Anthony Venn-Brown is a specialist in the history of the so-called ex-gay movement — globally but especially in Australia, where he’s from. Rainbow Association Malkus’ project From burden to resource invited Venn-Brown to Finland for Helsinki Pride. In the early 70s Anthony participated in a program that predated the Exodus movement. His experiences were painful and only part of several attempts over a 20-year period of trying to change his sexual orientation. Later he wrote an autobiographical bestseller called A Life of Unlearning about these experiences.
Nearly 20 years now Anthony has worked as Australia’s most well-known activist against religious conversion/reparative therapy. Recently he has been researching for a book in which he delves into the early roots of the ex-gay ideology. He emphasizes in particular the relevance of the Jesus movement and charismatic revival movements in general, as well as the 1946 English translation of the Bible in which the word “homosexual” appeared for the first time.
Sexual orientation conversion ideologies often involve theories that emphasize the relevance of early childhood relations, particularly to one’s mother or father. This is true also in Finland. The emphasis is not necessarily on sexual orientation or gender identity, rather the work involves a broader notion of brokenness and reparation through the power of faith. But because there is often an underlying conviction that “the good life” equals a heteronormative nuclear family, it follows (however implicitly) that being gay, transgender or non-binary are understood as expressions of brokenness.
As Anthony describes, nowadays we see the focus shifting away from “God can change you” towards “God is testing you” and the notion that celibacy is a kind of means of worship or a way of living Christianity. He elaborates:
Some of the still existing groups have now morphed into what we would call a celibacy model. So they don’t preach change anymore. But they’re preaching ‘well, this is the way you are, you just can never act on it.’ Now, the problem with that is that nothing has changed around the philosophy except one thing. And that one thing is that God can change you. All the other garbage about you being broken, about it not being God’s order and it being unnatural and caused by a dysfunctional upbringing—all those things still exist. There’s only one that isn’t there and that is that God can change you. Those other four are just as damaging, given within a belief system where you are somehow lesser if you’re gay, lesbian or trans.
In this podcast Peik Ingman, project coordinator in the project From burden to resource, talks with Anthony about the historical development of the ex-gay movement, its connections to religion and the challenges he has faced in trying to educate people about its destructive effects.
From burden to resource is Rainbow Association Malkus’ 3-year project, aimed to support the well-being of LGBTIQ-people with a religious/spiritual background. The project organizes support groups and activities, charts experiences involving religiosity/spirituality in the lives and relationships of queer, transgender and non-binary individuals. The project aims to improve the prospects for religious/spiritual communities to take into account the needs and concerns of their LGBTIQ-members, through education and mediation. The project also addresses the ability of LGBTIQ-organizations to facilitate the needs and concerns of their community members that have a religious/spiritual background.
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Picture Emelie Wikblad