How 'Praying The Gay Away' Almost Killed Chris

Gay conversation therapy is torture, according to the UN -- but it's still rife within Australia.

Chris Csabs was 16 years old when he came out to a church leader, and immediately started sessions with a counselor who tried to change his sexuality.

At 19, he enrolled in a nine-month formal gay conversation therapy, which he told ten daily was similar to a weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

"I think it's hard to express the weight of the damage that it does," he said.

"From a very, very young age, I heard about homosexual people in church. When I was about ten I remember thinking -- 'Oh my goodness, I think I might be one of those people'."

As a young child, Chris heard that gay people were "evil", and worried that he might be, too. Photo: Supplied.

He said that words like "abomination", "perverse" and "evil" became how he saw himself.

"People talked about how gay people had demons in them, and so I was a very frightened ten-year-old who thought I could have demons."

Now aged 33, and a "proud and gay Christian", Chris is at the forefront working to end sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) in Australia.

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He's part of a coalition of conversion therapy survivors, churches and community advocates behind a statement delivered to the government on Monday, calling for an end to the practice.

It accompanied a Change.org petition with over 43,000 signatures.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he will not 'engage' with the issue.

Scott Morrison said he "loves all Australians", but won't get involved in banning gay conversion therapy. Photo: AAP.

"I've never been involved in anything like that, I've never supported anything like that, it's just not an issue for me and I'm not planning to get engaged in the issue," he told Melbourne radio 3AW.

Morrison told the station: "People should abide by the law. If people aren't breaking the law, that's a matter for them."

'Gay Conversion Therapy Almost Killed Me'

Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King told ten daily that this response was "entirely inadequate", and doing a disservice to the Australian public.

"Gay conversion therapy is dangerous and harmful," she said.

"The United Nations calls it torture. We know from talking to many LGBTQ people that this so-called therapy has done irreparable harm, and in some sense has led to suicide, so I don't think the Prime Minister is doing anybody a service by saying that it's got nothing to do with him."

Csabs agreed. "I think he's missed the point," he said.

"We're actually asking him to step in and make a change because there is no law, and there is currently not enough government support to make the practice more difficult."

"I think his job as a Prime Minister is to actually give a little bit more than 'it's not my department'."

Gay Conversation Therapies 'pervasive'

Dr. Timothy Jones at La Trobe University said gay conversation therapy is still "pervasive" in Australian religious communities, although it's harder for the public to see it.

"A number of conversion therapy organisations have closed down, but our research reveals that many have transformed, changing their names, and no longer advertise conversion therapy services, but continue to practice conversion therapy covertly," he told ten daily.

"Many religious conversion therapy organisations, registered clinicians, and some church communities are now reluctant to be honest about the goals of their therapeutic, support and pastoral ministry goals."

Formalised practices are just "the tip of the iceberg", said Csabs. Simply banning it would not be effective "unless it is part of a multi-faceted approach" which includes the recommendations sent in SOCE survivor statement.

But it's well past time Australia made a start down that road, said writer Benjamin Law, one of the advocates behind the statement.

"Brazil, Spain, Taiwan, Ecuador, Malta, Ontario, Manitoba, many US states and the Church of England have outlawed it," he told ten daily.

"Australia should too."

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au

Lead photo: Supplied