It's been 25 years since I realised I was gay, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m questioning why. The images flickering across my computer screen have jolted me. I’m logged into a “support group” run by Living Hope Ministries, one of the most prolific proponents of gay conversion in the world. And, for a moment, they’ve gotten under my skin.
“Tomboy girl, or girlie girl, she needs three things from her parents we call the three A’s,” a woman is explaining on the hour-long gender development video I’ve been sent.
“Affirmation. Attention. And affection. And she needs to receive them from both parents to be gender healthy.”
I think of my own childhood – in a strict Catholic home with a violent stepfather and very little of the three A’s. Despite knowing better, I begin to question whether, indeed, that’s had an effect on my sexuality. Fleetingly, unexpectedly, I am profoundly unsettled. This is how it feels to be “ministered” to by Living Hope, an organisation I have covertly joined as part of a Fairfax Media investigation.
Gay conversion has been discredited as ineffective, damaging, even dangerous. But across Australia, organisations who believe that LGBTI people can or should change are hard at work. Conversion practices are hidden in evangelical churches and ministries, taking the form of exorcisms, prayer groups or counselling disguised as pastoral care.
They’re also present in some religious schools or practised in the private offices of health professionals. They’re pushed out through a thriving network of courses and mentors in the borderless world of cyberspace, cloaked in the terminology of “self improvement” or “spiritual healing”. And they’re causing real harm.
Robert Williams remembers clearly the evening they tried to exorcise his demons. An earnest married couple had met him at a suburban counselling centre run by CityLife, one of Melbourne’s largest pentecostal mega-churches. Read more via Brisbane Times