New Freedom 2 b[e] president Michelle Kolev electronically raised her glass to the group’s founder, Anthony Venn-Brown, over Skype at the Sydney chapter’s meeting on September 2.

Speaking to the meeting from her Melbourne home, Kolev expressed gratitude on behalf of herself and Freedom 2 b[e] members. The group is a support network for LGBT people from Christian backgrounds.

In the special send-off recognising the former Assemblies of God preacher turned gay advocate’s six years of service, Venn-Brown was presented with a thank-you card with messages of support and gratitude from Freedom 2 b[e] members.

Venn-Brown told the Star Observer the thank-you had been “wonderful” and he felt a great sense of accomplishment.

“It started from virtually nothing,” he said. “There were just a dozen people at the first meeting and at one point the lowest was about three people. Now we have three chapters across Australia, two youth groups and a forum of 1000 people which gets 4000 visits a month.”

Venn-Brown said some of his proudest moments included marching in the Mardi Gras parade for the first time and seeing up close the impact the organisation has had on gay and lesbian people from Christian backgrounds.

“To see the transformation of individuals has really been special,” he said. “To see people who were totally closeted, totally tormented, who have now come to a place of peace and resolution.

“The first time Freedom 2 b[e] marched in the Mardi Gras, it had been difficult to get people to make a commitment to do it. I thought whatever happens, even if I’m the only person marching, we were going to draw a line in the sand and from this point on we will not accept condemnation or judgement.”

This year the Freedom 2 b[e] float was the largest ever, with close to 100 people.

Named twice as one of the 25 most influential gay and lesbian Australians, Venn-Brown said he has no doubts Freedom 2 b[e] will go from “strength to strength” under Kolev’s leadership.

He now hopes to concentrate on his life-coaching business as well as being an LGBTI community ambassador.

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