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Photography: Susan Forsburg

Lesbian Day of Visibility is marked annually on 26 April. Jayne Ozanne is a leading LGBTQ+ evangelical and heads the Ozanne Foundation, which works with religious organisations around the world to eliminate discrimination based on sexuality or gender. 

Jayne is a vocal critic of so-called “conversion therapy” and has been working tirelessly to achieve a legislative ban in the UK, where she co-chairs the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition.

I began by asking Jayne, what does Lesbian Day of Visibility mean to you?
Sadly we know that it is often lesbian women who are some of the most vulnerable in society, they are the most hidden, they are the most forgotten and they are often those who suffer the most horrific hate crime and indeed don’t have the same opportunities in healthcare and in education. It’s right that we look at lesbians and really celebrate some of the wonderful role models that we have, but also put the spotlight on some of the issues we still have to tackle.

Can you give us an insight into your experiences of so-called “conversion therapy”?
I did undergo “conversion therapy” for about 10 years. I willingly chose to put myself through all sorts of forms of religious “conversion therapy” in order to try and “heal” myself. This started after years of me privately praying and begging God to change me. I reached out to people within my church community and asked them to pray with me and for me. They recommended that I saw various Christian counsellors who could go through my past and look at reasons why they thought I was suffering from “same-sex attraction”. They looked at relationships with my parents, with close family members and some of my early romantic relationships, to try and unpick why I found myself “tempted” towards women. This was done in a community of love – people desperately wanting me to be healed, wanting the best for me, but I found myself being terribly vulnerable and open with people I hardly knew, about some of the most intimate things in my life.

Did you try “deliverance ministry”, where people are cleansed of “demons” and/or “evil spirits”?
I got to know people who felt they had a gift in deliverance, often called exorcism, and I was also recommended to see various senior faith leaders who would try and cast out demons of homosexuality or demons of lust. Lots of people have different theories and I would willingly subject myself to this – thinking I was doing the right thing. It is the most horrendous hell to be in, when you know that you are trying your hardest and it’s not working. Therefore the belief is often that you are holding things back, you’re not being honest or you don’t have enough faith.

It sounds potentially very destructive?
The problem is always left with the victim. It is the most hellish, negative cycle to be in, which led me sadly to a place of great despair, my body packing up under the strain, being in hospital, going through tests, trying to work out why I was in so much pain and then having a second breakdown.

As a Christian myself, I believe my Freedom of Religion or Belief stops when it causes harm to other people. 
I completely agree that our freedoms, all our freedoms, are limited to ensure that we don’t cause harm to others. Freedom of Religion or Belief is indeed already regulated by the state in terms of forced marriage or female genital mutilation, where we know it causes harm. That is exactly the same principle with, sadly, having to regulate about religious practices associated with “conversion therapy”. That harm is because of the mental anguish, which I’ve just described, which you put people through as you’re praying for them to change, to become something that they are not, to become straight or to become cisgendered.

Can you sum this up for our readers?
I and others will state, when a religious practice, whether an act of prayer or exorcism or deliverance, is done with the express intention of trying to make you something that you are not, or trying to cause you to be anything other than LGBTQ+, that is harmful to your mental health – it can be physically damaging to you too, it can be sexually damaging to you – we have to be clear that when religious practice is causing harm it must be banned.

You can follow Jayne Ozanne on Twitter here.