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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

PoliticsFebruary 19, 2022

Kiri Allan: My conversion therapy story

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

The bill to ban conversion practices was passed in parliament this week. Minister Kiri Allan remembers her own experience of conversion therapy.

I was raised in a heavily influenced Pentecostal Christian community. We had a small Christian school with a population averaging 50 students in the “school house” on the pastor’s farm. We were a tight community. While not related by blood, this community was my family.

My parents met as young missionaries travelling on a ship throughout the Pacific Islands. Three months after meeting, they were engaged and three months after that, back on terra firma, they were married. I arrived a month before their wedding – a fatty, big, brown baby aptly nicknamed “Porky” – born to my mother’s younger sister.

My parents worked closely with other parents in various enterprises within our tight-knit community, with apiculture (bees and honey) being the star child of our economy. Our parents ran food co-ops (grew food that was then communally distributed) and we had annual church camps and river raft competitions. When someone in need required workers on the farm it was a common occurrence for people from the church to go in and lend some elbow grease to get the families through tough times. Our fathers built each other’s homes while our mothers cooked up storms, grew sprouts in glass jars and fed families with little money but loads of love.

I had an incredible upbringing filled with love for each other and a love for god. It was the church and our spiritual beliefs that formed the nexus of our community. 

I was about 10 years old when my little whānau moved from our small rural community to another church-based one in Auckland (the move affirmed by a prophetic dream). I remember being on a school bus and the kids, as kids do, started asking whether I liked boys. I said “no”. They said, “Well you must like girls then! Are you gay?!” Flushed in the face, never having heard the term before, I resolutely responded “no!” then got home and asked someone in my family, “Am I a gay?” I remember the response being along the lines of “no, absolutely not”, but the lingering impact of the encounter was knowing that to “be a gay” was something that was not OK.  

Young Kiri with dog (Photo: Supplied)

Growing up, my neighbours were Min and Jim, both influential musicians in our church. While I didn’t know this at the time, I later learned that both Min and Jim had come out of same-sex relationships prior to joining the church. They were introduced and encouraged to marry. At that time, Jim and guys like him had to be “helped” to get through their homosexual temptations through our church. Jim went on to become a leading voice opposing conversion therapy later in life.

For me, the pivotal moment was at 15, sitting in the back of my maths class. A friend who I didn’t keep company with outside of maths class, and who was openly gay, said straight up, “You’re into girls, bro – you’re gay as”. I hated her in that moment but I hated myself even more. I went full blown into the Pentecostal church and religion with more gusto than ever. My particular church was lively, more so than the ones I had grown up with (think the late 90s version vs the late 80s version). It was cool and hip and had things like “Surfers for Christ”, cool youth camps, and a huge big band that played a good mix of rock and gospel pop.

I remember clutching my bible secretly in the dark, trying to find references to why god hated gays so much. I read every verse. In my bible (a cool youth one) there were little inserts to help young people navigate issues. One of these was homosexuality, with biblical references. I would secretly read that page in a state of shame, always late at night when no one could see me.

I was doing well in my church and was in one of the young women leadership teams. But I had a secret. A secret that was chewing me up.  I felt like a deviant who had let the devil in. I disclosed my sinful thoughts to my church leadership. They were open to them, and helped navigate me though bible verses and support groups. There were strong prayer groups, where they laid hands on me to curse the devil out, to break down the torment of the “aspirations of my parents who must have desired a boy child” that had spiritually chained me and that were distorting my own desires. (To be clear, I never felt this once from my parents but for whatever reasons, I recall that prayer clearly.)


We prayed, and I prayed. I just wanted the gay to go away.  I knew what the consequences of being gay were in my community, and in my church. I had to make my unholy desires go away in order to remain a valued member of my church, my community and most importantly, my family.

It was a destructive process – executed in that period between the ages of 16 to 18. That time when one moves into adulthood is difficult enough without having to grapple with being accepted by a community that has tarred you with the demonic brush of sexual deviancy. 

Ultimately, I had to divorce myself from my church, my safe place that I had always known. I had to break my parents’ hearts (because they held a genuine belief, at that time, that I was going against god’s teachings) and be cast adrift from my spiritual community.

This story will be well familiar to many. To those with whom it resonates I remind you – you are amazing, you are loved, and you are part of a beautiful and incredible community. I am glad that parliament came together, representing all walks of life, to condemn conversion therapy as a barbaric relic of the past,  and to ensure that Aotearoa is a safer place for kids to be and become who they are and love who they choose.  

I have colleagues who have been particularly active in this process: Louisa Wall, Tamati Coffey, Shanan Halbert and, of course, the deputy prime minister, Grant Robertson, who led the third reading in the House. While I had grown up in churches where conversion therapy was an accepted practice, I didn’t take a leadership role in this debate as I could see an overwhelming wave of support from people from all walks of life leading the discussions in a way that brought relief to me. The moral tide on these practices had turned as a consequence of brave people for generations fighting the fight to love and live without fear of prejudice.

There are activists and front-liners like Shaneel Lal, Max Tweedie and many, many others who have fought and continue to fight for equality and equity. I am so grateful to those that did lead that work, knowing the harm that the practices have had on so many of us. 

Kiri Allan with her partner Māni Dunlop (Images: Kiri Allan Instagram)

In terms of my contribution, I’ve simply always tried to live my life openly and outwardly as a woman who loves women. In doing so, I hope to show  other people they can live their lives freely and proudly – without fear of living a life prejudiced as a consequence of simply loving another. I am also happy to share a small part of my story about how conversion therapy – and the culture of a church that normalises conversion therapy – impacted me and what I think these changes can mean to the next generation of our babies.

“Ka tū tonu koe, i roto i te aroha” (Stand in love, and be true to the love within you – Moe Milne) 

Postscript: Life is a funny ol’ beast and we change and learn as we grow. My parents raised me in a loving environment and when it became clear that I was a woman who loved women, they went through a huge process of reconciling their spiritual and religious beliefs with my reality. I’m incredibly grateful for the love they showed me and many of the other people within our community who went through similar struggles. I am blessed by the love my parents showed me and the people I choose to love. It’s been a journey, but one we have travelled together. My mother celebrated louder than many when the conversion practices prohibition legislation passed the other night. She danced, and we are at peace.

Keep going!