A person stood smiling on a path in the middle of a snowy forest.
Kay Knighting, 47, in Squamish, British Columbia. Image credit: Kay Knighting.

“I can’t change. I tried. If any kind of attempt to change your orientation or your gender identity actually worked. I promise you. It would have worked on me because I wanted it, I was committed all the way.

Kay Knighting, 47, underwent months of conversion therapy at the age of 19 when he was a member of the Jesus Army.

The Jesus Army, which dissolved in 2019, was found to be covering up abuse of women and children in a report conducted by independent investigator Vicki Lawson-Brown.

Kay, who uses he/him pronouns and identifies as butch, is just one victim of the ultra-evangelical sect and has since suffered the long-term effects of undergoing conversion practices and has been diagnosed with CPTSD

Professor Daragh McDermott, professor of social and LGBTQ+ psychology at Nottingham Trent University, described that conversion therapies arequite clearly not an effective mechanism.”

He says:Overwhelmingly, efforts by therapists or medical practitioners to alter what is an inherent element of a person’s identity have been shown to cause significantly more psychological harm.

“The majority of professional psychological and medical associations have stated unequivocally that their use is both unethical and does not align with professional standards of care.”

‘they performed exorcisms on me’

Kay’s reasoning for initially seeking out religion was to find a place ofsafety and stabilityafter facing a lack of acceptance and abuse in his childhood.

“My mum made it very, very clear when I came out that that was not on, it was not happening.

“I kind of flailed around just trying to be what everybody else wanted me to be but I knew who I was. I always knew who I was.”

Until the age of 18, Kay had taken part incharismatic evangelicalism”, allowing him to hide in astrictbox.

It was at university that Kay found himself struggling, leading him to the Jesus Army, he explains:At university, I was throwing myself at pretty much anything and I was self-medicating with alcohol to try and numb the pain constantly,

“I eventually attempted suicide, which by that time was my third attempt.

“Then I came across this website for the Jesus Army, and it was all about offering hope and love, so I grabbed for the lifeline.”

LGBTQ+ pride flag on the side of a building next to a tree.
The LGBTQ+ pride flag at Nottingham Trent University’s city campus. Image credit: Lydia Arundel.

The Jesus Army was an extremist religious sect that Kay described as havingextreme charismaticteachings, women would have to wear long skirts, have long hair, be submissive, serve men and stay silent.

Due to a practice referred to as heavy shepherding, Kay opened up to a member of the church about his feelings about his gender and sexuality, resulting in conversion practices being used on him.

He says:They performed exorcisms on me essentially because this prophet in the group said I had a male demon of homosexuality in me.

“It was very much the case that they were trying to get me to be a proper woman, which is, according to them, heterosexual.

“We would have these all-night sessions of really intense prayer, somebody would be praying in tongues and sometimes there would be a bucket in case someone was sick, which was styled as the devil coming out of us.”

In an act of self-preservation, Kay found himself slowly withdrawing from the Jesus Army, a prophet from the church visited Kay at his accommodation claiming he had received a word from God that Kay was going to be healed and he was going to be the one doing it.

It subsequently led to the collapse of his mental health. “I completely cracked at that point, and I had a complete breakdown. I ended up being admitted.

“I was hallucinating demons on cupboards and things, it was intense and horrible.

He adds:I never saw any of them again.”

Once Kay had returned to university his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and so he left to go home and take care of her.

“The weird thing about having an abusive parent is that no matter how abusive they are, you still want them to love you. You still love them.

“So, I panicked, I think, because I was likeshe’s going to die, I have to show her I can be normal.’”

A woman wearing a head covering smiling with baby that has been blurred out for privacy reasons.
Kay and one of his children in 2004. Image credit: Kay Knighting.

Kay married a man he had met at Church six months after his mum had passed away and found himself thrown into religion again, believing in a religious movement called Quiverfull which encourages women to have as many children as they can.

“I was committed to it, I was pregnant solidly for about seven years, and I drilled down in the discipline to cling to every part of this religion that could save me.

“I ended up in a wheelchair because I had something called SPD and that was probably the tipping point of saying, if that’s not how I’m going to be saved, how am I going to be saved?”

‘I always knew who I was’

Kay decided to start over and live how he has always wanted to, completely starting again, he says:It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s been the best decision. As soon as I got to the stage where I could say, I might be alone for the rest of my life, I might lose the relationships I have with my family, but I can’t lie anymore.”

Since coming out and living as he has always wanted to, Kay still maintains a friendship with his ex-husband and good relationships with his children as well as finding a partner who Kay has described as his best friend.

If you or someone you know has been impacted by conversion practices visit: Conversion Therapy Support Service – Conversion Therapy Support Service or call: 0800 130 3335.