In February, Victoria became the third jurisdiction in Australia to outlaw conversion practices. But, for some survivors the changes have come too little too late.
Star Observer recently spoke with one such survivor Andrew Barnard, a 33-year-old former member of the C3 Church in Sydney, who says he twice attempted suicide and was subjected to conversion practices to turn him straight.
Barnard is currently based in Rhode Island. Barnard was born in Texas to a devoutly religious family, with his father already a Pastor of a large church that would later become known as the C3 Church.
“They invited my father and my family to be part of that congregation. So, I basically grew up in Australia, and went to Oxford Falls Grammar School. I graduated from there and for a very short time went to C3 College after high school, I was 18 when I left C3 college,” Barnard told Star Observer.
Anti-Depressants At Age 13
“When I started going there at first it was all kind of normal. I felt as if “I shouldn’t feel like this, something is wrong with me” but I didn’t want to tell my parents about it. It wasn’t until when my family discovered that I was gay, that I discovered or realised that their practices weren’t and what they were preaching wasn’t good.”
“It was very much up to me to make the change, up to me to put in the hard yards, in a way it was my fault, and I was choosing this path,” Barnard recalls.
His father, upon discovering his sexuality, told Barnard that he needed to go to therapy, provided by the church. At the time C3 had a therapy section with someone who was the head of counselling and three or so therapists on staff.
“I started going on anti-depressants at the age of 13 and started therapy there. One of their things was first explaining ‘nature versus nurture’ and that it was very much because of nurture that I was feeling that way.”
“I opened up about the fact that I was molested as a child for two years of my life, and so they saw that as one of the reasons why I was struggling, because I was molested as a child.”
The other reason the church put forward was because Barnard’s father worked so much as a pastor for C3 and rarely had time to spend with Barnard and his brothers. Because of this, he apparently lacked a predominant father figure.
“They kept on asking things like, if I had a strong relationship with my mother, and how it was with my father. They were grasping at straws at that point because they only had two reasons for why someone would be struggling with this.
“I happened to fit one of those but not the other one.”
“Some of the things they started making me do was to spend more time with my father. I was told to get involved with more sports at school and watch lesbian porn, because it had no men in it, only women.” Barnard pauses for a second, adding that “the church made me wear a rubber band around my wrist. Any time I would have ‘impure’ thoughts I would snap it on my wrist.”
Subjected To Conversion Practices For Two Years
Barnard was subjected to these kinds of practices for two years. At age 14, Barnard for the first time attempted to take his own life.
“High school was an extreme struggle for me, I couldn’t concentrate, I was severely depressed. My father at one point kicked me out of the house because I wasn’t trying hard enough and was giving in, so I was living with a friend from school for a time. My grades started slipping.”
“I had no interest in anything, I tried cutting myself, it had an extreme toll on my mental health. Any insecurities I have today are because of what I went through.”
“So many of those years in the church was done hiding who I was, so it’s taken lots of therapy and encouragement from myself and others to build up my own identity.”
“I still suffer from quite severe depression, insecurities, definitely a lot of self-doubt and self-loathing, when I left the church, I did have a bit of internalised homophobia, especially towards other gay men, even though I did find some friends and started going out, I did try desperately to not act gay, sound gay, or listen to anything which would be gay.”
“To me, I didn’t want to be like them, because those people were to overly dramatic, and weird and all that stuff, it took me quite a while to go “this is perfectly fine, this is how I am, how they are”. I struggled with being able to find partners, because I never thought I was good enough or worth it. It took my quite a few years to except myself and who I am as a person.”
Telegraph. However, the damage had not all been done.
Opposed Marriage Equality
During the height of 2017’s damaging plebiscite on marriage equality in Australia, C3 Church remained both staunchly and publicly vocal in its opposition to it, releasing a statement at the time, that declared that “in a strange twist (apparent) discrimination has come full circle so that the persons who once cried oppression are now at the vanguard of oppressing anyone that opposes their view. Any concept of community and moral well-being is thus swamped in the flood of ‘my rights.’”
Barnard remembers the time with a painful clarity, “they actually made it publicly known during the same-sex marriage debate in Australia, that they were voting against it.”
“I actually wrote to them in quite a long letter, saying what the effects on me were, when they did things like that. They kept on saying they were loving of all people, but no they weren’t because they were voting against it.
“I said to them, these are acts of pure aggression, and what that says to someone like me, who might still be in the church right now who wants to be accepted. You are actually telling them, no they are not worth anything, you are telling that person they are wrong, that they are not at the same level as someone else in the church who is heterosexual.”
Barnard told Star Observer that the biggest misconception, around conversion practices, are that the church would like the public to believe that they are actually “therapies.”
“It is absolutely not. With therapy there is encouragement and yes there is, in therapy a sense of trying to have acceptance of your own actions. But with conversion practices, the blame is solely set on you, it is you that is deciding to have these desires, and there are no emotions involved with it.”
“It’s all about the person making a better connection with God. You are made to believe it is because you are not praying enough, not involved with the church enough, not reaching out to god enough.”
“You are the one having these desires, you needed to be the one to fix it, they tell you, you are the one with the issue. It creates such doubt within yourself because you can’t get rid of them and so you are continually doubting yourself, believing God is punishing you. You start to think that you must be doing something else wrong, it creates this self-doubt and self-loathing inside of you.”
Barnard these days is an atheist, because as he explains “my time in the church has pulled me away from anything that is religious. I do respect anybody that is religious I just don’t respect a lot of the practices inside of certain religious organisations like C3. I don’t agree with their methods in terms of converting people to their cause, it becomes this thing where I have to show off that I’m a good person, but is it for you or for other people?”
Barnard’s relationship with his family is solid, but he admits that it was a “long process” to gain their acceptance.”
“It was a long process with my family, especially from my dad and mother coming to terms with it. It did come in stages, but once they found I wasn’t changing, it then became a thing about them not wanting to bring home anybody, they didn’t want to know about my relationships, they didn’t want to know anything about that life. Even discussions around same sex marriage, I wasn’t to talk about.”
Barnards message for the C3 Church is simple, telling them to stop being such hypocrites.
“That is one of the reasons I have a lot of anger towards the church. They preach in terms of loving one another, loving thy neighbour, doing good deeds, not casting judgment, accepting people and helping out the less fortunate, but to me they are the ones doing that do that the most and are constantly casting the most judgment.”
“For anyone body who is still out there struggling and might still be in the church, with maybe quite a religious family. You need to know, that you are not weird, not broken.
“Stick in there, people do love you for who you are.”
If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.
For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14
For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.