It’s been eye-opening for our policy team to hear the stories of several ex-gay survivors and to slowly build an understanding of the movement that has caused untold suffering.
The ex-gay movement is a slippery beast. When you begin to sift through people’s stories of community coercion, religious culture, support groups, weekly sermons and internal conflict, it becomes difficult to draw a line between good old fashioned religious homophobia and the ex-gay movement. Going deeper, it’s difficult to draw a line between ex-gay therapy and the broader ex-gay culture.
But before I tell you what the ex-gay movement looks like, let’s talk about the key message behind ex-gay.
In a nutshell, the ex-gay movement holds at its core the belief that same-sex attraction (and, by extension, being trans) is the direct result of issues – usually traumatic – in early childhood and, therefore, that it is a disorder that can be healed. If you’re a believer in a faith that deeply incorporates this message, then walking the path of “healing” is essential if you are going to be accepted and included in your faith community.
Most media representations of ex-gay have revealed it to be centred in the concept of gay-conversion therapy. This is a type of therapy practised by counsellors, psychologists, and fringe self-hope groups or dedicated “ex-gay organisations” such as the infamous Exodus International and Living Waters.
I believe these media representations are incomplete.
Ex-gay can no longer be seen as a type of therapy. However, it is not quite as nebulous as the “good old fashioned homophobia” of yesteryear (and the past thousands of years). Ex-gay is a movement and a part of conservative culture. Being distinctly male and female and being very clearly heterosexual are also parts of this culture. Anything outside these boundaries causes a strong sense of push-back and anxiety for so many of the communities from which our members who are ex-gay survivors have come.
Forget about the infamous ex-gay organisations and the kooky ex-gay hospitals from the spoof movie Saved! in which young gay and lesbian youth get sent to a ‘pray the gay away’ fundamentalist hospital. Instead, think about a deeply insidious movement of conferences, social norms, community groups, online resources and media. Think of a sub-culture that keeps young LGBTI people of faith trapped in a world of shame and double-lives, constantly punishing themselves for being same-sex attracted and pleading with God/god/G-d to heal them of their “disordered” sexuality. So forget about the idea of one piece of legislation “banning ex-gay therapy” too. We need a solution that is a little more clever.
There’s good news though! Lots of it too! Change is happening. Some of the world’s (and Australia’s) leading conservative thinkers are changing their minds about ex-gay and choosing to renounce the ex-gay message, the subculture and the therapies. They are facing fierce backlash, but their voices are not being silenced. You can read more about this here and here.
The Australian Equality Party respects the freedom of all Australians to practice their faith in healthy and robust faith communities. Many of our committee members, party members and supporters are passionate people of faith – some of them quite conservative. However, when it comes to the ex-gay movement and the messages it sends throughout so many of Australia’s conservative communities, we believe that preventing the tremendous harm, suicides, and carnage seen in recent decades is paramount. We know that a great number of conservative religious leaders agree with our stance on this issue too.
The AEP therefore advocates for an approach that will see the ex-gay myth – that “gay = disordered” – classified as vilification. We want to see counsellors, psychologists and other practitioners – particularly those working in government funded pastoral care roles – subject to the standards and recommendations set by groups such as the Australian Psychological Society, which condemned all ex-gay practices in February this year. We also want to ensure that ex-gay practices and messaging can’t be peddled in the public sphere as a viable means of dealing with same-sex attraction.
Check out our infographic to learn more about our plan to address the ex-gay movement or read our updated policy.
It’s time for LGBTIQ people of faith to be fully included and for the ex-gay movement to be effectively curtailed.