Inside a ramshackle shed on the Gold Coast in 2008, a Baptist church leader awaited the arrival of a terrified teenager named Nashy.
Nashy’s father, horrified that his 17-year-old son had been accessing homosexual content online, waited in the car. Inside, they told Nashy: You are evil, possessed by the demon of homosexuality that must now be exorcised from you.
“Cough,” the man instructed. “Keep coughing.”
Nashy did it until his throat ached, an attempt to “cough up” the homosexual demons.
“I was petrified,” says Nashy.
Nashy Nash changed their name two years ago when they went non-binary.
Nash, now 30, remembers babbling on the orange dirt of the apartment on two visits to that eerie shed, desperate to shake off homosexual urges: traumatic scenes in tangerine tones that still repeat themselves.
“I was terrified of losing my family and I felt overwhelming guilt,” they say. “I’m still working with those recurring images in therapy.”
A new La Trobe University report, Healing Spiritual Harms, has found that the damage caused by religion-based LGBTQA suppression and change practices is more severe than previously thought, leaving survivors with complex PTSD.
Lead author Dr. Timothy Jones says that pseudo-medical gay conversion promoting practices like electroshock “treatment” has been overdone compared to faith-based practices, which can be just as harmful.
“This report clearly shows informal conversion practices, those that are outside of a formal therapeutic counseling context: pastoral guidance, prayer, spiritual liberation, cause serious harm,” he says. “We must improve the skills of religious leaders to provide spiritual guidance that really helps, not harm, LGBTQA people.”
Victoria is the only state that has legislated to ban conversion practices in religious settings – ACT and Queensland last year banned LGBTQA conversion therapies, but their laws will only have force to address medical malpractice.
Healing spiritual damage It is believed to be the first study in the world to include research with mental health professionals and has a significantly more diverse cohort of surviving participants (35) than previous studies.
It finds that survivors of so-called conversion practices face barriers when trying to access mental health support, often because their conversion masquerades as counseling, but also because they experience new shame if they reveal a desire to continue practicing their faith.
Some mental health professionals single-handedly view some ongoing faith connection from survivors as a sign that they are still psychologically linked to the churches that attempted to convert them.
“Almost none of the 18 health professionals we interviewed felt comfortable discussing religion with survivors,” says Jones. “Counselors just assume they need to give up their faith to recover, but that may not be the goal of the survivor.”
Nash underwent many conversion attempts before that ramshackle shed.
Such practices began at age 13, when their deeply religious parents sent them to a religious conversion practitioner in Brisbane.
“I still carry his words in my head,” says Nash.
Those words were the same they would hear repeatedly over the next few years from various religious “advisers” and pastors: You are broken and need to be fixed; if you act on your same-sex urges, you will go to hell.
“I remember crying and begging my dad repeatedly: ‘Please. I don’t want to go to hell, ‘”says Nash.
At age 21, Nash was sent to Texas for 13 months to participate in Living Waters’ infamous intensive conversion therapy program.
After a period of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, Nash finally moved to Melbourne to be his true self.
“It took me a long time to get to therapy,” says Nash. “I had anxiety about the therapist’s office.”
‘The price is absolutely horrible’
Samuel, who asked that his last name not be used, also took time to seek therapy.
After years of his Sunshine Coast Lutheran church trying to “pray for homosexuals to stay away,” a pastor drew up a contract mandating celibacy and avoiding “earthly sinful temptations,” and threatened to lose his precious role as a worker. youth in church. Samuel signed it through tears.
“I thought conversion therapy involved these terrible camps,” says Samuel, now 30 and a social worker. “I hadn’t realized that these faith-based micro-shaming mechanisms were also conversion practices, promoting self-disgust under the guise of ‘we just want to protect you.’
Before the church asked to sign the contract, Samuel’s parents had sent him to Christian counselors. “I felt dirty and bad and wanted to kill myself,” he says. “He just couldn’t see a way to be Christian and gay.”
Samuel is now seeing a psychologist with a religious background who is gay. “He just gets it,” he says. “He allows me to sit in this messy place where I have a lot of love for the Lord one day and less the next.”
Nicole Conner, an Australian Pentecostal Church associate minister turned ally and survivor advisor, has seen both sides.
The 55-year-old Melbourne woman spends her days helping conversion survivors process their trauma through narrative counseling.
But, as a minister in the conservative church, she was surrounded by homophobia. Notorious “ex-gay” leader Sy Rogers flew in from the United States to speak at his lectures about how God changed his homosexuality, “proving” that such a change was possible.
Conner was uncomfortable with the hurtful messages she heard imparted to young parishioners asking, “All of a sudden, the church that told you it loved you is treating you with suspicion,” she says. “It destroys their entire sense of belonging and identity. The price is absolutely terrible. ”
In 2013, an acquaintance took his life after undergoing religious conversion practices. “That hit me like a two-four,” he says. “In 2015, I left the church to speak about the damage that I have witnessed.”
Some churches claim that their prayer practices are not attempts at conversion, but Conner is adamant. “That’s just semantics,” he says. “The practice of conversion is the oxygen that you breathe the moment you enter a conservative religious environment; they see any non-heterosexual person as broken.”
Coinciding with the findings of the La Trobe report, he cautions that counselors without a religious background or understanding may not always understand the deep connection survivors have to their faith.
For some survivors, it’s about finding the right church.
“There are many religious groups that support the queer community, ”says Nash. “But there are also those who attract you by telling you that we accept you, we love you, but now that you are inside, we will change you.”
Even with conversion therapy banned in Queensland, the practices of “praying gays away” continue to take place.
After a soft sigh, Nash says that makes them sad: “Right now there is a 13-year-old Nashy being fed lies about being broken. He will stay with them for life. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism