Gay man recalls traumatic church conversion therapy experience: ‘They said I vomited out the gay’

Two people stand side by side and hold up signs during an LGBTQ+ rights protest to ban conversion therapy.

A gay man underwent horrific conversion therapy in church as a teenager that caused him to vomit in an attempt to release the “spirit of homosexuality”. 

Sylvester Harrison Moran, now 36, told the BBC that he was encouraged to join a prayer ministry weekend after he told church leaders at St Thomas Philadelphia church in Sheffield that he felt there was a conflict between his sexuality and his religious beliefs. 

While at the retreat, the then-teenager was “encouraged to be vulnerable” and joined others participating in ‘writing down their sins”. He recalled how the “intention was to ‘get rid of the gay’”, and he was “made to feel [being gay] was wrong”. 

“I was even advised to talk about having homosexual tendencies, as opposed to being gay, so it wasn’t [considered] part of my personality – it was like just a thing or a spirit or something,” he said. 

“I was prayed over and the spirit of homosexuality was commanded to come out of me. Hands were laid on me.

“It looked like what you might see in a film, and I vomited.

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“Apparently that was normal. If people vomited or screamed, that was definitely a spirit leaving them.”

What Harrison Moran was experiencing is often referred to as conversion therapy – pseudoscientific and harmful practices intended to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity

Major medical associationshuman rights activistspoliticians and survivors have all denounced the cruel practice. 

A spokesperson for Network Church Sheffield, which oversees a network that includes St Thomas Philadelphia, told the outlet it was “saddened to learn” of Harrison Moran undergoing conversion therapy while “being part of the church over 10 years ago”. 

It said the church is “now under different leadership” but that the report raised “significant concerns about past practice”, which it’s “determined to review and learn from”. 

“We continue with our commitment to be a kind and generous congregation working to serve all the people of Sheffield,” the spokesperson added. 

Two people stand side by side during an LGBTQ+ rights protest to ban conversion therapy. One person holds up a sign reading 'queerness doesn't need a cure'
In 2018, prime minister Theresa May promised to ban conversion therapy in the UK. It’s 2023, and such legislation has yet to be passed. (Getty)

Harrison Moran remembered how he was made to feel it was a “normal process” for people to go through conversion therapy to become a so-called “ideal” and “to be heterosexual”. 

The gay man said he’s “happy with [his] life” now, but the conversion therapy “did have an impact”. 

“There was some trauma to work through and I was helped by qualified, professional therapists,” he said.

“I want people to know what happened to me. and I want anyone who is in a situation like mine to remember they are fabulous.

“There is nothing wrong with them – it is the people trying to change them who are wrong.”

The Tory government has been dragging its feet on banning conversion therapy in the UK. Then-prime minister Theresa May first committed to ending the abusive practice back in 2018, and the call to action was picked up by subsequent party leaders. 

Boris Johnson, who once said there was “no place” for the “abhorrent” practice, infamously backtracked on the long-promised conversion therapy ban. 

In 2022, Johnson dropped plans for the legislation before U-turning once more to promise a ban, but said such protections wouldn’t include trans people. 

The news invoked immense protests from queer people and allies, leading to the cancellation of the UK government’s flagship LGBTQ+ conference

In January of this year, the government said it would ban conversion therapy for everyone, including trans people. But, yet again, this promise has yet to come to fruition

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