Forces of Change
A powerful local documentary screening at the Brisbane Queer Film Festival ventures inside Australia’s ex-gay programs and unearths the stories of the people who have survived them. Filmmaker Heather Corkhill talks to Katherine Kokkonen about The Cure.
Bustling West End on a warm day does not seem like the ideal place to discuss reparative therapy and the ex-gay movement. The spruiking of Big Issue sellers and giggles from passing shoppers slice into our conversation about prayer therapy, obsessive behaviour, and the difficulties of coming out as a gay Christian.
Heather Corkhill is the director and editor of The Cure, a documentary exploring the ex-gay movement in Australia and the repercussions of reparative therapy. I had expected that someone who had just spent two years of their life working on such a dark subject would be solemn, perhaps even dour. Poised over a glass of juice, Corkhill speaks animatedly about the subject. Dressed in an orange dress, she is anything but gloomy as she explains the history of the ex-gay movement.
“It’s been through a number of phases,” she tells Queensland Pride. “What we call the ex-gay movement started in the 1970s and that was a group of gay men who believed they had been transformed from homosexuality. What it involves is looking at the key causes of what has caused you to become homosexual, which is either childhood trauma or sexual abuse.
“In the 1970s it was more about conversion to heterosexuality. As that wasn’t really working so well, the current incarnation is that you live according to God’s plans for you, which probably in most cases means celibacy. But the next level means being with a woman if you are a man or being with a man if you’re a woman.”
Corkhill has been interested in the ex-gay movement for years and originally associated it with Christian fundamentalists in the US. Through research she discovered that reparative therapy programs were operating in Australia and locally in Brisbane. Initially, she found it difficult to get people to talk about their experiences.
“When a lot of people come out of these programs they are very vulnerable, a lot of them experience mental health issues. To find people that were willing to talk on camera was challenging at first, but we found a few brave souls who were willing to do it.”
The process of getting people to talk about the conflict between their faith and their sexuality was not only an emotional process for them, but also for Corkhill and the crew.
“We were all a bit of a mess when we did the interviews. It’s incredibly emotional material and I’ve shed a lot of tears as well. Qingwen [the cinematographer] said that when she was doing the camera work during Ben’s interview her eyes kept tearing up and she couldn’t focus.” In the film, Ben Gresham, a young Sydney man, speaks openly about his experience with ex-gay programs.
Corkhill and her crew have managed to capture the inner turmoil that occurs when faith and sexuality clash and it resonates with their audience.
“One of the most powerful things that I’ve had happen is an 18-year-old boy was in the audience and he contacted Ben and said thank you so much for being in the film and having your voice heard because I was just about to put myself into an ex-gay program and now, having watched your story, I’ve decided not to.
“To put it out there and to know that it could have such a positive impact on young people who are considering going into an ex-gay program or if they are in a Christian context and don’t see a way out, that’s pretty powerful stuff.”
In the middle of all the hustle and bustle the interview suddenly makes sense. This story is all about people and more importantly about freedom.
“The film does have a lot of hope in the message as well. What has been really amazing is to see the freedom that people have experienced, the freedom that they thought was possible – the freedom from homosexuality that was preached, when that didn’t work out, they were able to find freedom in accepting their identity.”
[Pictured] Gay Christian Ben Gresham, as featured in the new documentary, The Cure, screening at the Brisbane Queer Film Festival.
The Cure, part of the Brisbane Queer Film Festival, screens on Saturday, April 14, at Brisbane Powerhouse.