Gay 'con­ver­sion ther­apy'

At­lanta man on his fate­ful trip, hit­ting bot­tom and true sal­va­tion

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS psaun­ders@the­gavoice.com

ATL man on his fate­ful trip, hit­ting botom and true sal­va­tion

One day, when Peter Nunn was 15 years old, his father told him they were go­ing on a sur­prise trip to­gether. He didn’t say where, lead­ing the teenager to imag­ine all the places it could be—maybe New York or Cal­i­for­nia?

What Nunn didn’t re­al­ize was that his par­ents had found a men’s work­out mag­a­zine in his room. It wasn’t porno­graphic, but it was enough to con­firm for them some fears they had been hav­ing. He and his father de­parted from their Pauld­ing County home to the At­lanta air­port, and it wasn’t un­til they were headed to their con­nect­ing flight in St. Louis that his father told him where they were re­ally go­ing—a Chris­tian coun­sel­ing cen­ter in Iowa that prac­tices so-called gay “con­ver­sion ther­apy,” so that the boy could work out what his father called “what­ever weird sex­ual shit” he was go­ing through.

“My dad lied to me and told me we were go­ing on a trip to­gether and it would be fun,” Nunn tells Ge­or­gia Voice. “He took me un­der false pre­tenses and dropped me off there.”

He un­der­went two weeks of coun­sel­ing, which would end up hav­ing life-threat­en­ing ef­fects on him. The prac­tice has been de­nounced and called in­ef­fec­tive and harm­ful by ma­jor med­i­cal and men­tal health or­ga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try, in­clud­ing the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion and the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics. But it’s still le­gal in Ge­or­gia.

That’s why Rep. Keisha Waites (D-At­lanta) re­cently pro­posed House Bill 716, which would make it il­le­gal for li­censed pro­fes­sion­als to en­gage in sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion change ef­forts with any­one un­der 18 in Ge­or­gia.

Life at the coun­sel­ing cen­ter

Nunn says his days at the coun­sel­ing cen­ter while un­der­go­ing con­ver­sion ther­apy (also known as “repar­a­tive ther­apy” or “ex-gay ther-

“I just re­mem­ber this feel­ing of ha­tred to­ward my­self—hat­ing who I was and hat­ing why I couldn’t be like ev­ery­body else. I felt com­pletely hope­less and trapped like it was never go­ing to change.” —Peter Nunn, on how he felt once he re­turned home to Ge­or­gia

af­ter un­der­go­ing gay “con­ver­sion ther­apy” in Iowa at age 15

apy”) were reg­i­mented. He was put up in a ho­tel where he would wake up each morn­ing, get dressed, read his Bi­ble and pray. Then some­one would pick him up and take him to the coun­sel­ing cen­ter, where he would un­dergo eight hours of one-on-one ses­sions with the adult male coun­selors, with a break for lunch in-be­tween and din­ner after­ward. Then they would drop him off at the ho­tel, pick him up the next day and do it all over again.

“It was ter­ri­fy­ing to me be­cause I wasn’t ex­pect­ing any of this and it was all com­pletely new,” Nunn says. “I was be­ing told that some­thing was re­ally wrong with me and that I would die of AIDS. I thought it was the end of life as I knew it, so I was will­ing to do any­thing and ev­ery­thing they asked me to do to fix my­self.”

Nunn says a lot of the coun­sel­ing was religious in na­ture and that he heard sim­i­lar things as he did grow­ing up in a con­ser­va­tive, religious fam­ily—faith, sal­va­tion and lots of Je­sus. But it was the in-depth ques­tions about his body and his sex­ual fan­tasies that he says trau­ma­tized him.

“It was very in­tru­sive. At one point in time [they] asked me the size of my pe­nis and how of­ten I mas­tur­bated.”

‘I felt com­pletely hope­less’

Ar­riv­ing home, and fac­ing be­ing sent to mil­i­tary school or be­ing sent away some­place where he wouldn’t “in­flu­ence” his sib­lings, Nunn told his fam­ily that the ther­apy worked. While his time at the coun­sel­ing cen­ter didn’t in­volve the more ex­treme aspects of con­ver­sion ther­apy, which can in­clude food de­pri­va­tion or elec­troshock ther­apy, Nunn says what he calls the “men­tal and spir­i­tual abuse” he en­dured led him down a dark road.

“I just re­mem­ber this feel­ing of ha­tred to­ward my­self—hat­ing who I was and hat­ing why I couldn’t be like ev­ery­body else,” he says. “I felt com­pletely hope­less and trapped, like it was never go­ing to change. I felt like ev­ery day that I was around, it was a lie, it was not who I was no mat­ter how much I wanted to be the per­son that ev­ery­body else told me I should be. I went to church three or four times a week and would be pray­ing and cry­ing and re­ally, re­ally want­ing God to take those feel­ings away from me.”

He strug­gled with de­pres­sion, and at 16 he at­tempted sui­cide. While he sur­vived, the feel­ings of de­pres­sion and self-ha­tred con­tin­ued for the next sev­eral years. He started dat­ing guys right af­ter he turned 18, but he still be­lieved what he was do­ing was a sin. But then when he was 20, he went to his first At­lanta Pride pa­rade.

“I saw the PFLAG group and their signs about lov­ing their gay kids and see­ing some­body sup­port­ing some­body. Re­ally see­ing the love and sup­port made me re­al­ize that I wanted that and I wanted to do that for my­self and love my­self.”

It made him break down cry­ing, then it made him have a break­through. He came out shortly af­ter that, and the de­pres­sion soon be­gan to fade as he learned to ac­cept him­self.

Nunn is now 29 and lives in the metro At­lanta area with his hus­band, Monte, and he says they have a great re­la­tion­ship with his mother and sib­lings. And in a nod to what helped him come out and be­gin to re­pair the dam­age of con­ver­sion ther­apy, he cur­rently serves on the At­lanta Pride Com­mit­tee.

This is the first in a se­ries on so-called gay “con­ver­sion ther­apy” in Ge­or­gia. Next, we’ll look at li­censed pro­fes­sion­als who prac­tice con­ver­sion ther­apy. Have you un­der­gone such ther­apy in Ge­or­gia? Email psaun­ders@the­gavoice.com with more info.

Peter Nunn at age 15, the age he was when he was sent to gay ‘con­ver­sion ther­apy.’ (Cour­tesy photo)

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