A controversial event — labelled “gay conversion therapy” and “homophobic” by activists — is coming to a prominent Geraldton church this weekend, featuring people who formerly identified as homosexual but claim to have left it behind after finding God. The organiser says there is nothing “harmful or hurtful” about the message, but Geraldton-born gay writer Holden Sheppard — who tried to “convert himself” — says this kind of coercive pressure causes “tremendous harm that takes many years to recover from”. “They don’t need to be changed. They are absolutely OK just as they are,” he said. Last weekend, Geraldton Anglican Cathedral handed out a newsletter advertising a presentation on gender and sexuality from Australian Christian Lobby WA director and former Liberal MP Peter Abetz, to be held this Saturday. Related stories: Geraldton Anglican Cathedral acting dean the Reverend Dr David Seccombe and Mr Abetz confirmed the talk would include Zoom presentations from formerly same-sex-attracted people, making it similar to the Real Lives presentation at Albany Baptist Church on May 28. Advertising for the Geraldton talk has been discreet, but in Albany the event was sold as “real stories of hope, vision and dignity from beyond LGBTQI+ ideologies”. Controversial speaker and self-labelled formerly gay man James Parker presented in Albany and will be a speaker in Geraldton. In a YouTube video posted in December 2019, Mr Parker linked his homosexuality to former abuse, viewing pornography as a child, and not having a relationship with God. Mr Abetz said the type of counselling he was advocating was not “conversion therapy” because it was not using physical methods like shock therapy to force people to change their sexual orientation. “It encourages people to own their past, (especially) if they’ve experienced abuse and trauma,” he said. Sheppard, who has written extensively about growing up gay in Geraldton, said he tried to “convert himself” for three years. He urged people not to view this issue as a culture war battlefront, but as a matter involving real people’s lives. “Don’t feel ashamed. It’s nice to be homosexual ... It won’t change (gay people),” he said. He said Geraldton’s faith community was full of loving people who cared about the people around them. Earlier this year, the Victorian Government made attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity illegal, with perpetrators risking a fine of up to $10,000 or even jail in serious cases. The move followed similar bans in the ACT and Queensland. Last week, a McGowan Government spokeswoman said it was “committed to ban the practice of conversion therapy” through the implementation of the National Code of Conduct. “If the introduction of legislation and/or regulations is necessary to give effect to the code, that will be looked at,” she said. Former Geraldton MLA and gay man Shane Hill said people in Geraldton were smart enough to “see this for what it is.” For Mr Hill, the quicker the State outlaws the practice, the better. “To have this nonsense puts more pressure on them (gay youth),” he said. “It’s abhorrent.” Dr Seccombe said he welcomed Mr Abetz as a speaker and was supportive of the presentation. “I suppose that the bottom line is Christians have their own understanding about sexuality. We respect others have other opinions,” he said. Both Sheppard and Mr Hill hoped media coverage would lead to tough conversations about sexuality and acceptance. “It’s a great chance to have a conversation with your young people and let them know they are fine,” Sheppard said. “It doesn’t have to be awkward or politically correct. Just let them know they are fine.” If this story has caused any difficult feelings for you, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Qlife on 1800 184 527. Parents can also contact Pflag for help supporting their LGBTQIA+ kids.