NC man who underwent gay conversion therapy speaks out

Matthew Fenner underwent gay conversion therapy at a North Carolina church

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — A North Carolina man says gay conversion therapy left him depressed and isolated. Matthew Fenner is speaking out days after President Obama announced his support for banning the controversial practice that aims to try and turn gays and lesbians straight.

UPDATE: Case of gay man beaten by NC church members now in hands of jury 4 years later

A whitehouse.gov petition in favor of banning the practice garnered more than 120,000 signatures. In response, the administration noted that major medical associations denounce the practice and called on states to enact bans, saying in part, “The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.”

Fenner, 21, is now an anthropology major at UNC Chapel Hill. He left the Word of Faith Fellowship in Rutherford County in 2013 after, he says, efforts to change his sexuality escalated into a vicious beating.

“It was just a constant never feeling like I was going to be good enough, never feeling like I was going to amount to anything,” Fenner said. “The progression of constantly feeling degraded and coming to the point of just feeling so numb to abuse.”

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In December, a grand jury in Rutherford County indicted five members of the church.

Adam Christopher Bartley, Brooke McFadden Covington, Justin Brock Covington and Robert Louis Walker, Jr. are charged with felony second-degree kidnapping and misdemeanor simple assault for the January 2013 beating of Fenner.

A fifth church member, Sarah Covington Anderson faces those same charges as well as an additional charge of felony assault by strangulation. The cases are pending.

The church denies the charges. Church attorney Josh Farmer said in a statement, “They are innocent of the charges leveled against them and we look forward to proving their innocence and to their complete vindication before a trial court.”

Fenner said his coming out effectively ended his relationship with his mother, but says it was important to be honest with himself.

“I was trying to please my mother and because I loved her, I was willing to do whatever it took to, you know, change one aspect of my life that she didn’t necessarily agree with, you know, approve of,” Fenner said, “But at the end of the day, I was always going to be who I was.”

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