Are you ready for the New Year – 2017?

How we should get ready for 2017!

Happy New Year - 2017In America we have seen Donald Trump’s election win, and in the UK we have seen Brexit win out. Whilst we don’t know what the courts will say in terms of the Prime Minister’s rights, it is clear that the referendum has been taken and won and that the New Year will bring many changes, and that the far right seems to have gained ascendancy in terms of leaving Europe and also in terms of how we are supposed to ‘handle’ immigrants and other minorities.

President Elect ‘Trump’ has through his cabinet choices shown that he and his cronies are completely anti-LGBTQ, as all of them have either voted for some bill that denied the LGBTQ community one or all of the following:

  • job protections
  • right to marry
  • health services

In the UK we have seen the backlashes and phobias starting with people being beaten up because ‘they are not British’. Taunts like ‘ go back from where you came from’, ‘go back into the closet’, ‘your are not normal’.

It is obvious that things will get worse, especially if the Prime Minister, Theresa May, decides to push the removal of the Human Rights Act and replace with a Britsh Bill of Rights, which in all probability will be of no use at all, and probably only protect the rich and business.

LGBTQ Community

So what can we do about it?

Firstly, we need to make certain that our LGBTQ organisations are actually working for our community, and not just fund raising to ensure there existence. But also, we as a community need to be involved with these organisations – they cannot exist in a vacuum. And it is pretty obvious that funding is drying up from government and other sources.

Secondly, we need to remember that back in the 60s and 70s, whilst we did have some problems regarding personalities, we all realised that we needed to work together to achieve the common goal. This is even more relevant in the light of the attacks that are being made on our community from so many directions. We need to work together in the New Year to achieve our common goals.

LGBTQ Voting Power

Thirdly, we need to channel our voting power in the New Year. No longer should politicians of any ilk or cloth assume because they say they support they support the LGBTQ that they will automatically get our vote – they must prove they are more than fair-weather friends.

PA at Belfast Pride Snow Ball ‏ 2011

Lastly, we need to work with other groups who have experience and knowledge; they can help us develop our policies and mechanisms, the same as they can learn from us. There is strength in numbers, as well as that feeling of not being alone.

We need only look back in our history to discover how we in the past have come together and fought and won. Don’t stand alone, find friends, gather together in groups and support and learn to fight within the bounds of the law to get our rights and those of the future community

 

Further reading:

Have you any Gay Images From Northern Ireland

Gay History

northern gay and block mounted paisley ayatollah

 

Northern Ireland’s gay history is slowly coming to light in our national institutions.  Recently we spotted the Northern Gay and block mounted Paisley ayatollah  on display at the Ulster Museum.

This is only part of some of our history, but the museums and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) have more, and indeed are always looking for more material to add to their archives and develop their ability to reflect everyone’s history and in particular those of the minority groups which are often under represented.

A quick search on the PRONI websites brought up 15 distinct areas:

  • Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Advocate
  • Sexuality
    …If you think you’re gay or a lesbian, you may be worried about how people will react if you tell them…
  • Sexual orientation discrimination

…It’s against the law for an employer to discriminate against you because of your sexual orientation. You’re also protected against harassment or bullying at work…

  • Information and support for people with HIV and AIDS

…There are support services, information and advice available across Northern Ireland for people newly diagnosed or living with HIV…

  • Support services for victims
    …If you have been a victim of crime or abuse in Northern Ireland, there are organisation and groups who can give you free advice, support and practical help to help you deal with the impact of…
  • QueerSpace
  • Hate crime
    …Hate crime is a crime against a person usually because of their race, religious belief, sexual orientation, political opinion, gender identity or disability. Hate crime can take many forms…
  • Pushing the boundaries: Society & law
    …A Series of talks exploring society and the law which consider broad areas relating to the changing perception of what constitutes acceptable behaviour within society…
  • Rainbow Project
  • Human rights in the workplace

…Your human rights are protected by the law. If your employer is a public authority, they must follow the principles of the Human Rights Act…

  • Equal State Pension rights for transsexual people
    …Transsexual people can apply for equal treatment rights for social security purposes. This could mean getting the State Pension paid early, or having some National Insurance contributions…
  • Easter Rising: ‘Irish volunteers centenary project’

…PRONI was pleased to host ‘Irish Volunteers Centenary Project’, a talk by Donal McAnallen about experiences in the Easter Rising…

  • Talking to your child about sex and teenage pregnancy
    …Young people who can talk about sex with their parents tend to delay having sex and are more likely to use contraception when they do. However, you may find the idea slightly awkward, or you…
  • Religion or belief discrimination

…It is against the law for an employer to discriminate against you because of your religion or certain beliefs. Find out about your rights and what you can do if you’re worried about religion…

An important thing for all of us in the LGBT community of Northern Ireland is our history, but unfortunately a lot of it has been forgotten, or not written down, or in some cases is still hidden away in individuals homes.  We would like to develop further our access to our history, by asking everyone to dig our their history and by contacting us we will work with the museums and PRONI to develop a central resource.

Please do contact us with details of what you have and we will then arrange with the correct repository.  All information will remain confidential regarding your personal details, unless yu expressly give us permission to disclose them when lodging the items on your behalf.

Further reading:

 

Tory peer in Lords attempt to secure Northern Ireland gay pardons – Belfast Newsletter

Jeff-Dudgeon-MBE-gay pardons legislation

Jeff Dudgeon’s MBE comments re challenges to gay pardons legislation

A response from Jeff Dudgeon, in respect of the claim that Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 makes this problematic.

‘This, in my view, is an absolute  ridiculous argument. I wrote the amendments in such a way that they do not relate to the “sexual orientation” of a person convicted or cautioned. Both the pardons and the disregard scheme will be available to any “person” who has been convicted or cautioned. In respect of the main offences involved, that means: any person who has been convicted or cautioned for the offence of buggery (involving either opposite-sex or same-sex sexual acts); any person convicted or cautioned for the offence of gross indecency (this can only be same-sex acts because the offence only related to men). The term “gay pardons” is therefore misleading because the pardons will extend to any “person” (man or woman) falling within the ambit of the old law. There is no “discrimination” here!’

As you can see this proposed amendment is ‘fair to all’, and we believe that it should be passed…

The Lords and Gay Pardons LegisltionAn attempt to pardon men convicted in Northern Ireland before homosexuality was decriminalised has been launched in the House of Lords – but a QC has said that the proposal could be unlawful under equality law.

Source: Tory peer in Lords attempt to secure Northern Ireland gay pardons – Belfast Newsletter

Equality, not when you have a Petition of Concern

Marriage EqualityI have written previously on First Minister Foster’s inability to move with what the voters have clearly indicated on; it would seem that the DUP remain blinkered to where we are as a society in regards to marriage equality, and if they are so inclined with this minority how are they with others?

I call yet again on the First Minister to stop using the petition of concern to hide behind.  This instrument is long overdue to be removed from civilised politics on both sides, to allow proper politics to move forward along with the country.

I refer the Fist Minister to a report by the BBC in July 2013 which would seem to suggest that Petitions of Concern were being abused by both main political parties, and that the 1998 Act section governing their use was not clear enough and that Petitions of Concern need to review.

The SDLP leader, Mr Durkan,  at that time said:-“I have made the point several times before and do so again that the standing orders need to be corrected in accordance with the agreement and the 1998 Act.

“The argument can also be made, and I made it at the time, that the 1998 Act could have been more explicit in providing for the procedure intended.”

Petitions of concern: Is Stormont’s safeguard system being abused?

Equality

These figures outline the number of times each party has had members sign a petition of concern. As some documents were signed by more than one party, there will be some overlap which is why the total number of petitions in this table amount to more than the total number tabled during the last mandate.

Stormont’s petition of concern used 115 times in five years

Call her Kim Jong Foster, she prefers dictatorship to democracy.

Source: Anti-gay crusade of Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s First Minister

LGBT History – Telling All Our Stories before they disappear!

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Heritage Initiative – US national park service

LGBT History is Important

40s-friends-Boys-History-213x300-1For a number of years it has become clear that LGBT history is disappearing as our societies members have aged and their stories (which our our stories) disappear with their deaths or the onset of illnesses.

Our History is Disappearing

For Ireland this is compounded by the fact that so many of the LGBT community have had to leave the island to find work, relationships and just to be safe.  Today these things have been reduced, but the economic crisis of the last few years, and the impending impact of Brexit may well see further departures.

The LGBT society in both parts of the island of Ireland need to start thinkingNIGRA History - Pa and Mary Robinson urgently on how we should capture and then make available our history.  This will ensure our past, and also help our future, and will provide a wonderful resource for teachers and other groups/individuals.

A mechanism that might be considered is working with the museums in Ireland who have depositories to see if we can get access combined into a timeline – obviously this will take time and resources, but I believe that a small group could achieve a lot in this regard.

If you feel that you are interested then please get in contact and we can see if we can form that working group.

 

The American National Park Service has produced a wonderful book in two parts about LGBT History in the USA – the publication LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History  is available for download in PDF format – this is just another example of what can be done with the right active group and money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Telling All Americans’ Stories (U.S. National Park Service)

Human Rights – The Legal Act in the UK

Human Rights ActI asked a friend who is retired with a wide set of experiences in dealing with Human Rights, to give me his impression on the removal of the Human Rights Act from the UK, and what impact it would have.

He believes that repealing this Act which brings into domestic law the European Convention on Human Rights, will be a difficult job for the UK Government. Attempts here (N Ireland) to have a Bill of Rights expanding on those rights conferred by HRA are doomed in the short to medium term, despite the Good Friday obligations. He is part of the Human Rights Consortium and during the past 10 years or more since he started to attend, virtually no progress has been made.

He believes that Brexit will further complicate matters as various parts of these islands work out relationships between each other and the EU.

On the Consortium, they have encountered a lack of interest in the Bill of Rights, with the UK Government, the Irish Government and the NI Executive playing each other off. The DUP, mean as usual, don’t really have much of an idea about the value of rights, unless they are to their narrow benefit. It’s rather depressing!

He feels that one possibility is that Scotland, opposed to repeal or amendment of the HRA, might have its own Bill of Rights. It has vehemently opposed the “regressive” proposals for a British Bill of Rights.

On a case by case basis, any repeal of the HRA will be aired by the UK courts, ending up in the Supreme Court. The courts will not want to have to do what is essentially the work of Parliament. That relationship between Parliament, Government and Judiciary can be fractious at times, particularly here (N Ireland) where issues such as sexual orientation and abortion grab the attention of a very religious and conservative Attorney General.

hr-actN Ireland is still awaiting the reserved judgements in the two marriage cases and the Ashers appeal. And it looks like the current Attorney General in N Ireland is being very wide in his interpretation of his role, and there have been requests that he stand down or stop pursuing his own agenda which seems to definitely have a very select bias from my own and others  observations.

As with all these things we will have to wait and see how things develop, but of one thing I am certain the removal of the current Human Rights Act will not be to our benefit, and I honestly believe that LGBT rights and other diversity groups will suffer if it is taken away.

Links to further reading

Recruitment Drive

NIGRA is on a recruitment drive for you!

The law in Northern Ireland on gay relationships was changed through the actions of NIGRA and Jeff Dudgeon’s legal case which went through the legal system in the United Kingdom and then to the Europen Courts of Human Rights. NIGRA and Jeff did not do this on their own, it was through the efforts of many fundraiser throughout the UK and Ireland that this was managed. The case was won, but the fight still needs to go on to achieve full equality. If you have time and want to help then contact us through our website (http://nigra.org.uk/) – we have room for everyone!

So this is a recruitment plea asking you to give  us some time and help us develop the various projects which we have in mind:

  • An ‘Online’ LGBT Archive so that we can record our history, both the past and the current as it unfolds.  Recruitment - LGBT ArchiveWe need to interview the players in out history before they leave us, we also need to develop photographic evidence of artifacts before we arrange for them to be deposited in the Ulster Museum with whom we have now agreed a facility for depositing items like placards, photographs, home videos of historical moments, paintings etc.  Documentation can be deposited with the PRONI (Public Records Office Northern Ireland), and we have already done this for items from Jeff’s case and also from PA’s archives
  • Monitoring of Stormont and Westminster, particularly now we are through the Brexit vote.  We need to ensure that we know what is said and what is planned, and where necessary activate the community as required when we need to pressure our politicians.

These are only two of our projects, there are others, and off course we would welcome suggestions from you.

Please contact us and volunteer.

 

 

FREE IRISH CITIZEN DR. HOMA HOODFAR

 

Free Dr. Homa Hoodfar

Free Dr. Homa Hoodfar

Free Dr. Homa Hoodfar, a 65-year-old professor of anthropology, who holds Irish citizenship was arrested in Iran on 6 June following months of questioning by the Revolutionary Guards. She is being held in the notorious Evin Prison with no access to her family or lawyer, and is likely in solitary confinement. She is a prisoner of conscience. Dr. Homa Hoodfar is a prominent and respected scholar and anthropologist at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, whose decades-long teaching and research activities relate to development, culture, gender, and electoral politics. She holds Canadian, Irish and Iranian citizenship.

Dr. Homa Hoodfar was arrested on 6 June in Tehran after being verbally summoned to the Office of the Prosecutor in Tehran’s Evin Prison. She went to the prison with her lawyer who was not allowed to be present when she was taken away for questioning by officials from the Revolutionary Guards. When her lawyer requested to see Dr. Homa Hoodfar, after several hours had passed, prison officials told him to go home. They told him he was no longer allowed to see her because she was a “security prisoner”. All subsequent attempts by her family and lawyer to see her, including giving her personal items such as clothes and medication, have been denied by officials. Though she has not been heard from since her arrest, Amnesty International believes that she may be held in Section 2-A of Evin Prison, which is under the control of the Revolutionary Guards, as is common practice for such detainees.

Irish citizen, Dr. Homa Hoodfar travelled to Iran on 11 February primarily to visit her family but also to conduct historical research on women’s participation in elections since 1906. On the evening of 9 March, the day before she was due to leave Iran, officers from the Counter Intelligence Unit of the Revolutionary Guards raided her home and confiscated her personal belongings, including three passports, mobile phone and computer. For the next three days,  she was repeatedly summoned for questioning. During these interrogations, in which she was not allowed to have a lawyer present, she was asked about her work and about the emails that the authorities had found in her computer. Her interrogators also asked her questions such as “Are you a feminist?” and “What is feminism?”

Dr. Homa Hoodfar has a neurological condition called myasthenia gravis, which is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that affects the nerves and muscles, causing certain muscles to become weak. Her family has not been allowed to take her the medication she needs to help control the symptoms. There are serious concerns that while in detention she may not receive the specialized medical care she needs for a neurological condition.
Research is not a crime. No one should be targeted for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association. Amnesty International considers Dr. Hoodfar to be a prisoner of conscience.

Join our call for the immediate and unconditional release of Dr. Homa Hoodfar.

 

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Wednesday June 15th is Irish AIDS Day

World Aids Day 2016

Wednesday June 15 is Irish AIDS Day and Gender Orientation Sexual Health HIV (GOSHH), based on Davis Street in Limerick City, will mark the day by providing free Rapid HIV Tests.

GOSHH, formally known as Red Ribbon Project, has been involved in HIV activismGOSHH since it was first set up in 1989 by a group of gay men in Limerick and is currently promoting community based rapid testing as part of the Know Now campaign. GOSHH have been providing Rapid HIV tests for the last four years and are part of the first scheme to take a national approach to Rapid HIV testing. By making the test free of charge it removes the barrier of cost which was sometimes a factor in people not testing for HIV.

KnowNow, is an exciting and innovative new approach to enabling more people to know their HIV status. If people have HIV then the earlier they become aware of their status the better it will be for their long term health outcomes. In addition, most HIV is transmitted by people who are unaware that they have HIV, so early diagnosis can further reduce onward transmission rates.  The test uses a pin prick of blood from your finger and the results are available within 60 seconds.

Ann Mason, GOSHH Manager stated how important it is for people to know their HIV status: ‘These days HIV is a treatable infection and the sooner someone living with HIV accesses treatment, the sooner the medication will reduce their viral load to undetectable. One of the goals of our testing service will be that everybody living in the Mid-West will get to know their HIV Status and be aware of Sexual Health Services within their locality. It is also important to encourage people to openly discuss their HIV Status with their sexual partner.”

While there has been a significant and welcome improvement in treatment for HIV, concern remains regarding the rising numbers of newly diagnosed cases in Ireland. New HIV diagnoses nationally have increased by 35% since 2011. A total of 498 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2015, compared with 372 in 2014. To date in 2016, there has been a 42% increase in the number of people being diagnosed with HIV – with 214 new diagnoses, compared to 151 in the same period last year. This increase now translates to an average of 10 people per week being diagnosed with HIV.

The latest HIV diagnosis figures also show that HIV remains an issue of critical concern for gay and bisexual men. The figures for 2015 show that gay and bisexual men are the group most likely to acquire HIV in Ireland. There remains a clear need for gay and bisexual men to know their HIV status.

To coincide with Irish AIDS Day, GOSHH will also launch a peer support group for people living with HIV in the Mid-West Region. The group provides a time where members can gather to share experiences, difficulties, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and positive aspects of the process they are going through in a confidential setting.

GOSHH will be providing free rapid HIV Tests on Wednesday June 15th at its centre on 18 Davis Street, Limerick. No appointment is necessary and results are available in 60 seconds.

For more details on Rapid Testing and the Peer Support Group please contact GOSHH on 061 314354 or email support@goshh.ie

 

GOSHH Roadmap

 

Here’s What It’s Like To Go Through Gay Conversion Therapy In Australia

buzzfeed news logo

 

Conversion therapy is all but dead in Australia – but what will it take to kill it?

Candelight

“Please take this from me, I don’t want to be gay.”

Brisbane man Johann De Joodt knows first hand the horrors of gay conversion therapy.

A participant in numerous programs designed to purge his homosexuality during his twenties and thirties, De Joodt adopted a traumatising routine of church, sin and repentance that looped on repeat every week for 15 years.

“Sunday, I was going up to the altar, crying out to God,” he said. “Monday, I would sin by having sex with another man, and then beat myself up to a pulp so by Saturday I was suicidal. I’d manage to get myself to church on Sunday and then do it again, every week.”

“That was basically my life.”

“When a church leader says being gay is an abomination, people say, ‘you’re talking about my uncle who I love very much.’”

The question of whether conversion therapy works was answered long ago: it doesn’t. Leading psychological associations in Australia and around the world have denounced therapy that attempts to change sexual orientation. Earlier this year, a report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for nations to ban the practice, describing it as “unethical, unscientific and ineffective and, and may be tantamount to torture”.

Partly as a result of these strident denouncements, the prevalence of such therapy has significantly declined in Australia. Around 40 providers across the country in 2000 have dwindled to just a handful still in action today.

“There’s very little left. It’s in disarray,” says former pastor Anthony Venn-Brown. Venn-Brown, who has himself been through reparative therapy, is the most prominent voice on conversion therapy in Australia. He now works as the founder and CEO of Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International (ABBI), a group that works to combat ignorance and hostility between the LGBT community and churches.

Anthony Venn-Brown. Hadden Motion Pictures

Speaking to BuzzFeed News at a cafe in Waterloo, Sydney, Venn-Brown suggests another part of the decline is due to a growing acceptance of gay people in wider society – which, of course, includes churches too.

“More people are out, churchgoers have got gay sisters, brothers, colleagues, friends,” Venn-Brown says.

“When a church leader says being gay is an abomination, people say, ‘you’re talking about my uncle who I love very much.’”

The most thriving ex-gay programs are in Queensland, where Liberty Incorporated runs alongside the smaller Triumphant Ministries Toowoomba. Sydney-based Living Waters, one of Australia’s longest-running ex-gay programs, closed down last year.

There are also groups that advertise themselves as providing pastoral counselling on dealing with same-sex attraction, but clarify they do not attempt to change sexual orientation. These groups include Liberty Christian Ministries in NSW, and Renew Ministries in Victoria.

However, perhaps due to the stigma now attached to conversion therapy, there is little public information available about the funding, treatment methods and numbers of clients for each of these organisations. While Venn-Brown estimates that the programs would get “very few referrals” these days, their relative invisibility serves as a shield to such information. “We’ll never know the exact numbers,” he says.

At the heart of religious conversion therapy is “a strong belief in an all powerful God”, says Venn-Brown. Programs use a number of methods to exploit this belief, convincing participants that homosexuality is not what God wants for them. Venn-Brown went through dramatic exorcisms, where he convulsed on the floor for hours as pastors gathered around him, screaming for the demon of homosexuality to exit his soul.

Other methods include group and personal counselling, where homosexuality is posed either as a shameful habit that can be broken or an affliction, harking back to the days when it was considered a mental illness.

Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images

Johann De Joodt bristles at the description of gay conversion therapy as “nearly dead”.

“Conversion therapy hasn’t ended in Australia,” he says. “It is alive and well.”

De Joodt came to Australia from Sri Lanka in 1984. A few years later, he found himself heavily involved in the Assemblies of God Pentecostal church movement – now known as Australian Christian Churches – and struggling with his sexuality.

“I went to confess my sin of homosexuality to my pastors,” he says. “I was pretty involved in church life, and the pastor recognised that there were a few other people in the church who were struggling with their sexuality as well.”

De Joodt started the Living Waters ex-gay program in 1990. This was the first of many programs he went through, and when his weekly routine of church, sin, and self-loathing began. It wouldn’t end until 2005.

For years, De Joodt prayed the gay away as various pastors attempted to cast the demons of homosexuality from his soul. He was told his sexuality was a habit that could be broken and changed, that he was gay because he had been sexually assaulted as a child and lacked a decent father figure. He enrolled in courses on self-esteem, and learning how to say no, and did hours of counselling. He prayed, week after week after week.

Unsurprisingly, Johann stayed gay. But the years he spent in therapy ate away at him in other ways. “My health…” Johann starts, then pauses. “I am on antidepressants. Everything I’ve been through has stuffed up my mental health.”

 

Since 2000, twelve peer-reviewed, primary research studies have found conversion therapy is harmful to mental health. A Columbia Law School project collating conversion therapy research found that among people who had undergone the treatment, there was a prevalence of depression, anxiety, social isolation, decreased capacity for intimacy, and suicidal thoughts and behaviours. “There is powerful evidence that trying to change a person’s sexual orientation can be extremely harmful,” the researchers concluded.

“People have taken their lives, they are now on pensions because they can’t function in everyday life,” says Venn-Brown. “There are PTSD issues, they’ve been harmed mentally, they’re traumatised.”

This manifest trauma and pain is why Venn-Brown has devoted his life to combating ignorance between the LGBT and faith community through ABBI. His daily grind is a softly-softly approach that coaxes people of faith and the LGBT community closer together. “The biggest challenge is fear,” he says without hesitation.

In the past – and in conversion therapy – being gay and being a Christian were seen as incompatible. Venn-Brown says that when he was going through therapy in the 1970s and ‘80s, there was “nobody who believed there was such a thing as a gay Christian”.

“You were either Christian and heterosexual or you were gay and going to go to hell,” he explains. “The gay Christian movement was just beginning to grow then.” After coming out in 1991, he left the Christian faith for six years – but then returned to it after realising being a gay Christian was possible. “There are things [in Christianity] that I can take, that are very real for me,” he says. “Forgiveness, sowing and reaping, having purpose.”

As attitudes have changed and churches become more permissive, many LGBT Christians have been able to reconcile their faith with their sexuality and gender identity. However, a damaging rift still exists between the two communities, with years of betrayal from religious organisations leaving LGBT people fearful and unwilling to engage. Those hurt most by the hostility are LGBT Christians, who are often left feeling as though they belong in neither camp.

“Just as Christians have stereotyped all LGBT people, some LGBT people have stereotyped all Christians,” says Venn-Brown. “We get called perverts, abominations, they get called bigots and haters. And that doesn’t get us anywhere, just sitting back in our camps, our tribes, throwing barbs at each other.”

It’s obvious the division is unhelpful – but is being called a pervert really on par with being called a bigot? Venn-Brown pauses before answering, in short, no.

“It’s about the perception – we will often hear, a Christian like [Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director] Lyle Shelton or [Christian Democrats leader] Fred Nile say ‘I am not homophobic’. But everything that comes out of their mouth is completely homophobic. They just don’t understand what homophobia is, because they’ve never experienced it,” he says.

“We come from our own hurt, and our own pain. And we react, as any human would, when cruel and nasty and insensitive things are said by these people.” He switches into the second person, speaking directly to those who have hurt him. “You don’t know what that does to us, because you’ve never experienced that. You don’t know what it feels like.”

But matters of blame and hostility aside, Venn-Brown is convinced his approach of “dialogue and respect” is best. He knows both the LGBT and the faith community intimately, and says church communities do not respond to “aggressive” activism.

“I introduced [Hillsong Pastor] Brian Houston to a guy in his church who had been referred to somebody [for conversion therapy],” says Venn-Brown. “I got him and his parents to write a letter, Brian met with him.”

Later, it emerged that Houston had issued a directive to all Hillsong staff to never refer anyone to these programs.

“I’ve talked with people who are major religious leaders in Australia. It’s been a journey of ten years for some of them,” Venn-Brown says. “I’ve seen progress, but not where I would want it to be. In every human rights movement, it’s taken decades to shift. If you’re not in it for the long haul, it’s not going to work.”

 

However, politicians involved in LGBT law reform say a legal approach to ending conversion therapy is complex.

“There’s not much that can be done to target these organisations specifically at a federal level, other than continuing to tighten anti-discrimination legislation and look at the applicability of consumer law,” Greens senator Robert Simms tells BuzzFeed News.

If providing the therapy was considered a breach of the Sex Discrimination Act, it’s likely that the religious exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act would protect conversion therapy providers. Under Australian consumer law, the religious and not-for-profit aspects of most conversion therapy programs would mean they are not considered “commercial in nature”. While such laws could be tweaked, says Simms, it’s unlikely they could be used as a mechanism to eradicate the therapy altogether.

Graham Perrett, a co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of LGBTI People Working Group, says a federal law banning conversion therapy may be unconstitutional.

“In terms of section 51 on the powers of the parliament, I can’t see any head of power that would give the federal parliament any capacity to make gay conversion therapy illegal in Australia,” he says.

There are some legal avenues under state and territory law as well, with acts in all jurisdictions outlawing advertising of health services that are deceptive or misleading. It could also be possible to lodge a complaint with the Australian Psychological Society that their code of ethics has been breached.

However, there is no black and white policy solution to immediately ending conversion therapy.

“It’s all just prejudice welded onto quackery packaged by a religious organisation,” says Perrett.

“I think education is the best antidote.”

Sebastien Bozon / AFP / Getty Images

De Joodt’s conversion journey reached a fork in 2005. His conversion counsellor at the time, CEO of Liberty Incorporated Paul Wegner, told him “I can help you suppress your sexual desires, but I can’t help you change your sexual orientation”.

“I was like, ‘Well, what’s the point?” says De Joodt. “If you take a ball and try to push it in a bucket of water and let go, it’s going to eventually pop up.”

He came out, lost “a lot of people”, and left his Pentecostal church. He went to the LGBT-friendly Metropolitan Community Church for a few years, and then stopped that, too. But God is still in his life.

“I have days where I feel like a Christian, and there are other days where I feel like I hate God,” he says.

“I think I’ve resolved my sexuality with my faith. If people want to be so small-minded as to think that you have to be straight to get into heaven then I think they’re going to get a big shock when they do get to heaven.”

A pause, and then: “I think God is bigger than the box you put God into.”

It’s because of this new understanding of faith, says De Joodt, that he doesn’t relapse into wanting to be straight again. “I’ve come to a point where I believe I need to be honest before myself, and before my God.”

“There’s a famous saying, isn’t there?” He thinks aloud. “Change what you can change and leave the rest to God? Or something like that. Accept the things you can’t change?”

A quick Google search later, it becomes apparent De Joodt was trying to recall the words of the Serenity Prayer, brought into popular culture by its widespread use in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change / The courage to change the things I can / And the wisdom to know the difference.

It took years of anguish, but finally, De Joodt has been granted that serenity. He knows the difference, too.

“If God wanted just another heterosexual, God could have created one, but instead God created me fabulous,” he says.

“My sexual orientation is something I cannot change.”

A spokesperson for Liberty Christian Ministries declined a request to be interviewed for this piece. Requests sent to Liberty Incorporated and Triumphant Ministries Toowoomba were not responded to.

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.