lifestyle

The Australian organisations trying to 'cure' homosexuality.

By MAMAMIA TEAM

Pills, meditation, name calling, bullying, abstaining from sexual contact, physical exertion, avoiding art galleries, praying, hypnotherapy.

The list of ways humanity has tried to ‘cure’ homosexuals of their attraction to the same sex is as long as it is bizarre. But if you thought that these outdated practices (that are so deeply rooted in homophobia) were confined to the history books, think again.

Welcome to Australia in 2013, where several organisations continue to practice ‘conversion therapy’ on homosexual believers. Conversion therapy practitioners believe that homosexuality is an affliction; an affliction that the church is able to “cure” through a combination of prayer and psychotherapy.

Last week, Fairfax spoke to a number of leaders of Australian groups who practice conversion therapy, who all confirmed that they have no plans to change their current practices.

Reverend Ron Brookman is the Australian director of Living Waters Ministries. He told Fairfax that:

“We don’t like to call it healing, we call it transformation … I minister to a lot of people struggling with same-sex attraction who never budge but we don’t condemn them, we don’t shame them. We stand with them and support them.”

Living Waters International runs several groups in Australia that offer ‘transformation.’ They work willingly with members of the community who suffer from ‘sexual brokenness’, such as homosexuality. The Living Waters Australia website describes their services in the following terms:

“We believe that the power of Jesus’ death on the Cross, His resurrection life, healing, mercy and grace is sufficient to bring healing to or deliverance from the sexual and relational brokenness of our lives. We seek to be a ministry through which Jesus, the Good Shepherd can restore our souls.”

The public spotlight is firmly on organisations like Living Waters this week after a US group which had shared similar views about homosexuality as a sickness, dissolved itself. Exodus International has issued a formal and lengthy apology for the harm they have caused since their inception in 1976.

Alan Chambers

37-year-old president of Exodus, Alan Chambers has published a 1,600 word apology on the Exodus website in which he apologises to all gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people whom the organisation had ever caused any pain.

In it, Chambers said that he was “deeply sorry” for the role his organisation had played, in increasing the pain and difficulty in the lives of the already-conflicted young people – and older individuals – who had come to them.

Particularly among young people, the suicide rate of gay teens is much higher than average – a statistic that recently moved California to become the first state in America to ban conversion therapy on minors. New York is reportedly considering a similar move.

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Chambers went on to write:

“I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change … I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly ‘on my side’ who called you names like sodomite – or worse.”

Chambers also acknowledged that, despite being married with children, he himself still has homosexual urges.

But in a web of organisations who believe deeply that homosexuality is a sexual perversion that must be ‘cured’ you can’t just change sides of the debate and not expect there to be consequences.

The chief executive of Christian ethics group Salt Shakers, Peter Stokes, has likened Alan Chambers’ brave public comments to a drug addict saying it was too hard to quit. He called Chambers’ attitude “off the planet”. Stokes said:

“Alan Chambers has said I have tried this and failed, therefore it’s not possible for anybody else to come out of homosexuality. It’s a bit like a drug addict saying I tried to stop and I couldn’t do it so nobody else can do it. It’s very sad to see a good organisation being ripped apart by one individual … This organisation has helped many people over the years.”

In other words? Stokes argues that Chambers simply has tried hard enough to rid himself of his homosexuality.

Here in Australia reparative and conversion therapies continue to be practiced and have done significant damage, particularly to young gay men, who are struggling to embrace their sexuality. By encouraging young people to be ashamed of who they are, these practices have the potential to do long, lasting damage to participants’ mental health.

As website The Stirrer explained earlier this year, reparative and conversion therapies “far from repairing anything, this destroys…. [reparative therapy] usually disguised as ‘counselling’, to avoid scrutiny and regulation. Or dressed up as ‘pastoral care’, helping someone ‘deal with unwanted sexual attractions’. It generally flies under the radar, unlicensed, unobserved, uncontrolled.”

But far from repairing anything, this destroys. Deep depression may be induced. Victims are told their failure to change is their own fault: for not trying hard enough, not praying hard enough, not wanting hard enough to change.

Ross Murray, a spokesman for gay rights group GLAAD, told Fairfax after the closure of Exodus International that it was a step in right direction, but said, “it’s going to take a long time for healing to come, especially for the people who have gone through Chambers’ program and have suffered because of it.”

Perhaps Australian groups will realise this in time, too.

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