“The ban needs to be in place. Conversion therapy is abuse. The evidence speaks for itself”
BY NIC CROSARA, IMAGE VIA SHUTTERSTOCK
* Content warnings: transphobia, homophobia, self-harm
In May of this year, the government announced plans to ban conversion therapy. Earlier this month, the government announced an extension of the consultation on the legislation of the ban by eight weeks, “to ensure the widest possible views are taken into account”. Earlier this year we interviewed the anti-LGBT+ abuse charity Galop who warned of how traumatising the consultation will be for victims and survivors of conversion therapy.
Mermaids, a UK charity supporting gender variant and transgender youth, put us in contact with E, a young person whose experience of conversion therapy motivated them to share their story with us.
*E is a pseudonym the identity of the interviewee
Raised in the Nazarene church between the ages of six and 17, when they came out as a lesbian and then non-binary, their parents turned to their Reverand for guidance who employed different techniques to convince E to suppress their gender identity, and deny their sexual orientation. “I was repeatedly approached by members of the church who told me I was confused and that they would always love me as a child of God as long as I didn’t act on my attraction to women.”
E continued attending the church but kept their relationship status quiet. “I couldn’t tell my family I had a girlfriend as they would struggle to not seek help from the church. They believed lesbianism was a phase and had been caused by the death of my Grandma who was a strong female role model in my life”. E continues to share that the Reverend introduced E to his son and encouraged them to spend more time together, which is when the boy confessed that his father had asked him to spend time with E to convince them that they were not gay.
When E confided their upset to their parents they denied it being an issue saying “the rev was looking after their best interests.” One day the boy told E that the rev wanted to know if they had ever kissed a boy. Distressed by the increasing invasiveness of the church, E started making excuses to not go to church for a few months. “My girlfriend was really bothered by it and said if I continued to go we couldn’t be together.” When E eventually did return to church, several members of the congregation came up to them and said, “I hear you have been courting the reverend’s son.”
Abuse techniques often work by isolating those away from their support network. The toll of these events heightened E’s anxiety and they began to self harm. “I broke up with my girlfriend and stopped dating altogether.” Whilst the pandemic was another isolating experience, lockdown helped E as it meant their family often joined services remotely. During lockdown E came out as non-binary. They knew this was something they couldn’t share with the church. However their parents sought support from the church once they opened up to them. “We had a new rev at this point and he actually came to our house.” I’m shocked that the situation could become even more invasive by entering the “security” of the home. “He told me there must be a reason that I was rejecting God and tried to encourage me to confess that I had been sexually abused (which I hadn’t) as he felt that was the root cause.”
I ask if E can remember the moment they realised they were being subjected to conversion therapy. “I honestly had no idea it was conversion therapy. I didn’t even know there was a name for what was happening. It felt wrong, but everyone backed up what was happening… It was when my girlfriend said to me, ‘You realise this is not normal and not OK, right?’ that made me realise that outside of the church what was happening wasn’t viewed as acceptable”.
I’m thankful for E’s openness and bravery in sharing their journey. E tells me about a day in which they attended a support group for LGBTQI young adults. A member of Mermaids came in to speak to the group about conversion therapy and asked for their responses to the government’s proposals. “I had never really shared my story, only with two close friends and an online support group for queer Christians. After this session, I realised my story could help people so I agreed to write it down and send it to Mermaids. I hate the thought of other young people going through what I did, or worse.” When I ask how the extension of the consultation of the ban has impacted them, they share, “I have mixed feelings. It’s good that the extension means there is longer to hear more voices, but it’s also frustrating as many church groups are seeing it as a victory for them.” E opens up about their fears about whether the ban will actually happen and what it will look like.
I ask if there’s anything surrounding conversion therapy that often goes unaddressed. “It’s different forms. No one was violent towards me. In fact, they came across as loving and concerned. That is what made it harder for me to realise it was wrong,” E says. “The ban would have seriously changed things for me because I would feel that if I reached out for help, I would be taken seriously. You have no idea how much control this church can have. I honestly feel like I was brainwashed for years.”
It is increasingly important for services such as the kind Mermaids provides to be available. E found support through Mermaids. “Once when I was in a dark place, I called their helpline. The person I spoke to was incredible. They just listened to me spill my heart out and never once judged me or tried to play down my experiences.” E was so used to being misgendered by adults that they were deeply moved by Mermaids using their correct pronouns. “I hope to involve myself more with Mermaids in the future. The work they do saves lives.”
When I ask if there is anything else E would like to share, they encourage readers to “read our stories and hear how much it has damaged us”. E believes their story isn’t that extreme and considers themself lucky but traumatised. “I struggle to maintain relationships as I have huge trust issues. I find physical intimacy so difficult as it comes with a sense of guilt and shame that has been instilled in me.” E has been in therapy for six months which they’ve found tremendously helpful, but is aware the emotional scars will remain. “The ban needs to be in place. Conversion therapy is abuse. The evidence speaks for itself. Conversion therapy damages people. Being LGBT isn’t something that should ever try to be cured or prevented”.
You can learn more about resources at Mermaids here.
Galop conversion therapy helpline: 0800 130 3335
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