A gay man was “traumatised” and experienced relentless suicidal thoughts after enduring 18-months of religious conversion therapy.
Gary, from Lurgan in Northern Ireland, told RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Claire Byrne show that he sought conversion therapy in 2010 due to his intense feelings of shame about his sexuality.
He quickly found a number of religious-based organisations on Google that claimed they could help him overcome his same-sex sexual desires.
Looking back, he now feels that religious leaders tried to “brainwash” him into thinking there was something wrong with him and that he needed to be fixed.
“I was there on Google, ‘Can I be gay and a Christian?’ ‘Is there a way to change my sexuality?’ And those Google searches were done over and over again, right throughout my early 20s,” Gary told the programme on Tuesday (11 May).
At the time, Gary was “quite depressed” and was “still very much struggling” with his sexual identity. He had started to feel “very isolated and alone” when he approached one of the religious organisations he found online.
“They said there was good hope that I could turn to live a heterosexual life, and they said that, yes, I could live quite happily without same-sex attraction, as they called it, or homosexuality,” Gary explained.
Over the course of 18 months, he went to group therapy as well as one-on-one sessions with religious leaders. He also worked through “materials” looking at “biblical examples of sexuality”.
In those sessions, Gary and other queer people were told that what they were feeling was “wrong”.
Leaders on the programme “brainwashed” him and tried to get him to believe that it was possible to change his sexual orientation.
The group therapy was “very manipulative on reflection,” Gary said, explaining that the idea was to have “other people with the same struggles” affirming the same anti-gay message.
Gary was made to believe that he would “change” if he fully engaged with the programme. “Otherwise, you’re not a success,” he said.
Looking back, Gary said he felt “cross, lost, and very upset” following the experience. “I felt completely stuck by it. It was just a very distressing time.”
When asked if it was traumatising, Gary replied: “Very much so. I think like a lot of traumas, I try my best not to relive it but try my best to talk about it.”
He continued: “The things that we were made to share, the stories that were personal to us, the stories about your sexuality, being told that that’s wrong, having it affirmed that it’s wrong is really just so, so damaging.”
Gary said he was traumatised “every time” he went to a conversion therapy session. By the end of the process, he was “completely lost” and no longer knew he who he was because his identity had been “torn down”.
Needless to say, efforts to change his sexuality failed. Gary became “very depressed” and had suicidal thoughts “almost on a daily basis” by the end of the process.
He started drinking alcohol “every night just to get to sleep” and “to get rid of the thoughts” that he didn’t want to think about.
Gary added: “It is happening today still. There is going to be someone that gets prayed with today. That prayer whose words will say that your homosexuality is wrong, that will refer to it as a demon, they’ll try to cast it out.”
Following his traumatic ordeal, Gary sought legitimate counselling to help overcome his depression. He is now a practicing GP and married his partner – who is also called Gary – in 2016.
Gary recounted his experience as the UK prepares to ban conversion therapy.
The UK government recommitted to outlawing the practice on Tuesday (11 May), announcing that a public consultation will take place before legislation is brought forward.
Meanwhile, conversion therapy is a devolved issue for Northern Ireland. The Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion calling for the pseudoscientific practice to be banned in April.
Communities minister Deidre Hargey has confirmed that her department is working on legislation to outlaw the practice in Northern Ireland.