Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tony Campolo comes out and why he won't go back

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Have you ever asked yourself "Why does it take so long?" "When will we reach the tipping point?" Tony Campolo's journey  gives us insights into what the journey can be like.

Two weeks ago, 80 year old Evangelical leader, Tony Campolo came out in support of full inclusion of LGBT people in the church. But it's been a journey spanning decades.

I heard Tony speak in Sydney in the late 70's. I was a closeted, married, preacher, believing one day I'd be completely straight, and wouldn't come out till over a decade later. Homosexuality, as a topic, was not discussed then as it is today. As far as I can recall the controversial topics were whether women could take leadership roles in the church, or could Christians be demon possessed or did everyone need to be baptised in the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. Heavy stuff.

As a budding young preacher myself Tony inspired me. I'd read that when he was speaking at an affluent, conservative church in the US he opened his sermon with these words.

"I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a shit. What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night"

Tony's honesty, courage and boldness inspired me as a Christian preacher. Could I ever speak the truth without fear of what others thought?.


A prolific author of over 40 books, Tony first tackled the topic of homosexuality when he released Twenty Hot Potatoes Christians are afraid to touch’ in 1988. One of those hot potatoes was a chapter titled "Does Christianity have any good news for homosexuals?". In this chapter Tony raps Christians over the knuckles about harsh and judgmental attitudes towards gay people although he always used the word homosexual, much like Fred Nile and other Christian conservatives do.

His position on homosexuality was clear. He saw it as a sin not an orientation.

"Unlike other sins {theft, adultery, gossip) homosexuality is a sin based in a desire for which I do not see any legitimate outlet."

There was no doubt in his mind that God's intention for all of humanity was for the wholeness of heterosexuality. Tony raised the point that praying to become a heterosexual is like praying to be healed. God can do it, but he doesn't always do it. Yep, Tony once believed in "pray the gay away".


In 1996 Tony and his wife Peggy gave a presentation (read transcript here) at North Park College Chapel where Peggy came out as totally affirming of LGBT people and their relationships but Tony held the position that they must remain celibate. I often wondered if this was a good cop/bad cop type presentation to give more credence to the dialogue. Because of the significance of the individuals and that they differed in their positions on homosexuality, the transcripts and audio were widely circulated.


This talked was revamped into an article in 1999 for Sojourners magazine once again that they had very different views but were "Holding it together" as the title suggested. Tony made it clear in 1996 and 1999 that "the Bible does not allow for same-gender sexual intercourse or marriage" But in 1999 he was stronger in his condemnation of judgmental Christians.

"PEGGY AND I are concerned because Christian leaders as well as politicians are playing on the homophobia of people to gather support and raise money. We cannot let this go on. Remember, after you say, "You can’t live in our community, you can’t teach in our school, you can’t come to our college, and you can’t be part of our church"—after that you cannot say, "But we love you in the name of Jesus." Do not allow discrimination and hatred to be directed at people who never chose to be homosexual and cannot change their orientation as easily as many Christian preachers say they can."

Peggy was at #7 (advocacy) on the acceptance continuum whilst Tony on #4 (tolerance) moving to #5 (acceptance).


In his public statement on June 8 Tony has now moved to the final position of advocacy.

"It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church."

"As a social scientist, I have concluded that sexual orientation is almost never a choice and I have seen how damaging it can be to try to “cure” someone from being gay'

"I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out."

Tony Campolo is joining a growing number of evangelical leaders who are calling for full inclusion and acceptance of LGBT in the church and supporting marriage equality. Steve Chalke, Rob Bell, Jim Wallis, David Gushee and in Australia, Rev Rowland Croucher have all made similar declarations over the last two years. Like others who made statements, experienced a backlash and then backed down, these men will hold firm because of the place they have reached on the continuum. Yes there is a point of no return. It's the point where you actually are involved in the lives of LGBT people and ignorance and misinformation has been replaced with truth.

Obviously not everyone is happy with Tony Campolo's new stand. In Australia, the Christian conservative group the Salt Shakers, and others have spoken out against this move suggesting that it is dangerous to listen to the lived experience of LGBT people, particularly those from Christian backgrounds.

Tony Campolo is 80. Rev Fred Nile is 81. On the ABC's Q&A last week Fred Nile demonstrated once again that he has never budged an inch on sexual orientation. Will he ever change? Some would put him at #1 (hatred) on the continuum but I he is more likely at #2 (dislike). He has a long way to go. I know what it would take for him to change.

Whilst changes are happening and acceptance growing exponentially on the other side of the scale we have some Christians so riled up over marriage equality they are doing crazy things.

© Anthony Venn-Brown
Anthony Venn-Brown is one of Australia's foremost commentators on faith and sexuality. His autobiography  '"A Life of Unlearning - a preacher's struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith", detailing his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s growing mega-churches, such as Hillsong, to living as an openly gay man, has impacted 1,000';s globally.  Anthony was the co-founder and former leader of Freedom 2 b[e], Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. 

Anthony is the founder and CEO of Ambassadors &  Bridge Builders International  whose mission is to end the unnecessary suffering caused by ignorance and misinformation about sexual orientation by empowering LGBT community members, building bridges with the Church, providing resources and media/social networking activities.
Twitter: @gayambassador 
Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and was a finalist for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Undercover in a gay conversion camp

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Published in the Australian Womens Weekly written by Clair Weaver Jun 1, 2015

Across Australia, religious groups are offering to help gays and lesbians overcome same-sex attraction. Clair Weaver goes undercover to find out what’s going on.

HANDS in the air, eyes to the sky and bodies swaying to the music of a live Christian band, the congregation bursts into an animated song of worship. “Praise the Lord!” comes a shout from the front of the room. “Hallelujah!” calls another. People start clapping. A young woman throws her arm around her neighbour’s shoulder. In this evangelical south Sydney church, the devotion is palpable. 
No wonder: this is a place where miracles supposedly happen. Where gays and lesbians can become straight.

It’s a Sunday evening and I’m one of around 50 people attending a healing service led by a charismatic Californian called Andy Comiskey. He is the founder of Living Waters, a worldwide program with one goal: to help people overcome homosexuality and other forms of what it calls “sexual and relational brokenness”. Living Waters is but one small part of the “ex-gay” movement that’s active worldwide. In Australia, new support groups are sprouting up, high-profile preachers are flying in from overseas and ministries are reaching out to gay youth online, claiming they can teach them how to go straight. I decide to infiltrate the movement under the guise of a gay woman to study just how these leaders make their argument – and to share with readers what happens behind the closed doors of churches where these meetings are held.

Comiskey tells us he was a religious young man who developed feminine leanings at a young age and was attracted to other males by the time he hit puberty. After graduating from high school, he moved into what he calls the “gay ghetto” of Long Beach, California, where he says he was gang-raped, beaten and suffered STIs. Having sex with other men, he says, was ultimately unsatisfying; Comiskey felt empty and tormented, especially at church. “I’ve done terrible things to my body and others’ bodies,” he says. “And I can’t take that back.”

But we can be welcomed back into Jesus’ arms like the Bible’s prodigal son, says Comiskey, if we just turn our backs on homosexuality. He did it - and now, he says, he’s happily married to his wife Annette, setting a moral example to same-sex attracted Christians. Pastor Ron Brookman, who directs the Australian division of Living Waters, is another of the movement’s success stories; he used to lead a double life, secretly delving into Sydney’s gay scene while working as a Uniting Church minister. These days, however, he says he’s devoted to his wife Ruth and finds the thought of a long-term relationship with a man “repulsive”.

Living Waters isn’t the only outreach program that’s been through Sydney in recent months. I first learned about the ex-gay movement’s theories at an all-day conference called Someone I Know Is Gay, held at St Paul’s Anglican Church in the leafy Sydney suburb of Carlingford. The event is staged by Beyond Egypt, an arm of the church set up to people “overcome” same-sex attraction. The key speakers are Ricky Chelette, of Living Hope Ministries in Texas, and Sue Bohlin, of Probe Ministries in Texas. Their “Down Under Tour” includes other dates in Melbourne and Brisbane, and evening worship at the Pentecostal mega-church Hillsong.

Understanding the “roots of homosexuality” is apparently key to straightening out. So firstly Chelette, an earnest and baby-faced pastor in his 40s with black-rimmed glasses, explains the cause. Just so we’re clear, says Chelette, no-one is born gay. “There is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is really either genetic or biological,” he says. It’s a behaviour, we’re told, that stems from childhood problems: if we don’t get enough attention, affection and affirmation (“the three As”) from our parents, suffer sexual abuse or fail to bond with peers, we may develop inappropriate “gender identity” and turn out gay. The arguments are neat and logical, and many of the people in the congregation nod in agreement with Chelette’s claims, which he illustrates with endless metaphors, gender stereotypes and snappy acronyms.

Chelette then gives an emotionally-charged account of being sexually abused as a child by his step-grandfather. He attributes this experience - coupled with a father who failed to be a role model to his “sensitive” son – as having “activated” his homosexuality.

Over a lunch break, with a large spread of food prepared by friendly church members, I get chatting to a 20-something woman with a warm and open demeanour. We converse easily, flitting between casual conversations about the weather and our travel experiences. But there’s one subject we don’t broach: the reason why we’re both here.

After lunch, there’s a choice of two seminars, one of which tackles the “messy” and “complicated” issue of lesbianism. It’s led by polio survivor Sue Bohlin, an extrovert with a laugh that booms through the church. In her talk The Nature of Lesbiansism & Relational Idolatory, she claims the latest research shows 80 to 85 per cent of lesbians were sexually abused in the past. It’s a shocking statistic but she doesn’t say where it came from and I’m . unable to establish its veracity.

Bohlin says women who weren’t nurtured or breastfed by their mothers end up sexually attracted to females. Quoting an ex-gay counsellor, she says: “They want to rest in another woman’s arms; they want to suckle at a breast. They want to gaze into the eyes of another woman like a baby would a mother.”

Popular culture takes a bashing too. Bohlin says women under the age of 26 may become gay or bisexual because a “disgusting” new generation of US TV shows and movies that glamorise same-sex relationships: “I’m sorry for sending American garbage to Australia but you pick up a lot of what we pump out to the rest of the world.”

So how does the movement suggest same-sex attraction can be overcome? Praying is obviously their first line of defence. Chelette also suggests forming new, non-gay relationships. The principle is similar to cognitive behavioural therapy – start acting like a straight person and eventually you’ll become one. “The only way a person is going to really come out of homosexuality or same gender attraction,” he says “is for them to find very positive, strong, supportive heterosexual relationships that they can walk in [for] a long time,” He suggests parents, “appropriate” older role models of the same gender, and members of ex-gay support groups. (Ironically, attendees of many support groups are usually banned from knowing each others’ surnames or making contact on the outside, for fear they’ll hook up.)

By day’s end, we are invited to submit questions anonymously. I scribble a question for Chelette: “Do you still struggle with same-sex attraction?” His answer: “Yes. Do I want to go have sex with a man? No. Do I at times…feel drawn to somebody in a way that I know is probably inappropriate? Yes. How do I deal with it? I recognise what is taking place and why I feel the way I feel, and I decide that in that moment I still really love Jesus and my wife more that I love what momentary pleasure I might get by sinning.”

This answer, with its baldly competing desires and obfuscation, mirrors a recent shift that has seen the ex-gay movement’s leaders admit that same-sex urges don’t just disappear once someone is “cured”. As they see it, these desires aren’t sinful unless they’re acted upon. Chelette essentially admits that his wife acts as a filter, banning him from working with certain men who may tempt him.

It sounds like an awful lot of hard work. Which might be why Bohlin says we should be focused on “raising gender healthy kids” in the first place. In her session for parents, she claims boys are born on a spectrum from sensitive to rough and tumble, and girls range from girly to tomboy. “Girls who are glad to be girls and boys who are delighted to be boys tend not to be the ones who will struggle,” she says. “It has been said it is easier to raise a healthy child than to repair a broken adult and it’s absolutely true. Homosexuality can be prevented the majority of the time.”

Chelette advises fathers to treat their daughters protectively, like princesses, and to be physically affectionate to their sons because “he needs to feel that affection from a man that is safe so that, should there be affection that isn’t safe, he will know what it feels like, be repulsed by it and move away from it.” 
But aren’t we a lot more complicated than that? Anthony Venn-Brown thinks so. He was once a church role model, a Pentecostal preacher with a wife and two daughters. After undergoing exorcisms, ex-gay therapy and 40-day fasts, he eventually realised that ‘the gay never goes away”. He left the church in disgrace in 1991 and co-convened Freedom2b[e], which helps Christians reconcile their faith and sexuality. Venn-Brown dismisses ex-gay theories, many of which originated more than 50 years ago, as “outdated” and “false”. “Parents can’t make their kids gay or straight,” he says. “Sexual orientation is basically determined prenatally."

Although scientists have not yet conclusively proven homosexuality is programmed from birth, evidence indicates it is a mixture of genetic, biological, prenatal hormonal and environmental factors. Identical twins, for example, are far more likely to share the same sexual orientation – even if they are raised in different families - than non-identical twins or siblings. The American Academy of Paediatrics puts it simply. “There is no scientific evidence that abnormal parenting, sexual abuse, or other adverse life events influence sexual orientation.”

Many of the people at today’s session are middle-aged. Some probably struggle with old-school societal attitudes and upbringings. Others are obviously the unhappy parents of young people who have come out, in attendance because they want things “fixed”. Chelette concedes it’s up to the individual to want to change. But he does suggest that “it’s generally not a good approach to whip out the Bible when they make their announcement [that they’re gay]. It would be far better to just sit and weep than for you to bring out a whole lot of scripture passages and beat them in the head with it. They need to see it’s hurting you.” He also advocates withholding financial support or kicking out adult offspring if they “choose the gay lifestyle”.

This advice is echoed at Living Waters’ session. Comiskey says you’re doing a loved one a “big favour” when you tell them how much their homosexuality pains you. “Blessed are the wounds of a friend,” he says. When he invites attendees with special prayers to come up to the front of the church – where they have the hands of his leadership team placed upon them – a curly-haired woman in her 40s breaks down into body-racking sobs and has to be physically supported by others. I wonder if she has a gay relative who has been on the receiving end of all that. Which begs the question: is this really a loving Christian response to what is often one of the most difficult and anguished moments in a person’s life – or is it emotional blackmail?

Those who have witnessed the fallout of such tactics warn they have devastating consequences. “Love your child unconditionally,” pleads Venn-Brown. “Never say to your child ‘I love you but...’. I know of too many examples where this drove the child to suicide. In large cities around the world many of the homeless gay youth that are into drugs and prostitution for survival ran away from Christian homes - because of the rejection of their parents and their church.”

Sydneysider Robert Watkins knows the raw pain of a family being torn apart. At the age of 27, he was excommunicated from the Jehova’s Witnesses and forced to start a new life on his own. He had been fighting his homosexuality for 12 years. “It was only when I had spent months in a very deeply depressed state that I decided I had two choices: to die, or to live my life as a gay man,” he says. Watkins hasn’t seen his family – who are forbidden from associating with him – for three years.

Witnessing the harm ex-gay programs have caused hundreds of Australians has driven Venn-Brown to become an outspoken critic. “My goal,” he says, “is to see each of these ministries closed down.”

In 1976, marriage and family counsellor Michael Bussee co-founded the [*postscript: now redundant] ex-gay umbrella group Exodus International (of which Living Hope is a member and Living Waters is an affiliate). Three years later, he left the group – and his marriage – to enter a relationship with fellow Exodus pioneer Gary Cooper. More than 30 years on, he is still at the receiving end of bitter behaviour from his own family. Bussee says, “Relationships with my family, including my daughter, remain somewhat strained since they all still have religious objections and think I could ‘change’ if I really wanted to.” When Bussee left Exodus, his then pre-schooler daughter was told by church members that her dad didn’t love Jesus - or her – enough. Otherwise, they reasoned, he wouldn’t be gay.

Bussee says he never witnessed Exodus genuinely change a person’s sexual orientation. He adds Exodus has no reliable statistics on the marriages of same-sex attracted Christians, despite a generic claim of a 30 to 50 per cent success rate in long-term behavioural change. “Some claim to remain monogamous in their marriages,” he says. “Others cheat. I would guess the success rate on fidelity is low. I talk with married [but same-sex attracted] men every day who are cheating or trying very hard not to.”

Homosexuality is often described as “sexual or relational brokenness” during our investigation. This suggests it’s an illness, rather than a neutral trait like being left-handed or having blonde hair. But does being gay actually mean you have something biologically or behaviourally wrong with you? If you ask the medical profession, the answer is no. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) “opposes the use of "reparative" or "conversion" therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder and that the patient should change his or her sexual orientation.”

Another argument commonly cited by the ex-gay movement says that allowing Christians to surrender to homosexual urges will hurt their health. Statistically, after all, gay people are more likely to experience depression, self-harming, suicide and reduced life expectancy. And who’d want that?

But is it their sexual orientation or society’s prejudicial response – fuelled by the hard-line religious belief homosexuality as “wrong” - that really causes these problems? The AMA says “mental health problems are statistically over-represented in [the gay] population throughout life due to exposure to discriminatory behaviour.”

In 2007, Bussee decided to repent for his involvement in Exodus International by making a public apology alongside ex-leader Darlene Bogle and former European president Jeremy Marks. All expressed deep remorse for the harm their ex-gay work had caused. Today Bussee continues to criticise the movement and runs a Facebook group for survivors of the program called Ex-ex Gay.

For Venn-Brown, who penned his story in A Life Of Unlearning, reconciling his sexuality and spirituality has finally put him “at peace”. “The closet is a dark and fearful place,” he says. “I feel great sorrow for those who are trapped in the closet by their faith, family pressure or culture. It’s a terrible way to live... never being true to yourself.”

Even if same sex conversion therapy doesn’t work, there may be at least one unexpected benefit. As I pick up my bag to leave Beyond Egypt’s conference, a young woman I’d spoken with during the day passed me a small note with her mobile number and a suggestion we meet up away from the church for lunch or a ferry ride. It could have been an innocent offer of friendship. Maybe she genuinely wanted to support me on a journey out of homosexuality. But I suspect I may have been hit on.

Postscript: this feature was first published by Bauer Media in 2011. Living Waters ceased operating in Australia in 2014, although Ramsgate Community Church still runs sexuality support groups. Umbrella organisation Exodus International ceased operations in 2013.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Online Ex-Gay Sites Should be Shut Down

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Gay conversion therapy still thriving online despite condemnation of ex-gay ministries

by Rohan Smith May 28, 2015 on News.com.au
A WEBSITE that pushes the “gay cure” message led a young Australian to the brink of suicide.

What’s more frightening is that the same message is still being pushed online and was once available to users via an app on the Apple iTunes store.

Timothy*, 19, went online as a 15-year-old seeking to rid his mind of homosexual thoughts and feelings. He found what he was looking for at www.settingcaptivesfree.com, a website offering faith-based courses to help Christians overcome their “sins”.

But the conversations he had with “counsellors” running a free, 60-day “Door of Hope” program almost killed him.

“It was a free course and was done through the website and with e-mails to a mentor,” Timothy told news.com.au.

“My mentor was a man in Ohio, who was middle-aged. He had apparently completed the course which qualified him to be a counsellor to me and a mentor throughout the program. I only knew his first name and email address and he would email me everyday making sure I was doing the work and reading the bible and giving me tips on how to overcome temptation.”

Things escalated quickly at the end of each day when the mentor asked his pupil what would become a series of increasingly invasive questions.

“(He) asked the same questions — Have you masturbated? Have you thought about men? Have you sinned? — and required that I go into detail in my response. I felt strange disclosing these things to a random man that I had never met. I didn’t know who else was seeing my responses. The content was very shaming.”

Timothy’s shame turned to suicidal thoughts and eventually an attempt to take his own life.

“I was not making any progress and thought that I never would. Suicide seemed to me like less of a sin than homosexuality,” he said.

“It made me feel disgusted with myself, as if I was sick and outside of God’s love because I could never fulfil what they wanted of me. I couldn’t change who I was.

“I was so densely full of anger and hatred and pain and I finally couldn’t take it any more and it all came up and exploded out.”

He said only when sitting in a mental health ward with bandages on his arms did he realise that his mind had been poisoned.

“I knew if I didn’t change my life and if I didn’t accept myself then next time wouldn’t be an attempt at my life it would be a death sentence. Knowing that helps me not to go back.”

Still, what he learned over several months had a lasting negative effect on him.

“I believe religious homophobia has led to my mental problems, to my addictions, to my daily struggles,” he said.

A Setting Captives Free app, promising to help users find “freedom from the bondage of homosexuality”, was pulled from the iTunes store in 2013 after a petition gathered thousands of signatures. Apple’s developer guidelines do not allow the promotion of hatred toward groups or people based on race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Setting Captives Free was founded by Mike Cleveland who says his own desires to “view porn” were so shameful he “won’t go into detail” about them.

Earlier this month, “survivors” of ex-gay ministries, many operating today in Sydney and Brisbane, detailed their struggles. They told news.com.au how they were starved, forced into exorcisms, banned from masturbating and brainwashed into believing they could “pray the gay away”.

Former leaders of ex-gay ministries, including Simon Tinkler from Ministry One and Alan LeMay from Living Waters, said they have since seen the error of their ways.

Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International, headed by conversion therapy survivor Anthony Venn-Brown, revealed in 2012 that two-thirds of ex-gay ministries operating in Australia a decade ago no longer exist.

If www.settingcaptivesfree.com is any indication, the ministries and their messages may have found a new home online.

*Timothy’s full name has been withheld to protect his identity.

If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.

If you are gay, lesbian or bisexual and used online programs that offered help for 'unwanted same sex attraction' please contact me confidentially using this email address anthony@abbi.org.au

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Survivors tell their horror stories of ex-gay/conversion therapy treatments in Australia

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Survivors tell their horror stories of ex-gay therapy treatments in Australia
By Rohan Smith Published News.com.au May 19, 2015

SOME were starved and forced into exorcisms, others were banned from masturbating and brainwashed into believing they could “pray the gay away”.

The bizarre, humiliating, deadly “treatments” some gay Australians were subjected to by so-called “ex-gay” ministries left many of them scarred and confused.

The poisonous messages sent many same-sex attracted men and women into a spiral of depression and self-loathing. Some never came out the other side.

Those who did prefer not to be called victims — they’re “survivors” who witnessed first hand the dark side of Australia’s hidden radical religious ideology.

They say what happened in the 60s, 70s and 80s was deplorable. But what’s worse is that it’s still happening to some today.


ANTHONY Venn-Brown was a desperate man in 1971.

Then just 20 years old, he arrived on the doorstep of the Assemblies of God church in Auckland convinced he had found his salvation.

For the early part of his life, Venn-Brown fought off temptation. But he needed help. Unfortunately, he sought it in the misguided preachings of two men who convinced him he was harbouring the devil.

“I’d heard frightening stories about people screaming, contorting and frothing at the mouth when devils were cast out of them but whatever it took to get rid of these terrible thoughts I wanted to do it,” he said.

Venn-Brown told news.com.au he “genuinely believed the exorcism would work”.

“I wanted so desperately to feel normal that I was willing to try anything.”

For two hours, the pastors stood over him and shouted at the devil to show itself.

“They shouted ‘name yourself’ and ‘come out, you devil’. As they grew louder my breathing became heavier which encouraged them further.”

They shouted: “Come out, come out, you unclean, foul spirit from the pit of hell! You have to obey us, we have the authority of Jesus Christ, the Son of God! Name yourself!”.

Venn-Brown says he was so worked up that he “coughed up phlegm” and “fell off the seat onto the floor”.

The exorcism wasn’t the only therapy Venn-Brown was subjected to.

South of Sydney in 1972, the then-22-year-old joined what he says was the first ex-gay therapy centre in the world, the Moombara/Bundeena Christian Fellowship.

In his book, A Life of Unlearning, Venn-Brown says during his time there he had his luggage raided for feminine clothing, was banned from masturbating and was given “manly chores”.

“I was to be up at 6am so I didn’t lie in bed and masturbate,” he said.

“While in the shower, counsellors would be standing by to make sure I didn’t masturbate.”

For weeks he studied the bible and practised abstinence. Later, convinced his years of treatment had worked, Venn Brown married a woman and raised two beautiful daughters. But he was living a lie.

The pair split and Venn-Brown has lived as an openly gay man ever since. Not only that, he has dedicated his life to helping other survivors make sense of the harm they’ve suffered.


SIMON Tinkler’s outlook on life is remarkably positive given what he’s gone through.

As a gay teen, Tinkler was poisoned by the cruel idea that being gay was evil, that God hated him for it and that he could change. He starved himself, wrote a detailed suicide plan, offered his body to exorcists and even founded at a church that preached: “If you marry and pray every day you’ll be straight”.

He has since apologised to the young men and women who, partly under his guidance, were taught to hate themselves.

“If I had known what I know now, I would not have chosen that path for myself or encouraged others to believe they could become straight,” Tinkler said.

Before starting Ministry One, affiliated with ex-gay affirming Exodus International, Tinkler said he tried everything to alter his sexual orientation.

“I grew up in a liberal family. Basically the deal was I had to change one way or another,” he told news.com.au.

Simon Tinkler starved himself to try to reorientate his sexuality. Source: Supplied

“I went to programs, fasted, went without food. I went 21 days without food at one point. I was thinner but I certainly wasn’t any less gay.”

Like Venn-Brown, Tinkler married a woman. But things got desperate when he realised that not only was he wrong to think he could change but he was wrong to try to change others. It impacted him deeply and he contemplated suicide.

“I knew the church lied to me,” he said.

“I thought killing myself was the best option but I couldn’t just go and fall off a building. I planned the whole thing. I thought ‘I’ll pay off the church’s debt, I’ll find somebody to take over, I’ll pay off the home loan, I’ll take the family on a holiday to Europe then I’ll fall off a building’.”

Tinkler these days lives a happier life in a gay relationship with his partner, Timo. He says he has witnessed ex-gay practices from both sides.

“My view is some of the leaders aren’t that homophobic but [religious tradition towards] gays is what galvanises the whole community.”

He said ex-gay churches still exist but they’re “clever enough not to have ex-gay programs.

“It’s covert, quiet, case-by-case behaviour. There may not be 12-step programs or ministries identifying as ex-gay. It’s still being pedalled but it’s harder to track down.”


IN April last year, Australia’s foremost and longest-running conversion therapy program closed its doors.

Living Waters Australia had for three decades in plain sight pitched the idea that people could change their sexuality with a careful mix of prayer and care.

From Waterloo in Sydney’s inner west, the church’s leader Ron Brookman declared he had converted people from gay to straight.

In 2012, before a government inquiry into same sex marriage, Brookman said: “For over 30 years I was homosexual. In the last six months I have celebrated the weddings of two ex-gay men who have married beautiful wives and two couples who have given birth to babies who would never have been born had they not transitioned from homosexuality”.

But the message soured and Living Waters released a statement before closing its doors blaming “change in the church and Christian culture over the last decade, deficiencies in my leadership, wisdom in changing strategy to bring healing to the broken”.

Alan LeMay was a former leader at Living Waters. He told news.com.au he regrets the harm he caused but that at the time he thought he was doing the right thing.

“I would definitely say that our motivations were to help and be supportive,” he said.

“I confess there was a significant amount of ignorance on my part about homosexuality and their struggle.

“I was part of a fundamentalist church group that steered us towards a particular framework. We felt (being gay) was a sin and it was wrong. We wanted to engage people in a spiritual process that would reorientate their sexuality to the opposite sex. Those people were struggling and we genuinely felt that their struggle was based on their sexual orientation.”

LeMay realised the error of his ways and issued a public apology in June, 2013.

“I am sorry that my response was too reject an individual’s sexual orientation, to deny them the opportunity to be fulfilled in love and for the dysfunction and harm that may have caused.”

AMBASSADORS & Bridge Builders International, headed by Venn-Brown, revealed in 2012 that two-thirds of ex-gay ministries operating in Australia a decade ago no longer exist.

Among the churches still pushing ex-gay messages are Liberty Inc. in Brisbane and Triumphant Ministries Toowoomba.

Liberty Inc. charges up to $80 an hour for counselling people seeking help with “unwanted same sex attraction”. It offers a fortnightly support group for men with “unwanted same sex issues”.

Venn-Brown says the church is not outwardly ex-gay but language such as “sexual wholeness through Jesus Christ” is still damaging.

Triumphant Ministries Toowoomba proclaims it specialises in “releasing hearts”. It’s website declares it to be: “a ministry to those who are in the Body of Christ who want freedom over same sex attraction”.

“Yes, you will change,” it reads.

In Australian law, it is still legal to push ex-gay messages.

Independent member for Sydney Alex Greenwich introduced a motion in 2013 declaring therapies attempting to turn gay people straight do not work, stigmatise gay men and lesbians and are fundamentally damaging to mental health.

A NSW parliamentary committee to examine misleading practices under the banner of Christian faith was established and submissions were made. But there is otherwise very little movement at a legislative level.

In the meantime, Tinkler, who has a message for young people considering ex-gay therapy.

“If you’re gay, lesbian, bi, whatever — get the hell out of there. They’re not good for you. Don’t be fooled by the lights and the music.”

Liberty Inc. and Triumphant Ministries Toowoomba were approached for comment but did not respond.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"A Life of Unlearning - a preacher's struggle with his homosexuality church and faith" newly released

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Hard copy to follow shortly click here info@gayambassador.com to be notified. Or you can join my newsletter list here   Audio version available.

"We are all living a life of unlearning: unlearning things we accepted as truth but created a persona so unlike who we really are. Eventually cracks appear and beliefs challenged.
On the surface everything looked perfect. Anthony Venn-Brown was a happily married father-of-two and a popular preacher in Australia's growing mega-churches such as Hillsong. Behind the scenes he fought a constant battle to conform, believing his homosexuality made him unacceptable to God and others. After twenty-two years of struggle and torment, a chance meeting forced Anthony to make the toughest decision of his life; maintain the fa├žade he had created or, be true to himself and lose it all. Tired of feeling torn and fragmented, he confessed and came out. The results of that confession took him on a lonely journey that made him who he is today. This sometimes brutally honest account highlights not only the costs of being true to yourself but that the rewards of resolution and integrity are worth the struggle. As Anthony's story is ultimately about being true to one's self, gay, straight, Christian and non-faith people have found relevance in this triumphant autobiography." 

"Human stories, like the one in these pages, play a part in advancing understanding and acceptance. It is the story of a quest to find not only self-acceptance but one of the most powerful forces in nature—human love..” — Foreword by the Hon. Michael Kirby


Sunday, May 17, 2015

I'm not homophobic .....but........(fill in the blank) IDAHOT

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Today is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. #IDAHOT


How many times have we heard an anti-gay religious person or leader protest "I am not homophobic". We hear it constantly in Australia and overseas. I hear it from the lips of church leaders and Christians I speak to as they tell me that they "love the sinner but hate the sin".

How frequently do we hear the label homophobe given to anyone who says anything negative against homosexuality or marriage equality. It's the quick and defining label that falls easily from the lips of an outraged gay person.

The terms homophobia, homophobic, homophobe are often problematic
The word homophobia was coined in 1960's initially used to describe heterosexual males aversion to homosexuality, homosexual men and also the fear that others might think they are gay.

Homophobia is not exclusively heterosexual. Gay people themselves can be homophobic. Internalised homophobia (hatred of self) is very real for many gay and lesbian people. For those from religious backgrounds it can remain entrenched from years of negative conditioning about their gay selves and lurks under the surface in their subconscious undetected in their behaviours, comments and attitudes. 

Since the 1960's the term homophobia has evolved and expanded substantially to include negative statements, behaviours and attitudes towards same-sex-oriented people, their relationships and the LGBTI community itself. Unfortunately the word phobia is strongly linked to fear so some people, knowing that don't fear gay people, will say they are not homophobic. But do they really know what it means?

I suggested to a pastor recently, who was quite adamant that he wasn't homophobic, that possibly only a gay person really knows what homophobia is as they are the ones who experience it. I gave him some examples.
  • Being yelled at from a passing car of strangers and called faggott or queer.
  • Having a person physically threaten you because you are gay
  • Walking into a room where everyone is greeted warmly but you get a cold handshake...or at worst ignored
  • People distance themselves from you because they don't want to get to close to you
  • Others girlfriends and boyfriends get invited to family functions but not yours

A gay person knows exactly what homophobia is. They have experienced it many times. Sometimes from those they wished for love and acceptance instead of rejection or suspicion. Some of us have learned to live with it and accept it as a part of our lot in life. But it is never acceptable.

When compared to the experience of many LGBT people around the world these experiences seem trivial.
Violence, imprisonment and death hang constantly over the lives of LGBT people still in too many parts of the world
This is the day when we remember the journey to acceptance and equality for lesbian.gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people has been a long and difficult one and most certainly is not over. A day when each of us, gay or straight, can pledge to make a difference whether that be in our homes, work places, nationally or internationally.
Never think your voice is not important because everyone of us adds the growing cry of equality, freedom, respect and dignity for all.

Share this post with a friend or on Facebook or Twitter.
Read and share President Obama statement on #IDAHOT
Watch and share United Nations video with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

© Anthony Venn-Brown
Anthony Venn-Brown is one of Australia's foremost commentators on faith and sexuality. His autobiography  '"A Life of Unlearnin - a preacher's struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith", detailing his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s growing mega-churches, such as Hillsong, to living as an openly gay man, has impacted 1,000';s globally.  Anthony was the co-founder and former leader of Freedom 2 b[e], Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. 

Anthony is the founder and CEO of Ambassadors &  Bridge Builders International  whose mission is to end the unnecessary suffering caused by ignorance and misinformation about sexual orientation by empowering LGBT community members, building bridges with the Church, providing resources and media/social networking activities.
Email; info@gayambassador.com
Twitter: @gayambassador 
Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and was a finalist for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award.

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