Brisbane filmmakers uncover the hidden world of Australia’s reparative therapy (or ex-gay) movement in a groundbreaking documentary to be screened in Sydney this weekend.
Speaking to current and former members of ex-gay programs, The Cure looks at the psychological harm caused to people who enter programs believing they can overcome their homosexuality.
Producer Helen Kelly told the Star Observer she was initially sceptical that ex-gay programs still existed, but soon discovered the secretive movement is alive and well.
“What shocked me particularly was how widespread the reparative therapy programs are,” she said.
“Pretty much every Christian organisation or denomination has a program attached to it.
“We were really surprised to find more mainstream denominations, like the Catholic Church, who are obviously in opposition to homosexuality, but wouldn’t normally come out and publicly say so in terms of trying to change someone’s sexuality … they have a program called Brisbane Courage.”
The Cure follows the stories of several ‘ex-gay survivors’, including the gut-wrenching story of 23-year-old Ben Gresham who was 16 when he entered a Christian counselling program to help him ‘conquer’ his homosexuality. He attempted suicide several times.
“I was fairly shocked and appalled to hear Ben’s story. It was not very long ago at all and young people are still being referred by their pastors and priests to these programs,” Kelly said.
“His counsellor was telling him reasons why he was homosexual and he found himself looking at his relationship with his parents and thinking there was a problem there … now he doesn’t believe there ever was.”
Hannah Baral, who also appears in the film, was a member of Living Waters in New Zealand in the late 1990s and endured a lifelong battle reconciling her faith and sexuality. After leaving the Living Waters program feeling unchanged, Baral drove herself to distraction with a busy career. She worked so hard she ended up having a breakdown and eventually came to terms with her sexuality, coming out at age 37.
“Hannah is such an incredibly beautiful, outgoing person, I can’t believe she struggled for so many years and felt so alone for so long, just because she was told God wouldn’t love her if she was gay,” Kelly said.
Kelly said the reasons most people end up leaving reparative therapy programs is generally the same.
“They just didn’t experience change,” she said.
“Having worked really hard with the program they eventually find themselves feeling like no matter what they do, they don’t feel like they’d changed.
“They eventually get to a point where they’ve realised they’ve become so depressed and so lonely and isolated, that if they want to be happy they need to accept themselves as they are.”
While interview talent of proponents of the therapy proved difficult to come by, the film does share an encounter with current Living Waters leader Ron Brookman.
“I have a lot of respect that [Brookman] was prepared to sit down with us because no one else would,” Kelly said.
“He was completely convinced of his transformation, as he calls it, and of how necessary that was in order for him to be a Christian and in order for him to be loved by God, which is so important to him.
“For me, the thing that really came across was he was essentially saying the most important relationship in his life was his relationship with God and that relationship had to come before everything else, especially romantic or sexual relationships, so he was prepared to sacrifice his sexuality in order to preserve that.”
* For your chance to win a double pass to the Sydney screening, email your details to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5pm, Friday, February 24.
INFO: Showing at Mardi Gras Film Festival, presented by Queer Screen at Cinema Paris, Sunday, February 26, 2.30pm. Click here for tickets.
Also Screening at Melbourne Queer Film Festival at ACMI, March 24 and Brisbane Queer Film Festival at the Powerhouse, April 14.
Visit The Cure Facebook page.
Photo: Filmmakers Qingwen Huang, Heather Corkhill and Helen Kelly (left to right).