'I consented through coercion': Belleville man shares trauma of conversion therapy

·3 min read

Ben Rodgers still feels the scars left from undergoing conversion therapy 16 years ago, a practice he'd like to see banned in cities across the country.

"I've dealt with drug issues. I've dealt with sex issues. I've been technically homeless in my life," the Belleville, Ont., man told CBC Radio's All In A Day last week.

"I've been through a lot of those issues that happen to people after conversion therapy, and unfortunately, they're all real and they're all quite terrifying."

Conversion therapy aims to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling or behaviour modification by using aggressive or coercive tactics.

Many cities across the country, including Vancouver, Edmonton and Lethbridge have already banned the practice, widely discredited as cruel and traumatic.

While Rodgers has remained mostly silent about the trauma, he began to speak out in the last year and supported a movement to ban the practice in Kingston, Ont.

The city became the first municipality in Ontario to pass such a motion earlier this month.

'They brought me right in'

Rodgers recalled how — when he was preparing for college after high school, and staying in Kingston for the summer with his mother — he ended up attending the same church as his siblings-in-law.

As a 19-year-old, Rodgers felt welcomed.

"They brought me right in," he said. "And it was like, being part of the cool kids, with all the bells and whistles that you could want. They had, like, a rock band for our worship team."

Ben Rodgers
Ben Rodgers

Soon, however, he learned his new church wasn't entirely welcoming.

"I realized they were not so affirming of the gay side of me, but really wanted that Christian side of me to come out," he said.

Rodgers eventually gave in and underwent conversion therapy. He said the church had a desire for him to be "a right person in God's eyes."

As part of his conversion, Rodgers said he underwent three days of a dry fast — without food or liquids — after which a group of people placed their hands on him and tried to pray his sexuality out of him.

When that didn't work, Rodgers was eventually pushed out of the church. That rejection, he said, led him to look for acceptance in sex and drugs.

He also developed depression, he said, and has an anxiety stress disorder.

Wants more cities to ban practice

Although other municipalities – including Ottawa – have publicly condemned gay conversion therapy practices, Rodgers believes more need to outright ban it.

The federal government is currently in the process of bringing a nationwide ban on conversion therapy, but it's not clear when that will occur.

Part of the reason Rodgers now speaks openly about his experience is that he believes politicians who oppose such bans rarely hear from survivors directly, or know what conversion methods actually entail.

He also wants to use his newfound voice to make other young members of the LGBTQ community realize they have other options and don't need to be scared.

"I consented through coercion," he said. "I consented through what I was told to do, which isn't actually consent."