Friday, February 27, 2009

Hope Alliance media release prompts Katrina Fox to write SMH 'Straight and Narrow' article


Many of you may have read the article 'Straight and Narrow' in Friday's Sydney Morning Herald by Katrina Fox. This article was prompted by 'The Hope Alliance' media release which was seen in SX News and Joshua Bates only a few weeks ago and shed light on the expanding works of the Living Waters ex-gay ministry.

While it was a good article, much was missing that really needed to be said. Katrina interviewed me and incorporated my comments in the article, however during the editing process my part was cut out. My good friend and Freedom 2 b[e] leader, Anthony Venn-Brown, was able to get a few sentences in which was better than nothing.

Questions asked by Katrina Fox & my written responses:

The Living Waters ministry are adamant that you can't be gay and Christian, that the two are mutually exclusive. What is your response to this?

  • I am gay and I am Christian. The two are NOT mutually exclusive. I am living proof of that and there are many others just like me. Just because I happen to be attracted to the same sex does not mean that I cannot live a life for Jesus. I still attend the same Pentecostal church many times a week, as many straight believers do, and I still read the bible and pray. I never chose to be attracted to the same sex and I know in my heart that Jesus loves me and accepts me just as I am.
  • I have a good knowledge of the Bible and the message that Jesus preached is one of love, truth, justice, hope and inclusiveness. Christianity is based on the message of Jesus and Jesus never mentioned anything about homosexuality. I believe, if Christ had said something that it would have been a message of affirmation and love for gays and lesbians.

I believe you went through some 'ex gay' therapies and treatments. Can you describe briefly what it entailed and some of the emotions you experienced?

At 16 years old, I entered my first ex-gay program called 'Door of Hope', similar in many ways to Living Waters. This was a 60 day mostly-online course where you were 'cured' from homosexuality. I was given a mentor at my local church to guide me and help me in my battle against homosexuality, he was an ex-gay himself and was married with 2 kids. Each day it would take about 2-3 hours and I would sit through the constant lessons about how being gay is a sin and that only God can heal you from this terrible affliction. I had to confess everything, whether I had thoughts about men, if I had had sex or masturbated, whether I had looked at pornography. We had to tell the truth and admit those things every day. If we failed in one area we were told that we had to put more effort into this and try harder. After about three months, the quest for change continued and I entered into another ex-gay program. The same one with the same rules and same hardships. Except this time they were harder on me because I had failed the first. I needed to have more faith or so they told me.

At 17, I started attending a new Pentecostal church and soon after began one-on-one ex-gay counselling sessions or reparative therapy as it is commonly known. The program was not as strict as the other ones and offered more hope and compassion to me and my situation. However I was taught a few different things like how to act more male and was given relationship advice on how to date. It all seems funny now but they supposedly had a reason behind it. After months and months of therapy, that was it and I was meant to be healed. I was told that God wanted me to have a happy fulfilling life as a straight man and he wanted me to get married and have a family. However even after all that time, I could never gain feelings for the opposite-sex or get rid of my feelings for other men.

Going through the ex-gay programs was like riding an emotional roller coaster. Having hope for change at the beginning of each program only to find out that nothing had really changed at all. It was exciting to think about the prospect of becoming straight, that I could be accepted and embraced like all of the other people in my church, that one-day I could have a wife and family, a life that God would be happy with. Realising after each program that nothing had changed at all, that I still had feelings for men, I became very depressed and felt like a failure, like I needed to be punished because I couldn't be who I needed to be. It was in those moments that I would continually self harm myself, punishing myself for being gay. Facing the reality that I couldn't change was terrifying, because it meant that I would be resigned to living a life away from God's love and that I would be going to hell and forced to live out the rest of my days as a 'poor, sick' homosexual.

Through all of these programs, I was never truly happy. I hated myself and saw myself as a failure in the eyes of God. Every day was a constant struggle to try and be the young man the church said I needed to be, a straight man. Most nights I would cry myself to sleep, only to wake up in the morning knowing I was still gay.

I only became happy and free when I accepted myself and loved myself as the gay man that I am. When I stopped trying to change, and realised that this is me, I no longer 'struggled' and I found myself welcomed and embraced with love by the gay community. Suddenly I was no longer a mistake, but somebody that mattered.

There are people in Living Waters who argue that they have been able to 'recover' from homosexuality, in the same way people recover from drug and alcohol addiction, even though they still 'struggle' with the process. What are your thoughts on these people?

  • Drug and alcohol addiction are very serious issues and can be treated over time with much hard work. Homosexuality, however is orientation and because you do not choose to be gay, it cannot be treated in the same way that you can treat alcoholism or drug abuse.
  • So often, these ex-gay programs mix up homosexuality with sexual addiction, labelling all gay people as sex addicts. I believe that sexual addiction is a serious issue and if the ex-gay programs help people deal with their sexual addiction, then that is a good thing. BUT this must not be mixed up with sexual orientation. People still 'struggle' with the process because underneath it all, their feelings for the same sex will never go away because it an orientation. Something without choice.
  • When I was in the ex-gay programs I was struggling, every day and the feelings for other men never went away. When I accepted myself after years of torment, pain and sadness, I was no longer struggling. I knew that I was gay and it was ok....there was nothing that needed to be healed. And in that moment, I was living in freedom.

Why, in your opinion, do ex-gay reparative therapies not work?

  • Simple answer, because there is nothing to fix. Homosexuality is natural and beautiful and trying to change your sexual orientation is almost as bizarre as trying to change your race and skin colour.
  • Sexual addiction, drugs and alcohol can all be treated, but homosexuality is not like that. It’s not a choice. I have never been attracted to the opposite sex and I never chose to be gay. It’s just who I am. You can’t change that.
  • There is no scientific or psychological evidence supporting change in sexual orientation. Biblically, there is nothing in the bible saying that gay people have to change or even speaking about change. I believe that Gods loves all people including gays just as they are.

Any other comments?

  • Unfortunately many ex-gay leaders only see the gay stereotype and assume we are all sex-craved perverts that need to be saved. If they could see the gay community as I see it now, then they would understand that homosexuality is not a curse or a sickness, but rather a unique gift from God, a blessing into a greater compassion and understanding of human potential and what it means to love unconditionally.
  • It is sad that it had to take three years of ex-gay programs and reparative therapy including several suicide attempts, years of self loathing, self harm and depression to make me come to the point where I had to question myself as to whether or not being gay is really a sin. If only the church had shown the love to me that I really needed before I had to go through so much pain. If only someone had told us that we were not sick or failures to God. That being gay was ok. Things would have been different...
  • The ex-gay programs are a breeding ground for intolerance, homophobia and self hate and are not consistent with the main Christian message of love.
COMMENTS WELCOME

12 comments:

Steven said...

Hmmm, I read that article at work today - it was pretty interesting. Seemed as if it was pitching itself to a wider audience, not being too political, nor an exposé, just a "I showed up to this self-help meeting, it seemed kinda weird, I'm told a lot of people got screwed up by this thing".

For a mainstream publication, that's pretty good. In fact, it's probably better than a highly-passionate protest-fest column. Sure, there's the people who are highly passionate about an issue, but for everyone else, vaguely informed will do.

Anyway, I don't think it matters that your name or words didn't show up in print. You helped form an opinion that ended up being published. Ultimately this shouldn't be about getting in print or raising a profile, but affecting change.

Benny said...

Totally agree with you Steven.

It's about affecting change. That's the main thing.

It is great just to think that this will inform people that ex-gay programs actually do exist.

Thanks for the comment. =D

Anthony Venn-Brown said...

well said Ben.....you are truly an articulate young man and a great ambassador for out community.

Tim said...

Hey Ben,

Just found your blog through the Freedom2Be and read your first post. First praise, what a wonderfully articulate and interesting young man you seem to be. Your thread at F2B is a great read.

The article in SMH is pretty good. Katrina has managed to write about the experience with a great balance between humour and the serious nature of organisations like Living Waters.

Upon reading the article I did some reading on them. They are hosting a conference in Canberra next weekend (my home town) called Recovering Love. Currently looking into what sort of action we can take.

Anyway, thanks for the great blog. I very much look forward to following it in the future.

Cheers,
Tim

Tony said...

To all reading this esp Anthony Venn Brown I have this to say: if a man or woman wants an alternative to what mainstream psychology has to offer people with same sex attraction (as was my situation), namely just accept it and yourself and go with the flow, then let us chose an alternative. Who are you to tell me I must stay in my homosexual state? Who are you to tell me LW and like ministries harm me when just the opposite has been my experience? Why should I follow what you did just because the path you took didn’t turn out the way you wanted? Who are you to tell me I have no power to change? If men and women can overcome all sort of things in their lives with the help of others, then if they jolly well don’t want to continue in a state of same sex attraction who are you to stop them? If for example I can choose even which supermarket I shop at – who are you to demand I only shop at Woolies? We all have free choice to choose the way we live our life and the consequences of it. Up until as recently as 1974 Psychotherapists were actually encouraged to help any gay person change if they wanted to. That is until vocal and vicious members of the gay lobby terrorised them in to removing that choice. So, in the same way I allow you (Venn Brown and others reading) to live the way you want to live then don’t you try and stop me doing the same. Don’t you dare try and shut down people like Ron & Ruth and the Living Waters ministry. Who do you think you are? My grandfather fought Nazi tyranny in WW2 and so I don’t want it foisted on to me in modern day Australia no mater what colour it is – gay or Christian. As for Ron and Ruth – God bless them because they are offering me and countless people like me choice! They are offering me the power to choose what outcome I want and they are not telling me it has to be locked in a certain direction either. So anyone who is dealing with same sex attraction and doesn’t want it, you ring them up and you get your choice folks ‘cause it’s yours to have if you really want it. I and my two children and my happy marriage are proof.

Benny said...

Hey Tony,

Thanks for voicing your concern.

I am glad that you were not one of the countless men that were harmed by ex-gay ministries.

I believe that Ron and Ruth Brookman are very lovely people with the heart to do the right thing. They never intend to hurt anyone but because no person can really change their sexual orientation, after many attempts they feel like failures which leads to many mental health issues and harm. Ron Brookman himself has openly stated that he is still attracted to men. He says this in the article 'Straight & Narrow' for example. Therefore he is still a homosexual. Nothing will change that.

You can change your activity and behavior and live a more Christ-like life whether you are gay or straight. Orientation has nothing to do with how you choose to live your life.

Tony, please refrain from starting fights. My aim is not to start fights but to bring truth to these ministries and to openly and truthfully share my story. My experience of ex-gay programs were harmful. I am not saying this is the same for everybody. Your experience sounds quite different.

But I must point out that just because you are married with 2 kids does not mean you are straight. Do you still have thoughts about other men? If so, then you are still gay.

I am willing to open up and talk to yourself and also to Ron & Ruth if they wish. I'm sure you are very lovely people. Email me at bengresham@gmail.com

God bless,
Ben Gresham

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Tony said...

Ben – I refute you have any idea about who these countless people are that have been harmed by ex-gay ministries. You are only 20 years old – you do not have the depth of experience or training/learning yet to know these people. Countless is a wild exaggeration which weakens your authority to speak on these matters. What upsets people like me – and I can assure you I am but one of countless numbers of people who have been saved from self-harm by Living Waters – is that you and Venn Brown exist to try and crush ministries like it. What a pathetic cause. You’re not *for* anything – but *against* something. I am well aware you and Venn Brown advised Katrina to secretly attend the above conference in the hope of uncovering dirt. Before attending the conference she pre-wrote her article that she then had to advise her Editor not to print after she realised she had been biased against LW partly thanks to people like you. She then had to, correctly so, re-write the article and after attending the conference realised she was not dealing with Bible-bashing nut cases but articulate and kind hearted people who know something of what they speak. You actually were part of the process of poisoning her against the Brookmans and thankfully it backfired and has led instead to his profile being enhanced with the level of interest in LW having reached unprecedented heights. Their phone has been ringing completely off the hook with Christian and non Christians wanting help. You would be better following your own advice just living and let live, and take your targets off LW and the like.

Benny said...

Tony,

once again you have resorted to starting fights. Fighting will get us no where.

Anthony Venn-Brown is a wonderful man and yes, he has made many mistakes in the past but has helped save many lives and helped give many people hope and bring them back to Christ.

I may only be 20 but I was in the programs for 3 years. They were not all bad. I encourage you to read my earlier blog entries as you will see this. I gained a greater level of self-control and also a greater knowledge of the bible. HOWEVER, you cannot change your orientation. I am and have always been Gay. The bible never states that homosexuals can change. What are you basing your belief on Tony?

My cause is not against something but rather for something. We stand up for those that cannot speak for themselves, to show them the real Christ. The God of love, who died for all straight and gay. We fight to save lives, to stop persecution of gays and to bridge the gap in the church. What are you fighting for..? Because from what I see...you are fighting for nothing but hate.

My friend committed suicide, I almost died and many more have been at the same place. We were never part of the gay scene...yet we were treated like perverts and problems that needed to be fixed.

Stop hiding Tony. At least I am honest with everyone. I am Ben Gresham. I am gay and I love Jesus.

Who are you?

Tony said...

Ben - It is every person’s right in this democracy to choose the path ahead for him or her. If a legal entity wants to help gay people change their state – why are you trying to stop it? If gays are so confident it cannot work then it will fail. Targeting Ron Bookman- as you have mistakenly done - is ridiculous. If you have actually met the man you will know he does not hate gays at all. He is offering them an alternative if they want to try it. So why be gay Nazis and demand from the straight community something you would abhor taken from you: i.e. freedom to choose the way you want to live. Let them believe what they want to believe and you do the same – since I know Ron's side is not trying to crucify you the way you are trying to get him. You actively encouraged Katrina to "expose" and "target" Ron Brookman and boy did that backfire. Maybe Ben that is the real reason Katrina did not print all your comments in her article because after meeting Ron and his team she realised that while she disagreed she found him to be sincere and decent and not worthy trying to destroy. In witch hunts invariably the innocent get harmed.

Anthony Venn-Brown said...

Hi Tony....I've just returned from the UK so only realised all these comments about me have been posted.
I guess I should respond as much of what you have said is unfounded and false.
1. There was no collusion with me and Katrina Fox. I was approached by her via email for a comment.
2. I've never personally vilified Ron & Ruth. In fact if you read my comments about any 'ex-gay' ministries in Australia that I've put on the net you will notice that I commend them for their honesty that no-one changes their sexual orientation and also that they are able to help people with sexual abuse or sexual addiction problems. It should also be noted that I have been the one that has always try to initiate dialogue.
3. If I was a vindictive vicious person as you suggest then I would have released all the stories about the guys who have had sex with other guys in 'ex-gay' programs, the attempted suicides, those who developed mental health issues during the programs etc etc. I have enough validated information that would keep journalists on their computers for weeks and weeks. It would make front page news believe me. I’m holding onto more secrets about individuals than is necessary believe me.
4. Till my autobiography was released, no-one in Australia had told their story of trying to change their sexual orientation and the negative impact it has. I received emails the first week the book came out and still do today as now people have a contact point. We are telling our stories and this is important.
5. I have mentioned several times that everyone has a personal right to choose the path they want to live. You can choose to live a ‘heterosexual lifestyle’. I did for 22 years. In the end though honesty took over and I realised in essence nothing had really changed and I'd been lying to myself, God and all my friends. I'm gay. I didn't choose to be gay....I choose to be honest. You have the right to live anyway you want so long as you are not harming others.
6. The point I think you may be missing is that I am the one who has to deal with the aftermath from those who leave groups like Living Waters. They are very damaged and fragile. I don’t think the leaders get to see that. It is very sad and can take years to recover. Its tragic actually and I want to relieve that suffering so that is why I speak about concepts, programs etc that perpertrate this and try to stay away from attacking individuals. Although I’m sure many see it as personal attacks.
7. The reason mental health professionals tried to cure homosexuality up until 1973...not 74 was ignorance. We are living in a more enlightened world today thanks to advances in scientific research. I know some christian people refuse to accept that evidence which is very common....and goes back to the Catholic church branding Galileo a heretic because he dared to go against the biblical world view of the time that said the sun revolved around the world not vice versa. No one would dispute what science tells us today about the cosmos.

I genuinely wish you well with your heterosexual marriage. I know people can exist in that suspended state. I did. But if you do find that the dissonance of who you really are and who you are presenting yourself to be becomes unhealthy then we will be here for you to talk to. No judgement….no “I told you so”…..just reaching out in compassion knowing that the reality is difficult for everyone to resolve you, your wife, your children and your friends (especially those in the christian world. Everyone in my world deserted me at that time. Some of us have made it through thanks to the grace of God.

PS…..the reference to Nazism is extreme and unfounded. Please also remember that the bible is very clear about bearing false witness against your neighbour and lying about others. Some of what you have said about me clearly comes under that category and is your false assumption.

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