Anti-gay teachings 'mainstream' in Australian churches, report finds

by Sonia Elks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 16 October 2018 13:46 GMT

A man lights candles inside St. Mary's Catholic Church located in North Sydney, Australia, May 30, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

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Gay and transgender conversion therapies are increasingly common in many Christian churches in Australia

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Oct 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Gay conversion practices and attempts to suppress LGBT+ people are increasingly "mainstream" in many Christian churches in Australia, a new study has found.

Conservative churches are exerting pressure on LGBT+ worshippers through a "welcoming but not affirming" stance that tells them their feelings are sinful, the Human Rights Law Centre (HLRC) and La Trobe University said in a report.

"From the 1990s we've seen conversion ideology mainstreamed within Christian churches and become a broader model," said Anna Brown of the HLRC, one of the report's authors.

"These increasingly pervasive and less formalised conversion activities need to be tackled with a multi-faceted approach."

The approach was "pervasive" in mainstream, conservative Protestant Christian churches, as well as in conservative Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist communities, said the report, published on Monday.

The Anglican Church of Australia, the largest Protestant church in the country, did not respond to a request for comment.

Gay and transgender conversion therapy has drawn increasing criticism worldwide, though outright bans remain rare.

The study found at least 10 organisations publicly advertised gay or transgender conversion therapies in Australia and New Zealand.

About 10 percent of Australians are actively involved in a religion that may potentially promote or carry out conversion therapy, the study found.

It said while many conservative groups have turned their backs on overt conversion therapy, they have often absorbed similar doctrines into an "insidious" posture of welcoming LGBT+ people but warning them that their desires are sinful.

Many people suffered long-term harm as a result, it found.

"It's a subtle, twisted, painful, long-term thing," said one man interviewed by researchers.

"Most of it is this slow-burning trauma of being in a church community that you went into, and feeling like you can't leave; feeling like there's something wrong with you."

Nathan Despott, a leader of the Brave Network for LGBT+ people of faith, said the number of "welcoming but not affirming" churches in Australia was growing rapidly.

"It's those churches where every person I know that committed suicide has come from," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"It's those churches where you sit and you marinate in the toxic waste in those messages."

Angus McLeay, an Anglican minister and board member of Equal Voices, a pro-LGBT+ Christian group, said gay, bisexual and trans people were frequently targeted with "informal" therapy that left them "damaged and wounded".

"What is harder are the churches that say they are welcoming, because that in a sense is more insidious," he added. (Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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