBIfamily? The #ABBIfamily comprises individuals who believe in the value of our work and either give on a monthly basis or with one-off donations.

We are grateful for every single one of you who generously and sacrificially give to this important and sometimes life-saving work.

If you are not a part of our #ABBIfamily and you’d like to join, click here. If you’d like to have a conversation about ways to help ABBI with fundraising, we’d love to talk to you. Please email me at anthony@abbi.org.au

A fully audited financial report is available. You can view that on the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission website or email secretary@abbi.org.au for a PDF copy. Our thanks to Martin Coxell, who donated his time to complete the audit.

Thanks.

Finally, I must thank the board of ABBI. I am always grateful for their encouragement, support, feedback, expertise, and wisdom. It takes a great deal of time to put this report together. I trust you found it informative.

Thank you for taking the time to read it.

We look forward to serving you, the LGBTQ community, and faith communities in 2023 and into the future.

Please….if  you have any questions, feel free to call, text or email.

Anthony Venn-Brown OAM (he/him) | Founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International (ABBI).

Anthony Venn-Brown OAM
Founder and CEO
Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International
anthony@abbi.org.au
+61 416 015 231

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