Alpharetta salon owner advocates hope and love to those in crisis

Peter Nunn tried to end his life when he was just 16.

A year earlier, his parents had sent him to “conversion therapy,” a practice that seeks to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity and that major medical and mental health associations say doesn’t work and actually causes harm.

“That resulted in me really hating myself,” Nunn, 35, said.

His recovery from that widely debunked “cure” came after the one suicide attempt and roughly five years of pain and self-discovery. Today, Nunn owns a hair salon in Alpharetta, celebrates eight years of marriage to husband Monte, and volunteers with the Georgia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“It’s very important to me for people to know that my life got better and is not a tragedy,” he said. “The reason I now try to help other people is so they don’t have to go through the same things or feel the same isolation I did when I was 16.”

On Sunday, Nov. 7, Nunn will be making his fourth – and the chapter’s 18th – Atlanta Out of the Darkness walk at Piedmont Park.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

He and thousands who have lost loved ones to suicide or almost taken their own lives will come together to give hope, support, and love to one another and to draw attention to the fragile nature of mental health.

“We use it as a day of education and a day of healing,” Kristen Petillo, area director of AFSP Georgia, said.

Each step Nunn and the other walkers take will symbolize a Georgian who died by suicide in 2020, on average of one every six hours.

A dove release will represent setting free those emotions of pain and loss, Petillo said.

“We believe, as an organization, that suicide isn’t an inevitability – that we can stop suicide if we fight on all fronts, with research, education, hope, and love,” Nunn said.

The organization’s national leadership has set a goal of reducing the annual rate of suicides by 20% in the United States by 2025 – a significant challenge given that suicides continue to increase despite unparalleled efforts at prevention.

Nunn serves on the board of AFSP’s Georgia chapter and works with the organization as part of Converse, a coalition of more than 35 state and national groups lobbying to change state laws to prohibit licensed health providers from practicing conversion therapy on minors. In March 2020, Virginia became the 20th state to pass this type of legislation, according to the American Psychological Association.

Similar legislation has been introduced in Georgia.

Nunn went through conversion therapy at 15 and told his parents it had worked.

“My parents believed that being gay was a cardinal sin and that they were doing this for my interests to save me,” Nunn said.

He says he spent years in church on his knees begging God to save him from being gay, something the therapists told him was evidence he was “wrong and broken.”

He said he fully began acknowledging he was gay at age 20 but had an epiphany a couple of years earlier when he attended his first Atlanta Pride parade.

He saw parents marching in the parade holding signs that said: “I love my gay son, or I love my lesbian daughter.”

“It was a really big turning point for me because, for the first time in years, I felt that maybe I deserved to be loved, not just by my family, my parents, and my God,” he said. “But I felt like maybe I deserved to love myself.”


18th annual Atlanta Out of the Darkness Experience. 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 7 at Piedmont Park. Hosted by the Georgia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Why it matters: “People have become increasingly comfortable talking about their mental health, particularly this past year. But the topic of suicide – when it comes up – is still scary for many people to think about. It’s only by learning more about what leads someone to suicide, the ways we can help to prevent it, and what resources are available that we can empower our communities to address this leading cause of death.” – Kristen Petillo, Area Director of AFSP Georgia.