Conversion therapy is all but dead in Australia – but what will it take to kill it?
Brisbane man Johann De Joodt knows first hand the horrors of gay conversion therapy.
A participant in numerous programs designed to purge his homosexuality during his twenties and thirties, De Joodt adopted a traumatising routine of church, sin and repentance that looped on repeat every week for 15 years.
“Sunday, I was going up to the altar, crying out to God,” he said. “Monday, I would sin by having sex with another man, and then beat myself up to a pulp so by Saturday I was suicidal. I’d manage to get myself to church on Sunday and then do it again, every week.”
“That was basically my life.”
“When a church leader says being gay is an abomination, people say, ‘you’re talking about my uncle who I love very much.’”
The question of whether conversion therapy works was answered long ago: it doesn’t. Leading psychological associations in Australia and around the world have denounced therapy that attempts to change sexual orientation. Earlier this year, a report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for nations to ban the practice, describing it as “unethical, unscientific and ineffective and, and may be tantamount to torture”.
Partly as a result of these strident denouncements, the prevalence of such therapy has significantly declined in Australia. Around 40 providers across the country in 2000 have dwindled to just a handful still in action today.
“There’s very little left. It’s in disarray,” says former pastor Anthony Venn-Brown. Venn-Brown, who has himself been through reparative therapy, is the most prominent voice on conversion therapy in Australia. He now works as the founder and CEO of Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International (ABBI), a group that works to combat ignorance and hostility between the LGBT community and churches.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News at a cafe in Waterloo, Sydney, Venn-Brown suggests another part of the decline is due to a growing acceptance of gay people in wider society – which, of course, includes churches too.
“More people are out, churchgoers have got gay sisters, brothers, colleagues, friends,” Venn-Brown says.
“When a church leader says being gay is an abomination, people say, ‘you’re talking about my uncle who I love very much.’”
The most thriving ex-gay programs are in Queensland, where Liberty Incorporated runs alongside the smaller Triumphant Ministries Toowoomba. Sydney-based Living Waters, one of Australia’s longest-running ex-gay programs, closed down last year.
There are also groups that advertise themselves as providing pastoral counselling on dealing with same-sex attraction, but clarify they do not attempt to change sexual orientation. These groups include Liberty Christian Ministries in NSW, and Renew Ministries in Victoria.
However, perhaps due to the stigma now attached to conversion therapy, there is little public information available about the funding, treatment methods and numbers of clients for each of these organisations. While Venn-Brown estimates that the programs would get “very few referrals” these days, their relative invisibility serves as a shield to such information. “We’ll never know the exact numbers,” he says.
At the heart of religious conversion therapy is “a strong belief in an all powerful God”, says Venn-Brown. Programs use a number of methods to exploit this belief, convincing participants that homosexuality is not what God wants for them. Venn-Brown went through dramatic exorcisms, where he convulsed on the floor for hours as pastors gathered around him, screaming for the demon of homosexuality to exit his soul.
Other methods include group and personal counselling, where homosexuality is posed either as a shameful habit that can be broken or an affliction, harking back to the days when it was considered a mental illness.
Johann De Joodt bristles at the description of gay conversion therapy as “nearly dead”.
“Conversion therapy hasn’t ended in Australia,” he says. “It is alive and well.”
De Joodt came to Australia from Sri Lanka in 1984. A few years later, he found himself heavily involved in the Assemblies of God Pentecostal church movement – now known as Australian Christian Churches – and struggling with his sexuality.
“I went to confess my sin of homosexuality to my pastors,” he says. “I was pretty involved in church life, and the pastor recognised that there were a few other people in the church who were struggling with their sexuality as well.”
De Joodt started the Living Waters ex-gay program in 1990. This was the first of many programs he went through, and when his weekly routine of church, sin, and self-loathing began. It wouldn’t end until 2005.
For years, De Joodt prayed the gay away as various pastors attempted to cast the demons of homosexuality from his soul. He was told his sexuality was a habit that could be broken and changed, that he was gay because he had been sexually assaulted as a child and lacked a decent father figure. He enrolled in courses on self-esteem, and learning how to say no, and did hours of counselling. He prayed, week after week after week.
Unsurprisingly, Johann stayed gay. But the years he spent in therapy ate away at him in other ways. “My health…” Johann starts, then pauses. “I am on antidepressants. Everything I’ve been through has stuffed up my mental health.”
“You were either Christian and heterosexual or you were gay and going to go to hell”
Since 2000, twelve peer-reviewed, primary research studies have found conversion therapy is harmful to mental health. A Columbia Law School project collating conversion therapy research found that among people who had undergone the treatment, there was a prevalence of depression, anxiety, social isolation, decreased capacity for intimacy, and suicidal thoughts and behaviours. “There is powerful evidence that trying to change a person’s sexual orientation can be extremely harmful,” the researchers concluded.
“People have taken their lives, they are now on pensions because they can’t function in everyday life,” says Venn-Brown. “There are PTSD issues, they’ve been harmed mentally, they’re traumatised.”
This manifest trauma and pain is why Venn-Brown has devoted his life to combating ignorance between the LGBT and faith community through ABBI. His daily grind is a softly-softly approach that coaxes people of faith and the LGBT community closer together. “The biggest challenge is fear,” he says without hesitation.
In the past – and in conversion therapy – being gay and being a Christian were seen as incompatible. Venn-Brown says that when he was going through therapy in the 1970s and ‘80s, there was “nobody who believed there was such a thing as a gay Christian”.
“You were either Christian and heterosexual or you were gay and going to go to hell,” he explains. “The gay Christian movement was just beginning to grow then.” After coming out in 1991, he left the Christian faith for six years – but then returned to it after realising being a gay Christian was possible. “There are things [in Christianity] that I can take, that are very real for me,” he says. “Forgiveness, sowing and reaping, having purpose.”
As attitudes have changed and churches become more permissive, many LGBT Christians have been able to reconcile their faith with their sexuality and gender identity. However, a damaging rift still exists between the two communities, with years of betrayal from religious organisations leaving LGBT people fearful and unwilling to engage. Those hurt most by the hostility are LGBT Christians, who are often left feeling as though they belong in neither camp.
“Just as Christians have stereotyped all LGBT people, some LGBT people have stereotyped all Christians,” says Venn-Brown. “We get called perverts, abominations, they get called bigots and haters. And that doesn’t get us anywhere, just sitting back in our camps, our tribes, throwing barbs at each other.”
It’s obvious the division is unhelpful – but is being called a pervert really on par with being called a bigot? Venn-Brown pauses before answering, in short, no.
“It’s about the perception – we will often hear, a Christian like [Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director] Lyle Shelton or [Christian Democrats leader] Fred Nile say ‘I am not homophobic’. But everything that comes out of their mouth is completely homophobic. They just don’t understand what homophobia is, because they’ve never experienced it,” he says.
“We come from our own hurt, and our own pain. And we react, as any human would, when cruel and nasty and insensitive things are said by these people.” He switches into the second person, speaking directly to those who have hurt him. “You don’t know what that does to us, because you’ve never experienced that. You don’t know what it feels like.”
But matters of blame and hostility aside, Venn-Brown is convinced his approach of “dialogue and respect” is best. He knows both the LGBT and the faith community intimately, and says church communities do not respond to “aggressive” activism.
“I introduced [Hillsong Pastor] Brian Houston to a guy in his church who had been referred to somebody [for conversion therapy],” says Venn-Brown. “I got him and his parents to write a letter, Brian met with him.”
Later, it emerged that Houston had issued a directive to all Hillsong staff to never refer anyone to these programs.
“I’ve talked with people who are major religious leaders in Australia. It’s been a journey of ten years for some of them,” Venn-Brown says. “I’ve seen progress, but not where I would want it to be. In every human rights movement, it’s taken decades to shift. If you’re not in it for the long haul, it’s not going to work.”
However, politicians involved in LGBT law reform say a legal approach to ending conversion therapy is complex.
“There’s not much that can be done to target these organisations specifically at a federal level, other than continuing to tighten anti-discrimination legislation and look at the applicability of consumer law,” Greens senator Robert Simms tells BuzzFeed News.
If providing the therapy was considered a breach of the Sex Discrimination Act, it’s likely that the religious exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act would protect conversion therapy providers. Under Australian consumer law, the religious and not-for-profit aspects of most conversion therapy programs would mean they are not considered “commercial in nature”. While such laws could be tweaked, says Simms, it’s unlikely they could be used as a mechanism to eradicate the therapy altogether.
Graham Perrett, a co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of LGBTI People Working Group, says a federal law banning conversion therapy may be unconstitutional.
“In terms of section 51 on the powers of the parliament, I can’t see any head of power that would give the federal parliament any capacity to make gay conversion therapy illegal in Australia,” he says.
There are some legal avenues under state and territory law as well, with acts in all jurisdictions outlawing advertising of health services that are deceptive or misleading. It could also be possible to lodge a complaint with the Australian Psychological Society that their code of ethics has been breached.
However, there is no black and white policy solution to immediately ending conversion therapy.
“It’s all just prejudice welded onto quackery packaged by a religious organisation,” says Perrett.
“I think education is the best antidote.”
De Joodt’s conversion journey reached a fork in 2005. His conversion counsellor at the time, CEO of Liberty Incorporated Paul Wegner, told him “I can help you suppress your sexual desires, but I can’t help you change your sexual orientation”.
“I was like, ‘Well, what’s the point?” says De Joodt. “If you take a ball and try to push it in a bucket of water and let go, it’s going to eventually pop up.”
He came out, lost “a lot of people”, and left his Pentecostal church. He went to the LGBT-friendly Metropolitan Community Church for a few years, and then stopped that, too. But God is still in his life.
“I have days where I feel like a Christian, and there are other days where I feel like I hate God,” he says.
“I think I’ve resolved my sexuality with my faith. If people want to be so small-minded as to think that you have to be straight to get into heaven then I think they’re going to get a big shock when they do get to heaven.”
A pause, and then: “I think God is bigger than the box you put God into.”
It’s because of this new understanding of faith, says De Joodt, that he doesn’t relapse into wanting to be straight again. “I’ve come to a point where I believe I need to be honest before myself, and before my God.”
“There’s a famous saying, isn’t there?” He thinks aloud. “Change what you can change and leave the rest to God? Or something like that. Accept the things you can’t change?”
A quick Google search later, it becomes apparent De Joodt was trying to recall the words of the Serenity Prayer, brought into popular culture by its widespread use in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change / The courage to change the things I can / And the wisdom to know the difference.
It took years of anguish, but finally, De Joodt has been granted that serenity. He knows the difference, too.
“If God wanted just another heterosexual, God could have created one, but instead God created me fabulous,” he says.
“My sexual orientation is something I cannot change.”
A spokesperson for Liberty Christian Ministries declined a request to be interviewed for this piece. Requests sent to Liberty Incorporated and Triumphant Ministries Toowoomba were not responded to.
Bigotry against LGBT people is at its worst on construction sites and for staff of contracting firms
A major investigation into attitudes in the UK construction industry has concluded that homophobia is running rife in the sector, with 85% of gay men and women working for contracting firms encountering homophobic comments in the workplace in the last 12 months.
The figure falls to 63% across the entire industry (covering architecture, contracting, engineering and property sectors).
Other key findings in the research, which anonymously surveyed 958 people, found that:
• Less than half of all gay employees trust their managers to handle sexual orientation issues, and only one in ten would recommend the industry as a great place to work for gay men and women.
• Just 16% of gay employees believe the wider construction/property industry is inclusive of LGB workers.
• A third of gay employees feel their sexuality creates barriers to career progression.
• Just 11% of gay employees would recommend the industry to other gay people.
• Just over 85% wanted to see the industry do more to support gay employees.
• Despite these findings, it would be wrong to think everyone in construction hides their sexuality: 60% of gay respondents said they felt comfortable being open about their sexual orientations with immediate colleagues. However, this figure varies widely across the industry, ranging from more than 70% in architectural practice to just 27% in contracting.
• Despite most architects saying they were open about their sexuality with immediate colleagues, the proportion of them who feel comfortable being open falls to just 12 per cent on site visits.
The study was undertaken by Architects’ Journal. It followed a similar study that it undertook in 2013 specifically of gay architects only.
That too found that half had encountered homophobia at work, and anecdotal evidence suggested that the issue was even greater in the wider construction industry; prompting Architect’s Journal to again investigate.
Besides the feedback relating to sexuality, many said the situation was worse for trans people. Although the authors say there was insufficient data to make generalizations, comments included this from one respondent: ‘This is not an industry for gay people, but for transgender people in particular it is highly unsafe.’
Not a single construction or built environment company appears on the 2015 Workplace Equality Index produced by Stonewall; the UK’s leading LGBT advocacy group.
Earlier in this year, in an effort to begin to address the issue, Stonewall sent out 1,000 pairs of rainbow laces to construction workers. It said at the time that the initiative received a ‘fantastic response from both LGBT and straight workers.’
Commenting on the AJ survey’s findings, Matteo Lissana, client account manager, Stonewall said: ‘The construction and built environment sectors are historically very traditional, and changes in the industry take a long time to implement. The industry is still struggling with gender equality, which has remained the main focus of the sector for years.
‘But for most industries things have moved forward. The [construction] sector must realize that this approach is outdated and that diversity does not operate in separate compartments.’
Richard Chapman-Harris, equality, diversity and inclusion manager at engineering firm Mott MacDonald, said in a statement: ‘These findings are indeed worrying but unfortunately not a surprise. Research shows that 55% of gay young people experience homophobic bullying and 99% hear “gay” being used as a pejorative. This data highlights that endemic homophobia is translating into the workplace.
‘Employers need to have a zero tolerance approach to all forms of bullying and harassment, particularly the use of inappropriate language, and especially where it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity.’
Rory Olcayto, editor, Architects’ Journal, said: ‘When we looked into the experiences of LGBT architects in 2013, the results were shocking, with almost half encountering homophobic comments or behavior in the workplace within the previous year.
‘However the findings of the Architects’ Journal’s new survey, which looks into attitudes towards sexuality across the whole construction and property industry, are even worse.
Harry Rich, chief executive of the RIBA, expressed disappointment with the findings, saying, ‘much more to be done to change attitudes within [architecture] and most certainly across the wider construction industry.
‘In particular, the difficulties experienced by LGBT colleagues when visiting construction sites shows the importance of the whole industry working together. There must be collective responsibility at all levels and in every part of the country to confront the issues and deliver a solution that prioritizes equality.’
February 7, 2015
New York Times – Sunday Review
Today the U.S. government treats immigrants from Latin America the way liberated Jews were treated after World War II. Then a presidential aid reported: “we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead of S.S.
Prisoners at the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, Germany, as it was liberated by American forces in April 1945., Margaret Bourke-White/Time & Life Pictures – Getty Images // The New York Times,
World leaders gathered at Auschwitz last month to mark the liberation 70 years earlier of the Nazis’ most infamous concentration camp. More ceremonies will follow in coming months to remember the Allied forces’ discovery, in rapid succession, of other Nazi concentration camps at places like Bergen-Belsen that winter and spring of 1945.
Largely lost to history, however, is the cruel reality of what “liberation” actually meant for hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors discovered barely alive in the Nazi camps.
Even after the victorious American and Allied forces took control of the camps, the survivors – mainly Jews, but also small numbers of gays, Roma, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others – remained for months behind barbed wire and under armed guard in what became known euphemistically as displaced persons, or D.P., camps. Many Jews were left wearing the same notorious striped pajamas that the Nazis first gave them.
With the American forces overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of refugees under their control, underfed survivors lived for months in decrepit camps in Germany and Austria – a number of them on the same grounds as the concentration camps. Even after conditions improved, thousands of former prisoners remained inside and in limbo for as long as five years because the United States and most other nations refused to let them in.
In the early months after the war, thousands of survivors died from disease and malnutrition. Food was so scarce that rioting broke out at some camps, as Allied commanders refused to give extra food rations to Jewish survivors because they did not want to be seen as giving them preferential treatment over German P.O.W.s and other prisoners.
Faced with complaints by outside Jewish groups about conditions of “abject misery,” President Harry S. Truman sent a former immigration official, Earl Harrison, to Europe to inspect the camps. His findings were blistering. The survivors “have been `liberated’ more in a military sense than actually,” Harrison wrote Truman in the summer of 1945.
“As matters now stand,” he wrote, “we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead of S.S. troops.”
I ran across Harrison’s report a few years ago while researching a book on the flight of Nazis to the United States after the war. As I examined the path the Nazis took out of Europe, I struggled to understand how so many of them had made it to America so easily while so many Holocaust survivors were left behind.
One answer came in a copy of Gen. George S. Patton’s handwritten journal. In one entry from 1945, Patton, who oversaw the D.P. operations for the United States, seethed after reading Harrison’s findings, which he saw – quite accurately – as an attack on his own command.
“Harrison and his ilk believe that the Displaced Person is a human being, which he is not, and this applies particularly to the Jews who are lower than animals,” Patton wrote. He complained of how the Jews in one camp, with “no sense of human relationships,” would defecate on the floors and live in filth like lazy “locusts,” and he told of taking his commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, to tour a makeshift synagogue set up to commemorate the holy day of Yom Kippur.
“We entered the synagogue, which was packed with the greatest stinking mass of humanity I have ever seen,” Patton wrote. “Of course, I have seen them since the beginning and marveled that beings alleged to be made in the form of God can look the way they do or act the way they act.”
Other evidence emerged revealing not only Patton’s disdain for the Jews in the camps, but an odd admiration for the Nazi prisoners of war under his watch.
Under Patton, Nazis prisoners were not only bunked at times with Jewish survivors, but were even allowed to hold positions of authority, despite orders from Eisenhower to “de-Nazify” the camps. “Listen,” Patton told one of his officers of the Nazis, “if you need these men, keep them and don’t worry about anything else.”
Following Harrison’s scathing report to Truman, conditions in the camps slowly became more livable, with schools, synagogues and markets sprouting up and fewer restrictions. But malaise set in, as survivors realized they had no place to go.
Hundreds of thousands of war refugees from Eastern Europe – including many top Nazi collaborators – gained entry to the United States in the first few years after the war, but visas were scarce for those left in the camps. Some Washington policy makers were actively opposed to the idea of taking in Holocaust survivors because of lingering anti-Semitism.
At Bergen-Belsen, as many as 12,000 Jewish survivors at a time remained there until the camp was closed in 1951. Menachem Z. Rosensaft was born at the camp in 1948 to two Holocaust survivors. He said in an interview that he believed that the survivors’ hardships after the war had often been overlooked because “it doesn’t neatly fit the story line that we won the war and liberated the camps.”
Mr. Rosensaft, the editor of a new book by Holocaust descendants called “God, Faith and Identity from the Ashes,” added: “Nobody wanted them. They became an inconvenience to the world.”
Joe Sachs, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor who now lives outside Miami, said his three and a half years in a displaced person camp were tolerable. He met his wife there, learned a trade as a dental technician, and, on most days at least, there was enough food for everyone to get a piece of bread or meat.
Compared with the Nazi camps, “it was heaven,” he said. “But of course we felt abandoned,” Mr. Sachs added. “We were treated not quite as human beings. In a camp like that with a few thousand people, the only thing you feel is abnormal.”
The State Department finally approved visas for Mr. Sachs and his wife and their 18-month-old daughter in 1949, just as Holocaust survivors were finally being allowed into the country in large numbers, and they left for New York City.
That, he said, was truly liberating.
[Eric Lichtblau is a Washington correspondent for The New York Times and the author of “The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men.”]
Are you a football supporter; are you gay; do you agree or disagree with Paul Rimmer’s statement? Read the article and then let us know!
A far-right English Democrats activist has claimed Premier League football team Liverpool FC had performed less well last season because they openly ‘promoted’ homosexuality.
Former UKIP candidate Paul Rimmer came under fire on Tuesday for posting comments on social media about the football club’s alleged support of homosexuality.
Rimmer, who was previously an activist for the British National Party (BNP), posted quotes from the Bible accompanied by a damning report of Liverpool’s recent performances, saying they would not improve unless they “repented.”
“From the Bible, Sodomy defiles a Nation. Those who promote it will be punished & vomited out of the Land. Lev.18.23. In 2012 Liverpool FC sponsored the City’s Gay Pride Parade. Unless they repent they will be under a continual curse,” the post read.
This was followed by a comment about the unacceptability of homosexuality.
“Everyone knows homosexuality is wrong, but now we have to pretend it’s nice & normal and anyone who points out it’s a perversion is evil. This is a deep moral & spiritual sickness in our nation,” he added.
His other social media posts include criticism of the BBC for being “totally unpatriotic, anti-Christian & anti-white,” worshipping “sodomy & blackness” and pushing “pro-Moslem propaganda.”
He has further labeled feminists who criticized his remarks as “feminazis.”
UKIP described Rimmer’s comments as “idiotic” while Liverpool FC Supporters’ Committee LGBT representative Paul Amman called Rimmer “inaccurate.”
Amman said he was proud of the work the club had achieved to reduce homophobic discrimination.
“The club has got a proud record of tackling discrimination and fighting inequality and has done some fantastic work,” he said.
“LFC has never sponsored Liverpool Pride but has marched at the event for three years in succession. Members of the women’s team, staff, club officials, supporters, ambassadors and directors have taken part, showing their support and recognizing the wider LFC family.”
He clarified that having an active LGBT Supporters group does not hinder the sporting prowess of a top Premiership club.
“Also, Manchester City has a lively LGBT Supporters group called Canal Street Blues, which hasn’t stopped them from topping the table,” he added.
Rimmer, who gained a degree in politics from Cambridge University, defended his statements, telling the Liverpool Echo they were not his opinions, but the word of God.
“Basically it says in the Bible that certain forms of behavior go against the laws of God and therefore God will react to them and he will curse those who willfully disobey him.”
“I am only repeating what is said in the Bible – it’s not my opinion, it’s what the Bible says.”
“It’s just to make people aware God has a law and if you infringe this law there will be consequences,” he said.
“If people get upset by this it’s up to them. Christ calls on us to repent and believe.” he added.
Rimmer was arrested in 2012 while challenging a rainbow flag hung at Toxteth police station in Liverpool.
Republished from RT – Question More
The world had a sobering look at the unvarnished bigotry of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland this week, after one prominent member expressed his contempt for the Irish language whilst another sought to exempt party supporters from following from Northern Ireland’s equality laws.
In language calculated to offend, DUP member Gregory Campbell told a party conference that he would treat a proposed Irish Language Act “as no more than toilet paper,” garnering hearty applause from the attendees.
Meanwhile fellow DUP member Paul Givan pledged to introduce a new private member’s bill to allow the public to legally discriminate against gay people in Northern Ireland based on their “conscience.”
It remains to be seen why people of good conscience would want to discriminate against the Irish language or gays, of course.
But in explaining their positions Campbell and Givan made free with the kind of hostile rhetoric that would result in their immediate firing in other states, but in Northern Ireland has actually elevated the DUP to its current status as the voice of unionism.
Because of the DUP’s intransigence, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that has failed to enact full equality measures – rather than enacting same sex marriage they have effectively banned it.
Givan’s anti-equality pledge was made in the light of Ashers Baking Company’s controversial refusal to bake a Sesame Street themed cake that endorsed same sex marriage.
“Nobody should be compelled or coerced into supporting, sanctioning or promoting views or opinions which conflict with their strongly held religious convictions,” said Given, who apparently felt that simply decorating a cake was tantamount to the complete surrender of his so-called Christian values.
And in an unprecedented move, the DUP party leader Peter Robinson has called for party members to contribute to the bakery’s legal costs, abandoning all attempts at impartiality.
Apparently no one has explained to Campbell or Givan or the DUP that no one is denying them their right to be British or Christian or heterosexual or unionists. But for them “freedom of conscience” apparently means they wish to retain the right to legally discriminate against others.
Party leader Peter Robinson’s wife Irish made international headlines for her sanctimonious attacks on Northern Ireland’s gays, whom she said were more vile than child abusers. Later it emerged she had been conducting an affair with a teenage boy she had known since his childhood.