Montrealer says new law banning conversion therapy will save others from ‘devastating’ effects

A Montrealer who went through so-called “conversion therapy” – and says he’s lucky to be alive after that – celebrated Canada’s new practice ban on Wednesday, saying he expects her to even reach the secret corners of the country where she arrives.

“If only one or two pastors … are prosecuted for this,” said Jonathan Di Carlo, it will “have a deterrent effect.”

And if the law had been in effect when he was younger, he added, it would have given him an outside perspective before he started meeting with the pastor of his church to purge what he had been told to be “there”. demonic possession “inside of him – to be gay.

“I think if I had seen any posts about it, and if it had been illegal as a kid, I probably would have had at least a little more time to allow him to teach me all of these things. ” said Di Carlo, now 33.

Conversion therapy is often seen as a burden imposed by the families of victims, but Di Carlo described a more stealthy and isolating process.

Even his mother was kept in the dark about meetings, which lasted nearly a decade, until he reached his mid-twenties.

Worried about her son, feeling he was suicidal, she even looked for her pastor at one point and begged to know if Di Carlo was in danger, and begged to know what was wrong, he told him. she said later.

“She asked him if he would say [her] if, you know, there was a chance that I was trying to kill myself and he refused to answer, ”he said.

After two previous attempts, a bill banning conversion therapy, C-4, was finally passed by both houses of parliament, with the Senate passing it on Tuesday with unanimous support in what Di Carlo called a twist. surprisingly rapid events.

It received Royal Assent on Wednesday, which means it is now law in Canada, but the four new Criminal Code offenses will not come into force until 30 days later, on January 7, 2022.

“I am really grateful that this is over,” he said.


Di Carlo grew up attending a church of about 800 members called the Good News Chapel, in the Saint-Léonard neighborhood in eastern Montreal.

The church also made the news this week for a major COVID-19 outbreak and one death.

Conversion therapy won’t go away overnight, and it will never go away completely, Di Carlo predicted. He saw that his church went through different phases throughout his life, but all of them involved some sort of effort to “cure” people of homosexuality, he said.

Jonathan Di Carlo (right) is seen with Pastors Jessica and Steve Gesualdi in this 2010 photo. (Photo: Courtesy Jonathan Di Carlo)

As a child, he was taught that homosexuality and pornography were “slippery slopes to become a pedophile,” he recalls.

At that time, the church would organize exorcism attempts when people admitted to being attracted to the same sex.

“You’d have to go to the front of the church and have all the church elders… white men in their sixties and sixties…. put their hands on you and start yelling at you, ”he said.

“And so it’s very embarrassing… very traumatic, because people are yelling at you, like ‘get out of him, demon’,” he said.

“It really makes you feel that there is something wrong with you, that you are supposed to let these demons come into your life.”

Di Carlo said he started to realize he was different around the age of 11, but was too scared to tell anyone.

In 2007, a new pastor and his wife took over: Steve and Jessica Gesualdi.

The public exorcisms ended and a new kind of approach began: closed-door sessions kept secret, both from families and other church members who went through the same thing, from whom he never learned. that years later, said Di Carlo.

He finally confided in the Gesualdis about his homosexual attraction and began sessions with the pastor around 17 years old.


It’s important to remember that “the idea of ​​conversion therapy as ‘therapy’ is really a misnomer,” he told CTV.

From the outside it is “maybe something a little like psychology sessions, but he has no formal counseling training.”

Still, Gesualdi would use the sessions not only to tell Di Carlo to pray, but to lay out his theories about what in Di Carlo’s life had “made” him gay, he recalls.

“Maybe it was because you were sexually assaulted and you didn’t know it, or maybe your mom was bossy and the lack of a father figure made you homosexual, stuff like that “, did he declare. .

In Di Carlo’s case, his father, who was a friend of the pastor, had had brain cancer and had to live in a medical facility since Di Carlo was 14.

Gesualdi would tell the teenager that his father was not only absent but that he disparaged the man in other ways, claiming he had been a bad hockey player, for example.

“My goal was: ‘this man is going to help me not to be gay’,” said Di Carlo. “And so it allowed me to let him say the worst things about my family, to make me believe the worst things about my childhood.”

Gesualdi did not respond to CTV News’ request for comment.

As he got older, Di Carlo went on two long fasts, drinking only water for 40 days each time and losing tremendous weight.

He was suffering from deep depression and anxiety, but he said Gesualdi told him these feelings were “the devil trying to control me” and urged him not to seek outside help or take medication, even if a real therapist had suggested it.

He felt “inadequate, flawed and broken,” he said.

“I really considered suicide on several occasions because I didn’t really see the point of living as a gay person. “

One of the strengths of the new bill is that it defines in detail the various activities considered to be conversion therapy, which is not a term that many churches actually use, Di Carlo said.

Gesualdi “wouldn’t have said he was giving conversion therapy, he’d just say he’s, you know, disciplining me or guiding me,” he said.


In the end, it turned out that Di Carlo’s secret, despite so many painful years, was not greeted with the horror he imagined when he told his family.

As Di Carlo was in his mid-twenties, his friends began to marry, plunging him into another deep depression.

It was then that his mother understood it, going to see Gesualdi in desperation.

“She vividly remembers telling him… ‘Do you think he’s gay? Is he homosexual? Is that why? ‘ She later told Di Carlo. “He sort of swept it away.”

The point was, Di Carlo’s mother cared a lot less about her son’s sexuality than about whether he was okay.

“A lot of the messages about homosexuality that I heard came from the church, and I never heard a disagreement at home with those messages,” he said.

“So I guess I… thought their answer would be the same as the church people.” “

In the end, he learned that “my mom would have been okay with that,” he said.

“She didn’t care if I was [gay]- she was worried about my safety.

Some time later, Gesualdi decided Di Carlo was a “lost cause”, he said, and simply stopped responding to his texts.

He dated family and close friends in 2015, around the age of 27.

When starting a new Facebook profile, he chose a new name, Jonathan, to replace his old name, John Michael, so no one could find him.

It was not easy. About two years later he turned to his old friends in church, who rejected him, so “basically I had to rebuild my life”, finding brand new friends, he said. -he declares.

But Di Carlo had started dating someone who was “very patient” and helped him try to undo what he had learned, he said.

More recently, he legally changed his name to help put the past behind him.

“All the pain that I’ve been through, you know, being known as John Michael… it was really, really devastating,” he said.

In addition to the new bill, he said it was crucial to create publicly available therapy for victims, who may not have health insurance for private therapy. And there needs to be more education in the provinces, so that people know how to spot violations of this new federal bill.

How often will this happen, realistically?

It is true that few in churches like his are likely to call the police to report conversion therapy, he said.

But from now on, the new law will allow former victims to file reports after breaking free, possibly saving others from similar experiences.

He also believes that the police could intervene in the ongoing cases if third parties, like his mother, find out what is going on and call the police.

And it’s not impossible that young gay church members could denounce their own pastors, or anyone else being told to “convert,” he said.

“I would tell them, first and foremost, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you,” he said.

“The way you are, your sexual orientation, your gender identity, is perfect the way it is – you don’t have to change.”

“And secondly, I would tell them to report it, because it’s illegal.”

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