Waka Huia (treasure box) from the late 18th Century. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Te Rata Hikairo, 31
“There’s a strong Mormom background in Te Tai Tokerau where I grew up. And then when I was getting involved in that church at 18-19, I had a kōrero with my bishop, and the congregation paid for me to have sessions with LDS Family Services. All with the view that you were straight.”
LDS Services was established by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
“According to church doctrine, I could never have what they term as an eternal family and be married in the temple. Because the only people who can get married in the temple is a heterosexual couple. And you have to be living in line with the church’s moralistic standards.”
Te Rata says, “it really spun me out and brought me into this horrible anxiety and depression. I had at the time, about ten years ago, self hate, hate of religion and just so much regret about my life.”
A decade on, the attitude of the Church has changed. Director of government and community relations, Marty Stephens says, “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes ‘conversion therapy’ and our therapists do not practice it.”
An official church statement says, “The Church hopes that those who experience same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria find compassion and understanding from family members, Church leaders and members, and professional counsellors. The Church denounces any abusive professional practice or treatment.”
But while there may the Mormon church have moved on from gay conversion therapy, it is still legally practiced in New Zealand, particularly by churches. The Justice Select Committee published a report this October declaring more work needs to be done before any decision is taken to ban it. “In particular, thought must be given to how to define conversion therapy, who the ban would apply to, and how to ensure that rights relating to freedom of expression and religion were maintained.”
Reverend Vicar Helen Jacobi from St Matthews Anglican Church in Auckland City says the problem is that different churches keep to themselves.
St Matthews-in-the city Church on Nelson St, Auckland City.
Reverend Jacobi says, “Those of us who would ban it and not want it are not in conversation with those who are those who are implementing it.”
She says it would be hard to get church leaders together from different denominations, “because we operate in different circles.”
Reverend Jacobi says St Matthews-in-the-city has supported the city’s LGBTQIA+ community for decades, with the Auckland Rainbow Community Church.
“That’s been a strong part of our story and our history.” she says.
The church is independent, growing out of a bible studies support group for gay men that started 40 years ago.
Reverend Jacobi says, she’s puzzled as to why the Government won’t ban conversion therapy.
“I’m quite surprised the Government hasn’t been a bit stronger on banning it.”
Te Rata expects it will take more than two petitions supported by 20,000 signatures to lead to change.
He says,“I know that if you actually want to achieve a ban you have to talk kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face).”
“We’ve got to work with them (church leaders) to have them understand that they do have mana and they do have the right to teach their faith but we have to be careful that we do not isolate youth.”
This article is a part of Rediscovering Aotearoa: a decolonisation series. Watch our short documentary on Takatāpui/LGBTQIA+ here and listen to our podcast here.
Made with support from NZ on Air.