A gay man who spent most of his life “radically attempting anything to become straight” says New Zealand's conversion therapy bill needs to follow legislation in the Australian state of Victoria and address “little touchy areas correctly”.
Yesterday, Justice Minister Kris Faafoi today said Government was aiming to ban conversion therapy by February next year at the latest.
Jim Marjoram said there was excitement about the “wonderful” Government announcement, but he offered a warning to MPs.
“The devil will be in the detail of course and because there are a lot of concerns about religious freedom and free speech,” he said.
“That’s where we’re going to have to make sure everything is done properly because if you just had a blanket ban, there was a lot of fine points in the Victorian bill around the input from medical professionals, especially in areas of gender issues and so on, we have to address all those little touchy areas correctly.”
“We don’t care what you believe but when you’re promoting a practice that harms people in very traumatic ways, we have to recognise that the suicide rate for LGBT people in those sort of [religious] environments is over the roof, absolutely dreadful.”
Marjoram was familiar with various conversion therapy methods after going through a variety of them himself in a decades-long bid to change himself.
“I’m a product of the 60s and you don’t even talk about your sexuality or gender in those days, I knew as soon as puberty hit that I was gay but no way to do anything about it or talk about even,” he told Breakfast.
“I became a Christian in my late teens thinking it was a spiritual journey but to actually be genuine to myself, I didn’t know what to do so I thought I can’t be gay, I just can’t.”
“I dove into Christianity in an effort to change because I had heard that you could be changed, it was absolutely possible, from that point on I spent my whole life just radically attempting anything I could to become straight, normal.”
Marjoram underwent a variety of conversion therapies and says the underlying message for those in such treatments are dangerous.
“I ended up going through all sorts of things, all sorts of prayer therapies right through to deliverance therapies where they cast out the demons,” he said.
“The primary (message) is that you’re broken and God doesn’t like you like that, some go far as to say God can’t stand the sight of you, others will just say he loves you but he just wants to be normal which is now the primary focus of conversion therapy .”
“A lot of it comes across as a very loving process but there’s still this element to it that you are broken and must be fixed.”
Marjoram said the fear of being found out meant he continued to practise conversion therapy with his wife in the mid-1990s.
“My wife and I worked together (as conversion therapists), she had come from lesbian relationships. We had that background in common, we ended up joining an organisation called Living Waters in the mid ‘90s and we worked together, we’re both musicians so we’re sort of music leaders,” he said.
“We became work leaders and worked in good faith, in helping people but through all this time, this massive cognitive dissonance going on where I knew I was just as gay as I ever was, but you live in this repression, denial.”
“It’s underneath everything in your life, part of it is this constant deep fear that I’d get found out and I’d be a fraud, I had to keep this front up all the time because I wasn’t allowed to be gay, my belief system said sorry you can’t do it.
“I just had no choice but to keep going on.”
The death of his wife from cancer a decade ago set Marjoram on a path to living with more “personal integrity”.
“I looked after her for about 18 months, two years. When she passed away, I thought that’s it, I was an absolute mess, I had a breakdown, I had to sit back and deconstruct everything,” he said.
“I have never lived with personal integrity my whole life.”
Marjoram's journey was complete when he founded an organisation called Silent Gays, an independent service that addresses the abuses of religion and conversion therapy.
“I focus on helping people coming out of all the years of abuse, very rewarding.”