Tens if not hundreds of thousands of LGBT people around the world fall prey each year to gay “conversion therapy”. The pseudoscientific and pseudoreligious practice designed to cure people of their “abnormal” affective orientation never reaches that goal, but instead brings mental harm and trauma in its wake.
Jayne Ozanne is a British lesbian and Evangelical Anglican who is fighting the dangers of “conversion therapy” with the power of the Gospel.
“I had absolutely no idea that I was going to be meeting the Pope. I had the absolute privilege – I suppose a ‘God-encounter’ is the way I’d put it – of meeting a wonderful gentleman who felt I should meet His Holiness”, Ozanne told Novena in an interview soon after coming back to Oxford from Rome.
“It felt the right thing to do”, she added of her encounter with Francis.
“I have just been very fortunate… I have seen in my past doors just open quite miraculously, to extraordinary individuals… When you’re given this sort of opportunity, you know you need to grasp it with both hands”.
Though Ozanne’s meeting with the leader of the world’s Catholics lasted just a few minutes, the connection between the two was “very genuine” and “very human”, according to the anti-gay “conversion therapy” campaigner.
“I don’t know if he knew he was going to meet me or not, but his warmth and genuineness of response to me by taking my hand and saying ‘Please pray for me’, I took that to mean ‘I am trying to work out the best way'”, she reflected.
“It was a recognition of my faith: you don’t ask someone you don’t recognise as faithful and godly to pray”.
Ozanne treasures the photos she has of her talk with the Pope, but she also brought back another souvenir with her from Rome: a t-shirt with a picture of St. John Henry Newman that she managed to get signed by Francis.
She plans to put that relic in her little church – that Newman himself built – in Oxford.
Both gestures of Francis’ are “priceless evidence of a man who is trying to hear God and see a way forward” on LGBT equality, Ozanne said.
“There’s an authenticity and an integrity in the way that he lives his life that I think witnesses to the power of the Holy Spirit working… It’s that genuineness that touched my heart, and I hope mine touched his”.
Ozanne made the most of her appointment with Francis to present him with a copy of her memoir, Just Love, and of research she has conducted on the dangers of gay “conversion therapy”.
“I’ve been through conversion therapy. I know how damaging and dangerous it is”, she revealed to Novena.
She added that her dream is that no young person ever again has to endure the horrors of “conversion therapy”, pushed either by their parents or by their Church leaders to change who they are inside.
Asked by Novena as to what “conversion therapy” actually refers to, Ozanne said the the label is “an umbrella term for anything that tries to change the orientation of an individual, and frankly all the medical research and all the mental health research will show you you can’t change someone’s orientation”,
Though there’s very little in the Bible to back up “conversion therapy” as currently practised – with everything from prayer sessions to psychoanalysis to hypnosis or even, horrifically, “corrective rape” – Ozanne said Christian leaders are often the practice’s most vocal proponents.
“What they’ll believe is that Jesus talks about healing the sick and delivering people of spirits. If you believe that being gay is wrong, then you’ll believe that God must find a way out of it”, she added, taking Novena through some of the ways Christians appeal to the healing miracles of Jesus to justify the “therapy”.
In the Church, “you’ve got people who don’t believe that you can be gay at all: that even if you admit to being what some call ‘same-sex attracted’… that in itself will be enough to condemn you to hell. I think that’s horrendous theology: we have to accept that we’re all ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, and that God has made us in his image”, Ozanne said.
The next step among Christians, she said, “is that you may suffer from ‘same-sex attraction’. So they recognise that you’ve been born with a certain orientation, but that therefore you have to be celibate for life, and you can never know physical intimacy and love”.
“People focus on the sex acts, but actually what we’re really talking about is the desire to be loved and to love”.
Being forbidden to love is a “prison hellhole” that Ozanne herself knows all too well, and that too many teenagers today still find themselves trapped in.
“A lot of the research will show that people are going through conversion therapy because they’re ashamed of who they are, because they believe that who they are is sinful, or because they want to love and be loved and lead a ‘normal life'”, Ozanne told Novena.
“So often what happens is that many churches aren’t practising conversion therapy, but the impact of their teaching on the vulnerable folk who are listening to it is to force them online to say ‘How do I get out of this hellhole?’.
“And that puts them in a really dangerous place: they’ll try and find ‘Who can help me?’, and they’ll go and find ‘healing’ or ‘deliverance’ from some pretty dodgy places”.
Ozanne has had some success to date in her crusade to ban “conversion therapy”, which she denounced is based above all on “bad theology”.
In 2017 she was instrumental in convincing the Church of England General Synod to pass a motion condemning the practice, and since then has been able to secure a promise from the UK Government that it will work to end the “therapy”.
But Ozanne was careful to point out that simply banning “conversion therapy” doesn’t get to the root of the problem.
“You can pass legislation to ban it, but that doesn’t necessarily end it: you need to look at the systemic causes of what’s going on there”, she warned.
As to a better way of condemning the “therapy”, Ozanne said she dreams about “getting right back to the Gospel basics of ‘God is love'”.
“I think the power of that Gospel is something we have to rediscover afresh for a generation of people who’ve almost been inoculated against religion, because what they see is legalism and law and hypocrisy, and what they need to be wooed by is a profound evidential knowledge that God loves them as they are, and because of that love we are able to change.
“This is what I believe the Church has to do: to get right back to basics and rediscover the power of the Gospel, the Good News”, she told Novena.
“We present some of the rifts in the Church as this big issue about sexuality and gender, but… there’s a much bigger question at stake, and the sexuality is just the presenting issue: how we read Scripture, how we interpret it, how we understand the Cross”, Ozanne said.
“All of that is right at the heart of the debates in the Church at the moment. And the answer is really quite simple”.
That getting back to Gospel basics is something Ozanne said she sees in Pope Francis.
“What Pope Francis has done is change the tone, and changed by example – or challenged by example – some of the ways of working within the Vatican. So: he has chosen to live in Casa Santa Marta. He’s not living in the papal palace – he’s living in a very humble, three-star room”, she recalled.
On LGBT issues, especially, the Pope is moving too, according to Ozanne, who welcomed last week’s speech by the pontiff in which he condemned hate crimes against Jews, gays and gypsies.
Francis’ outright condemnation of homophobia was a “very big thing” for him to say, Ozanne told Novena.
“It needed to be said and he said it, and I was really privileged and grateful to be there to hear it and to witness it myself, knowing the significance of what he was saying. It was a major blessing”.
When Novena suggested she’s taken on the mantle of a prophet, Ozanne laughed it off and said:
“Prophet’s a strong word, but I do hope and pray that I’m following God’s path for me and saying, as I’ve always tried to do, what I believe I’m meant to be saying”.