The Human Rights Commission is asking for 25 survivors of conversion therapy to take part in a new research project looking at how conversion practices affected their lives, what the harm was and what helped them recover.
When Matt Langworthy was 18, he came out to a counsellor at his church. The counsellor told him: “You can change. And I can help you do that.
That was the start of 20 years of conversion therapy that spread across both the United States and New Zealand.
“I tried everything there is to try,” Matt says. “Courses, books, workbooks, small groups, exorcism, healing ministry, ritual physical and mental self-harm. And there was no point at which that ever worked.”
Over the course of those two decades he became increasingly mentally and physically unwell, and eventually at age 40 reached a crisis point.
“I was very fortunate to have found two friends who embraced rainbow people, and who helped me see that this was never gonna work and I needed to stop conversion practices and accept who I was.”
He’s now the manager of the Human Rights Commission’s conversion practices response service, and he’s encouraging others to talk about their experiences for a new research project.
‘It's a way of turning what's happened to us into something positive’
It’s the first time research like this has been done in New Zealand, Matt says.
The Human Rights Commission is working with research group Kaitiaki Research and Evaluation, and are looking to do 25 confidential interviews.
Despite conversion practices being outlawed in New Zealand last year, they’re still “alive and well today in this country,” Matt says.
“One of the myths is that we in New Zealand already know that conversion practices are harmful.
“But there are conversion practices still happening here, and there are a lot of our own communities that we still have to justify our experiences to, so our first priority is to help survivors to continue to advocate.”
You don’t need published research to believe survivors about the harm of conversion practices. But it does help when advocating for more support
The research is about giving survivors their own voice, Matt says, “because so often people in positions of authority have exerted control over them and spoken over them”.
“So first this is about survivors being able to share their story in a really incredible and meaningful setting.”
Next, there’s a practical purpose: the survivor community needs more support than it has, he says, and he hopes it will be a useful tool for advocating for a range of support measures that survivors need, like access to counselling.
“We feel a responsibility to contribute to the peer-reviewed evidence base, to try to publish a journal article on these harms to help substantiate what it is survivors have gone through and advocate for more resources and better funding.”
Peer-reviewed research published in a journal also helps give international communities solid evidence they can benefit from, he says.
It’s also vital to highlight conversion practice stories that are less well-represented, he says, as “our trans and non-binary whānau, our Māori and Pasifika communities are also experiencing conversion practices”.
‘I’m so much better off living who I really am’
The lifelong consequences of conversion practices have been huge on Matt.
“For me that was breaking apart my family, the loss of significant parts of community and a long road of recovering from the many traumas along the way.”
Before, he was struggling from a really negative place, he says.
“Now I'm working through things from a really positive place - which while it’s difficult, it’s much more hopeful.”
If you’re interested in participating in the research, contact the project lead for Kaitiaki Research Dr Michael Roguski (Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) at email@example.com or 0275 111 993.
If you don’t want to be part of the research but do want help or support with your experiences of conversion therapy, you can contact the Human Rights Commission on firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out an online complaint at www.tikatangata.org.nz.
Where to get help:
- 1737: The nationwide, 24/7 mental health support line. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
- Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. Nationwide 24/7 support line operated by experienced counsellors with advanced suicide prevention training.
- Youthline: Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234. Nationwide service focused on supporting young people.
- OUTLine NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service that helps LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders access support, information and a sense of community.
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