Man forced to hurt himself with elastic band during cruel gay 'conversion therapy'

A number of Australian fundamentalist churches still run controversial therapy courses encouraging men to adopt celibacy over homosexuality

Mirror, UK/September 16, 2019

By Ben Welch

A man was forced to hurt himself with elastic bands and take cold showers during cruel 'conversion therapy', an exclusive investigation has uncovered.

The 'therapy' is still operating in a number of fundamentalist churches across Australia, 60 Minutes programme has revealed.

Armed with hidden cameras, a former victim of gay conversion therapy Robert Williams worked to expose the current face of Gay Conversion Therapy.

The programmes have been branded a "damaging religious practice" that originally demanded conversion to heterosexuality.

Gay Conversion Therapy is based on the ideology that members of the LGBTQ community are "broken" and "need to be fixed".

In decades gone by, practitioners employed several barbaric methods, including electric shock therapy, physical beatings and exorcisms.

In other countries, the practice has drawn much condemnation, and has been the subject of a number of legal challenges and legislation.

In the exclusive 60 Minutes story, Ms Abo revealed that many churches continue to run informal therapy across the country.

For the three-month investigation, Mr Williams spoke to ministers and counsellors, and attended group therapy and one-on-one guidance sessions.

At every session, Mr Williams was told he should choose celibacy over homosexuality.

Some told him he would not be accepted at their church as a homosexual, and stressed the message that acting on same-sex attraction was "a sin".

He became involved in the 60 Minutes investigation after undergoing Gay Conversion Therapy himself.

A decade ago, he turned to the minister at Melbourne's City Life Church for guidance over what he now describes as a "lifetime of homosexual thoughts".

The conservative church immediately referred him to Gay Conversion Therapy, promising him he would "walk out straight and sin-free".

He told Ms Abo: "They got me to do an elastic band on my wrist.

"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."

Eventually the torment became too much, and the Australian made the excruciating decision to tell his wife, two children and his entire church community he was gay.

He added: "I lost everything. I lost my children, I lost my wife, I lost my security, I lost my identity – I had to rebuild the whole lot."

Mr Williams told the reporter he is now tortured by the damage he experienced going through Gay Conversion Therapy.

After going undercover, Mr Williams reported that contemporary Gay Conversion Therapy had evolved, in that it focused on promoting celibacy, rather than 'converting' homosexuals to heterosexuality, saying that "in their terms, you cannot be a Christian and be gay".

Dr Timothy Jones, a senior lecturer at Melbourne's La Trobe University, agreed with Mr Williams, telling 60 Minutes that this style of counselling can be "extremely damaging".

His recent landmark research into gay conversion therapy in Australia uncovered at least ten church-run organisations still offering this sort of underground counselling.

Dr Jones said: "Every single person that we interviewed had contemplated suicide, and many of them knew people who had taken their lives because of the intensity of the distress that these practices caused."

John Smid, a former head of Love In Action, one of the largest Christian gay conversion institutions in the US, also assisted 60 Minutes in a bid to expose current Gay Conversion Therapy.

He told Ms Abo: "The over-arching message is sexual brokenness.

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

He also claimed that the majority of practising 'counsellors' have no qualifications at all.

He added: "As Christian leaders we believed that we had the authority of the Bible.

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

Mr Smid now lives as a gay man, recently marrying his partner, Larry McQueen.

Ms Abo posed the allegations of severe harm to the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Martyn Iles, who openly quoted the Bible, saying it was a "sin" to lead a gay lifestyle.

Mr Iles said: "It says that it's a sin to act on any sexual desire outside of marriage, which is a union of one man, one woman, to the exclusion of all others for life.

"That's the standard, and there's no getting around it. And if people don't like the standard there's no need for them whatsoever to be part of the church."

He told 60 Minutes he not only supports the rights of all churches to offer help to gay Christians if they ask for it - but even argues against accusations of psychological harm caused by such churches.

He said: "I don't consider that to be conversion therapy. I consider it to be voluntary counselling that someone can sign up to.

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

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