It’s time to end conversion practices

Conversion practices
Former pastor Aaron Kelly wants to make sure no one is harmed by conversion practices. Photo: Supplied.

I was an evangelical pastor who thought I could be ‘healed’ of my homosexuality. I want to make sure no one is ever ‘healed’ again.

WORDS Aaron Kelly

My name is Aaron Kelly. I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian family, attended a Christian school and was deeply involved in Baptist and Pentecostal churches all my life.

At 14, I knew I was different – I was attracted to guys. Four years later a Pastor recommended I attend a Prayer Ministry session to deal with my “homosexual desires.”

These sessions, led by well-meaning volunteers rather than trained professionals, aimed to ‘heal’ individuals through prayer. In one session I was advised to pursue a relationship and marriage with a “Godly wife.”

Believing the church’s rhetoric about my sexuality, I followed their advice and married my best friend. I thought God would meet me at the altar and heal me. Instead, I was left feeling worthless, unloved and trapped with a secret.

Leaving the church isn’t a simple decision, especially for someone who grew up with it as a foundation. You deeply believe the teachings you have been brought up with and risk losing your identity, family and community.

Continually chasing ‘healing’ is the only way forward many LGTBQ Christians can see, with practices that subtly brainwash individuals into believing their core identity is sinful.

I’ve attended multiple conferences where speakers urge people to come to the stage for “freedom” from the “sin of homosexuality and sexual perversion”. Often hundreds of people run to the front desperate for the pastor to place hands on them, pray for them and cast the spirit of “homosexuality” out of them.

My personal experience led me to eventually offer this corrupted “freedom” to others through active participation in the church.

I quickly climbed the ranks and started my own church in 2015 – Fresh Church, a ‘cool church’, think of a Lady Gaga concert with a Ted Talk in the middle.

We were successful, our numbers grew rapidly and I welcomed LGBTQ+ people who started regularly attending. I wanted to guide my church and these individuals responsibly – especially around our queer policies.

This prompted me to delve into a serious study of what the Bible says about sexuality. It didn’t take me long to realise the Christian church’s teachings on sexuality were both wrong and harmful.

I was caving under the weight of this professional and personal pressure.

Coming out seemed impossible – the potential to hurt loved ones, lose relationships and face being ostracised by my community was all too real. At my lowest, I made a suicide plan but fortunately I was stopped in the act.

Conversion practices leave you with pain that lasts a lifetime. And many people who experience what I have are not stopped in the act.

Despite their damaging effects, these practices remain legal in many Australian states and continue to cause harm in our community.

When I came out to my wife in March 2020, she was incredibly supportive and remains one of my closest friends and allies. But I lost family, friends and the only community I’d ever known.

Since sharing my story with Equality Australia, I’ve connected with LGBTQ Christians still in the closet, unsure how they could ever be their authentic selves. Some have expressed thoughts of self-harm or suicide. While I’m now on a healing journey, others are still trapped.

Australia’s Peak Medical body, the Australian Medical Association (AMA), [recently] called on state and territory governments … to ban practices that intend to change, alter or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, only the ACT, VIC & QLD have implemented such bans. In NSW, the birthplace of Mardi Gras, conversion practices are still legal.

The law in Australia urgently needs to change. Now more than ever we need states like NSW to put an end to these dehumanising, harmful and ineffective practices. To protect our community now and for generations to come.

-Equality Australia is running a petition campaign to end conversion practices in NSW. You can sign the petition here.


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