'I was traumatized': Conversion therapy survivor applauds government decision to ban practice

Gabriel Nadeau grew up in a strict, Christian community in Chambly, Que. What he was taught was that homosexuality was an evil spirit—a demon that needed to be expelled from his body. Now an adult, he's applauding the federal government's decision to ban conversion therapy.

Montrealer Gabriel Nadeau went through three 'exorcisms' as a teen to change his sexual orientation

Gabriel Nadeau, 26, underwent conversion therapy in his youth. Nadeau grew up in the religious community of Chambly, Que., and said his experiences were deeply damaging. (Thierry Laflamme/Radio-Canada)

When Gabriel Nadeau was 12 years old, he realized he was gay. It wasn't a happy moment.

Nadeau, who grew up in a strict, Christian community in Chambly, Que., hadn't had much exposure to the outside world. What he was taught was that homosexuality was an evil spirit—a demon that needed to be expelled from his body.

"I believed that it was wrong," Nadeau told CBC's Quebec AM. "Every day of my life as a teen, I was trying to get my sexual orientation changed."

He went to his family and then his church for help. What followed was described as an exorcism, but is also known by another name: conversion therapy.

The federal government announced on Monday it was introducing a bill to ban the practice of conversion therapy, calling it immoral.

It's welcome news to Nadeau, now 26 and living an openly gay life in Montreal.

"It's a big relief," he said. "For me, that the government is acting — I don't have words."

Repeated exorcisms

Nadeau said that four members of his church held him down on a table. He was forced to drink olive oil as the minister repeatedly shouted at the demon inside him.

"I was obviously crying, crying very much, because I was so traumatized," he said. "I wanted to change so bad."

But the exorcism didn't work. So he tried again.

Nadeau underwent conversion therapy again when he was 16, and a third time when he was 18. But his sexual orientation didn't change.

"I had depression episodes when I was a teen, and suicidal thoughts," Nadeau said, describing the exorcisms as "a kind of violence" that was inflicted on him. 

"I kind of realized that there was no way for me to change … and there was no way for me to become heterosexual."

But even after he realized the exorcisms weren't working, it took years to work past some of the things he heard during those sessions, Nadeau said.

Religious groups against decision

Several religious groups decried the Liberal government's decision to ban conversion therapy, saying it would infringe on religious freedom.

"If a person feels uncomfortable with their sexual orientation, who is the government to tell them…[they] have no right to change their orientation?" said Georges Buscemi, the president of Campagne Québec-Vie, an anti-abortion organization.

That reasoning doesn't fly with Nadeau.

"It's not a matter of religious freedom and just being free to go in life doing whatever you want," he said. "It's a question of security because people might die."

Nadeau was underage when he asked for the therapy. The federal law would make it illegal to have a minor undergo the process.

The legislation does not cover private conversations between individuals about sexual identity.

Nadeau said he's glad to see the federal government is taking a stand and not just leaving it to the individual provinces to ban the practice.

Although it took years to move on, Nadeau said it was worth it in the end.

"I'm so happy and so free," he said. "I would never go back."

Based on an interview with CBC's Quebec AM