John Smid, a former member of Love in Action, His organisation, was one of the largest Christian gay conversion
John Smid, a former member of Love in Action, His organisation, was one of the largest Christian gay conversion

Gay people being told they are ‘broken’ in Australia

WARNING: Distressing

An explosive investigation has lifted the lid on an outdated practice still alive within some conservative Christian churches where young gay people are being told they are "broken" by ministers trying to convert them to heterosexuality, often causing lifelong damage.

It's astonishing to think that in 2019 so-called gay conversion therapy - an unregulated counselling practice - still exists and while the language may have been toned down somewhat, the sinister undertones are still prevalent.

These days, young gay people are told by their church minister to suppress their sexual urges and remain celibate although they can marry if they wish - within a heterosexual relationship.

Robert Williams, 57, joined a church in his 20s, married and had children and while for most of his adult life he knew he was gay, accepting this fact would cost him everything.

"I lost everything," he told 60 Minutes reporter Sarah Abo "I lost my children, I lost my wife, I lost my security, I lost my identity, I had to rebuild the whole lot."

RELATED: Christian conversion therapy founder comes out as gay

 

Robert Williams who underwent Gay Conversion Therapy
Robert Williams who underwent Gay Conversion Therapy

 

When Robert initially told a minister at City Life Church in Melbourne he was gay, he was immediately referred to group counselling which turned out to be gay conversion therapy.

"They got me to wear an elastic band on my wrist," he told 60 Minutes. "Every time I had a sexual thought, I had to ping it. And if I had sexual thoughts at night, I had to take a cold shower."

But after six months, it became clear that the counselling wasn't helping - in fact, it made everything much worse.

"I submitted myself willingly at the time, I didn't know the damage it was going to do to me.

"I think they know it's shameful. I think they know the damage they've done," he said.

Robert, who is now married to Russell Pattle, suffered depression and anxiety as a result of the therapy and now wants to see the practice banned to protect other gay people - particularly vulnerable young people.

John Smid worked for 22 years with his organisation Love in Action - one of the largest Christian gay conversion institutions in the United States. John and his group even featured in the Hollywood movie Boy Erased.

However, now seven years later, John has come out as gay and is happily married to his partner Larry McQueen.

He deeply regrets his work with Love in Action and is trying to make amends by helping many of the people who went through gay conversion therapy with his organisation.

"We've clearly taught that homosexuality was caused as a result of family dysfunction, as a result of sexual abuse. We taught that homosexuality was a product of brokenness," he said.

"As Christian leaders we believed that we had the authority of the Bible (to preach gay conversion therapy).

"We did not come to grips with how deeply harmful it is when you start working with someone's psyche.

"I would say every single one that I've had contact with has struggled terribly through the years with depression, with deep levels of anxiety.

"The people I've talked with had a lot of anger and resentment. There have been people that have even committed suicide as a result."

In Melbourne, the extent of gay conversion therapy is so great there is even a support group for young people who have been subjected to the practice called Brave.

However, despite the clear negative consequences for gay people who have undergone religious counselling, there are some who still think it is worthwhile and a legitimate practice.

Martin Iles, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, said, "You've got to understand that people who would sign up for that are people who want to sign up for it.

"I don't believe anyone is made to believe anything, people can choose to believe what they want to believe these days.

"We live in such a pluralist environment, in such a pluralist society."

 

The managing director of Australian Christian Lobby, Martin Iles
The managing director of Australian Christian Lobby, Martin Iles

 

Victoria is the first state in Australia to make it illegal to offer this type of counselling to young or old after a report from the Victorian Healthcare Complaints Commission found it caused "severe mental trauma".

Mr Iles, however, said this decision is "hugely concerning" for the Christian church.

"You're actually criminalising a significant part of the Christian faith. That's hugely concerning for the Christian community.

"I think they (the laws) exist because conversion therapy is a convenient term that can essentially creep into all sorts of areas of life.

"And if you have laws that prevent that message from being spoken by the church which has been spoken for millennia, it just smacks to me of madness.

"I think there are things that need to be stopped but if we're getting into this kind of conversation - steady on. It's just attacking religion."

However, for Robert and many other people who have been subjected to gay conversion therapy, the emotional scars are all too real so is the actual psychological damage and destruction to their lives.

"It's pseudo science, it's psychobabble, it's not real," Robert said. "It does so much damage to you. You'd have to be certifiable to submit yourself to that. It's the young people I really feel for."

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For help with depression or anxiety please contact Beyond Blue for a list of helpful organisations.


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