This survivor went undercover to expose conversion therapy churches

Image: Thomas Vitali/Unspash

A survivor of conversion practices has gone undercover, revealing the insidious nature of conversion therapy practices.

Earlier this year, Debbie* created a new email address and developed a whole character to investigate where Canberra churches stood on conversion therapy practices.

Using the pseudonym, she reached out to churches about finding support for one of her sons who was struggling with his sexuality.

My family is moving to Canberra (from Sydney) in 2023 and we are searching for a Church and school to call home. We are currently holding off on house hunting until we find the faith family we want to join so we can live close by.
We (my husband and 2 sons aged 10 and 14) are looking for a bible believing community who we can worship and grow with.
Our last church and nearby public school really let us down. Both the school and our church’s youth group allowed the kids to use whatever ‘pronouns’ they wanted and I have begun to worry about my eldest son. We have noticed him identifying as ‘not totally straight’ on social media and this is part of why our family will be moving.
I want both my sons to be surrounded by a loving Christ-centered community of other young people who are living biblically and are not entertaining these ideologies.”

Of the 53 Canberra churches that Debbie* contacted, 15 confirmed that they still conduct conversion therapy practices.

Debbie* said the finding was unsurprising.

While conversion practices have been banned in Canberra since 2020, she believed that many churches had simply “become more careful with their words”.

It seems like people don’t really understand what churches are like and like in Canberra people are very progressive, but churches are very not progressive,” she said.

“So there’s like a general vibe where everybody thinks that everything is getting more progressive.

“But really, there’s plenty of places that are bunkering down and getting more and more bigoted.”

‘Please be loud and proud for us’

However, Debbie* also said that finding LGBTQIA+ affirming churches had been “healing”.

“I cried huge, deep, healing tears of real hope,” she said.

“That there actually are LGBTQIA+ Christian Canberrans in truly, unashamedly supportive and affirming churches.

“Who are not only not homophobic, but who are actively working to learn how to be true allies and to unpack and unlearn the harmful beliefs they grew up with.”

Reflecting on the project, Debbie* doesn’t believe that “naming and shaming” churches is the answer.

Instead, she believes the project is an important reminder that there is still work to be done.

“Please be loud and proud for us,” she said.

“Please be loud and proud for us when we are stuck in these communities with no voices. Or stifling our own voices for fear of hell fire.

“Please keep your foot on the gas towards progress.

“Listen, hear, believe, and accept our stories and act.”

To read more about Debbie*’s story, please read her summary.

If you need someone to talk to, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or at

Lifeline 13 11 14

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

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