A man who joined so-called sexual re-orientation, or "pray away the gay'' therapy, in hopes of becoming straight is speaking out against it.

As a teen, Kevin Schultz realized he was gay. But by the time he was in his 30s, Schultz was married to a woman and had children.

He was also deeply involved in the church, which encouraged him to sign up for therapy that purported to "make him straight."

"What they emphasized in that group was that you are broken. Something happened to you to change you," he said. "Everyone is born heterosexual, no one is born gay...so it's almost like this search to find what it is that broke you and then fix it."

Schultz continued with the therapy for four years until he saw how group leaders reacted when one participant experienced hallucinations.

"They told him he needed to pray more when it really was obvious he needed a medical doctor," he said. "To my mind, at that point, it crossed the line from being harmless to being harmful."

Programs hurt, don't help, advocate says

California has become the first U.S. state to ban gay conversion therapy for children under the age of 18. 

These types of programs also exist in Alberta.

Kris Wells, associate director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, has heard of recent cases where parents have enrolled their kids after they came out about their sexuality.

Wells thinks the government should send a message to families that the programs don't work and can cause more harm than good.

"That would go a long way to signalling to those families that are just looking for support that that's not a practice that they should engage in," he said.

"You'll be leaving your child with a legacy of internalized homophobia, depression, perhaps suicidality, in some cases as we've seen where a child actually takes their own life because they feel their family doesn't accept them, their faith community doesn't accept them, or their peers."

"And that's the real tragedy that underpins this kind of so-called therapeutic approach."

Schultz has since become a happily married gay man. He hasn't abandoned religion but goes to a new church which he says accepts and celebrates lesbian, gay and transgendered people.

"I don't feel ashamed. I don't feel alone. I don't feel scared," Schultz said. "And it feels like I'm in a place where I want to be."

A similar program offering help with "unwanted same-sex attraction" is still available in Edmonton. The group declined CBC's request for an interview

With files from the CBC's Scott Stevenson