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The experience of LGBTI people from faith backgrounds
Over the last 18 years, Anthony Venn-Brown has been collating the stories of LGBTI people from Christian backgrounds. The sources have been 400 gay conversion therapy survivors, 350 personal stories of Freedom2b members as well as 1,000’s of emails from readers of his autobiography, A Life of Unlearning. The vast majority of these stories, but not exclusively, have come from evangelical, pentecostal, charismatic (EPC) backgrounds, as opposed to the more traditional streams of Christianity such as Roman Catholicism. From this extensive collection, Anthony has summarised the twelve key impacts that faith/sexuality conflict creates. With the rise of the evangelical and pentecostal churches in Australia and overseas it is even more important that the LGBTI community and those who work with them are aware of the issues involved. Understanding the religious external culture as well as the specific internal conflicts is vital for anyone working in LGBTI health.

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  1. 1. KILLING US, DRIVING US CRAZY The experience of LGBTI people from faith backgrounds Anthony Venn-Brown Founder and CEO Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International Health in Difference 2018 © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au
  2. 2. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au Collection of data: 1. Yahoo ex-ex-gay group (400) 2. A Life of Unlearning (lost count) 3. Freedom2b (1,000)
  3. 3. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au A systematic review of 850 studies on the relationship between religion and mental health done by Moreira-Almeida, Neto, and Koenig (2006) found that individuals who were more religiously involved tended to have positive associations with psychological wellbeing indicators such as overall satisfaction with life, happiness, and confidence. Additionally, those individuals experienced less depression, suicidal thoughts and behaviour, and drug use/abuse.
  4. 4. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au For LGBTI people from faith backgrounds it’s the opposite 1. Mental health issues caused by a number of factors 2. Serious attempts to change over extended period of time 3. Heterosexually married 4. Self destructive behaviours e.g. substance abuse, unsafe sex 5. Obsessive behaviours 6. Struggle to find their place in the LGBTI community 7. Some have an additional cultural layer to deal with 8. Experience intense cognitive dissonance 9. Some still believe they are going to hell 10. Long term impact of internalised homophobia 11. Serious thoughts of suicide 12. Suicide attempts
  5. 5. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au 1.Mental health issues caused by a number of factors ‘It wasn't till the start of last year I was diagnosed with depression. Everything fell apart, and I began to go less and less to church. And then February this year I was diagnosed with Bipolar. There are so many of us trapped, sure my case is different but my Bipolar I believe came from years of being told how bad I was by Christians.’ (Shane 33) ‘I never entertained the thought that I might be gay, I was so convinced that was a sin (demonic even) so I struggled through life suffering from depression from about age 14 without really knowing why.’ (Female 39 – Salvation Army)
  6. 6. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au 2. Serious attempts to change – over extended period of time ‘It's taken me the last 10 years to accept myself and find a relationship with God again. My family was very strict Pentecostal family and we went to church weekly. My father was a preacher there who has very strict views on gay people. I clearly remember being about 10 or 11 and him saying that "God hates gay people. What they do is wrong" Imagine my shock when I finally worked out what was "wrong" with me. I was 19 and diagnosed with depression. Everything was going down hill and nothing I did seemed to make it better. I fasted, I prayed like crazy and even had people casting demons out of me.....but nothing seemed to work.’ (Lesbian 29)
  7. 7. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au 3. Heterosexually married ‘This was my sure fire way out of this whole homosexuality trap. All I needed was to get married and that would finally take away all of these attractions and desires I had battled for so long. Almost a year to the date we first met, we were married. She was 18, I was 20. At last my battle was over, this wall would never fail. Looking back I can see how foolish I was. The crazy part is, at the time, I thought I was doing the right thing. That I actually was straight, that I could never be gay. It just wasn’t possible! I was a Christian!’ (Male – former worship leader)
  8. 8. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au 4. Self destructive behaviours ‘I had already left the church and since God hated me and I was going to hell anyway, I decided to do everything that was wrong and enjoy what time I had. I had nothing to lose. Became alcoholic, drug addict, multiple car accidents and was many times in mental hospitals for depression.’ (Gay male) ‘I was exorcised, prayed for and attended ex-gay programs but I only felt more worthless as my sexuality didn't change. I then came crashing into the gay scene in the mid 90's being extremely promiscuous and reckless.....leading to an HIV+ diagnosis in 1996.’ (Ian 36 – UK)
  9. 9. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au 5. Obsessive behaviours I’ve had years of severe depression, 3 suicide attempts and becoming totally addicted to internet porn and acting on my sexual desires in deviant and compulsive ways….. (Bruno) One month before we were to be married I started to feel like I needed to act on the urge to be with guys again. I tried stopping it and I couldn't control it. I began using Gay Beats a lot. (Gay male) All this time I continued to have anonymous sexual encounters, spent hours looking at gay porn on the internet. Occasionally my wife caught me, and we would pray about it, I would "repent", and a few months later I'd be back at it. (Gay male 40)
  10. 10. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au 6. Struggle to find their place in the LGBTI community Also now that I’m out of the closest I feel more alone now more than ever, I don’t have any gay friends, never had a boyfriend, never been kissed, never been loved, and when I was in the closest I didn't have to worry about those things, I had my Christian friends and that's where it ended. Now that I'm out of the closet there is this BIG gap missing in my life… and I'm filling this gap in a very bad way, but I cant talk about it because.. well I can't… its complicated. (Gay male 22)
  11. 11. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au 7. Additional cultural layer to deal with ‘Then one day, my mum called me, she told me she found out I was gay by checking my email account, through the gay emails. I received an air-ticket, telling me to go back to Hong Kong the next day, I had no choice, I had to go back, without a chance of saying goodbye to my friends. in Hong Kong, I was isolated from everyone in Australia, I was arranged to see a psychiatrist, who begin to talk me into being straight again. Dad and mum drilled me daily how I should not do anything that is against human nature, how I brought shame to the family etc. My parents decide to send me to Beijing in February 2007, to an exchange program to further isolate me, with my dad threatening to jail me if I meet any gay person there.’ (Joey – early 20s – Hong Kong)
  12. 12. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au 8. Intense cognitive dissonance I became very scarred as I had always heard both in Church and in society that homosexuality was not normal . I listened to comments of how sick homosexuality was and even the minister at my Church said that he would not allow an homosexual to worship in our congregation. I felt really afraid. I prayed and asked and believed that God would change my thoughts and desires but nothing happened. As the years went by all erotic thoughts that came into my mind were that of a gay nature. I was constantly living under fear and guilt. I was convinced that God had abandoned me and I was going to be sent to hell. I almost had several nervous breakdowns, finding it difficult even to work at times.
  13. 13. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au 9. Some still believed they were going to hell ‘I thought my life was complete. I had a nice home, gorgeous partner I was madly in love with, kids, pool, dog, car, good job – the lot. I felt like I was in heaven, but in my heart I believed I would pay for it by going to hell eventually.’ (Gay male) ‘My deepest, darkest more kept secret is that I am truly PETRIFIED of dying alone, and in some wee recess in the back of mind is telling me that it is God punishing me for being gay!’ (Gay male Christian)
  14. 14. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au 10. Long term impact ‘It is a decade long story from the age of 18 to 29, I am now 46. The real damage surfaced after I left the church; the break happened because my parents had me committed to a psychiatric hospital for fear that I was going to kill myself. I have battled alcoholism and severe post traumatic stress disorder. In 2011 I was deemed totally and permanently disabled as a result of ongoing psychological trauma and have had to give up my career in the Public Service. I am now on a disability pension paid by my superannuation fund. When I slept I had the worst nightmares and when I was awake I suffered flashbacks that were debilitating. Overcoming the self hatred, fear and anger has proven to be very difficult. I have started to experience periods of peace but it has taken 17 years and a truckload of counselling and medication.’ (Steve -46)
  15. 15. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au 11. Serious and regular thoughts of suicide ‘I too have battled suicide although I never attempted it. I struggled with constant suicidal thoughts from year 7 to year 11. Even though I had accepted myself as gay by year 9 and 10. I still wanted to kill myself in order to get other people to know how badly I was hurting.’ ‘I began self harming, binge eat then stick my fingers down my throat only to bring it up again. As 2005 came to an end I was slipping further into a deep depression. I became suicidal and those thoughts ruled much of what I did.’ (Scott 18)
  16. 16. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au 12. Suicide ‘I just wanted you to know that you are an inspiration to me. Reading A Life of Unlearning assisted my mental health and acceptance for myself in a tangible way. I used to be on six antipsychotic drugs and now I'm only on one mild antidepressant. Thank you. It truly did help. I've always been taught that God hates me. I made a lot of friends in conversion therapy. Out of forty, only six are still alive (one died naturally, the rest suicide.) Your book gave me hope and let me see a truer Christ.’ Matt - USA
  17. 17. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au Our response 1.See this as priority 2.Understand the resource 3.Research 4.Training 5.Encourage faith spaces
  18. 18. © Anthony Venn-Brown www.abbi.org.au Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International • Articles • Audio resources • Videos • Training – seminars and workshops • Consultancy services www.abbi.org.au info@abbi.org.au