(Anthony Venn-Brown)

Five former leaders of ex-gay ministries in Australia have publicly condemned the practice of teaching homosexuals to be heterosexual.

Reparative/conversion therapies, which seek to alter a person’ sexual orientation through disciplinary programs, have been dealt a blow in recent times as an increasing number of former leaders acknowledge that the practice does not work.

The apologies of three former ex-gay leaders at the Ex-gay Survivors Conference in Los Angeles in June encouraged a number of former Australian leaders to speak up.

Paul Martin was the former leader of Exodus in Melbourne, a ministry that “helped” men and women “find a way out of homosexuality”.

“There was not one person that I met or worked with who, in any genuine way, achieved the fundamental transformation from homosexual to heterosexual,” Martin said.

“The stress of attempting to change their sexual orientation, however, increased the risk of suicide, and absolutely led to erosion of self-esteem and increased levels of depression and self-deprecation at a very deep level.”

Another former Exodus leader, John Metyard, said he was once ardent in his opinion that it was God’ intention to heal the same-sex-attracted and help them to be “whole”, but admitted that his position was now different.

Many former leaders believed that homosexuality was a choice, including Vonnie Pitts, the former leader of Living Waters, an organisation that conducts disciplinary programs for those pursuing “sexual wholeness”.

She did her own research into the causes of homosexuality, she said, and found there was mounting evidence that sexual orientation was determined in the womb.

“Now I have absolutely no doubt that homosexuals are born gay and don’t need to change,” she said.

Former Exodus Melbourne leader Wendy Lawson said nearly every member of the group was now living as an openly homosexual person, and Kim Brett, also a former Exodus leader, said of the people who were married, “most seemed to still be dealing with homosexual feelings”.

After attending Australia’ first ex-gay program in 1972, Anthony Venn-Brown spent 22 years trying to change his sexuality.

The program, he said, was about “modifying your behaviour to become more masculine”.

“You were never allowed to work in a kitchen — that was women’ work,” he said. “You were always doing maintenance work and manual labour outside … and they also removed any articles of clothing from my wardrobe that they believed were not masculine.

“They believed you should have a good, strong male role model because your father was emotionally distant. Therefore they gave me a minder, who would be with me 24 hours a day and who would make sure I was behaving myself.”

It was abusive, Venn-Brown said, and after six months he left the program and attempted to recover from the trauma. He has told his story in his recently released book A Life of Unlearning — A Journey to Find the Truth.

The sense of failure and shame that results from time spent undergoing conversion therapies has discouraged former participants from talking about their experiences.

The community of former participants in Australia would be attending a reunion in the coming months, Venn-Brown added.

“Some people have suicided,” he said. “But most people have now come to terms with their sexuality.

“There is no success rate. The only success rate the programs have is a degree of heterosexual functionality, which is not a change of sexual orientation.”

A number of Australian ministries still conduct conversion therapies today, including Living Waters and Liberty Christian Ministries.