ACL says conversion therapy a ‘myth’, fights ban in South Australia

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has released a statement urging the South Australian Liberal government to reject a proposed bill that aims to ban conversion therapy practice in the state.

The statement follows news that South Australia’s Labor opposition were working on a bill to outlaw conversion therapy, with support expected from The Greens, due to hit parliament in September.

InDaily reported earlier this month that Shadow Human Services Minister Nat Cook was drafting legislation to ban the conversion therapy statewide, while Attorney-General Vickie Chapman says she has looked into how to criminalise the practice.

Australian Christian Lobby’s state director Christopher Brohier says Attorney-General admitted there is no evidence of such practices in SA, with Chapman telling InDaily the practice has “not yet been identified as operating in South Australia.”

“That is the truth, and there is grave danger of unintended consequences in banning non-existent practices,” Broheir said in a statement, expanding the debate to include gender diversity and religious teaching.

“A ban on a doctor or parent confirming a gender-confused child in their natal sex means substandard health care for young people with gender dysphoria,” Broheir continued.

“Even ‘wait and see’ attempts will be deemed ‘conversion therapy’.

Brohier and the ACL also believe the ban would prevent Australian churches, mosques and other faith communities from teaching gender and sexuality according to their faith.

“It would be highly irresponsible for the Marshall Government to support a private member’s bill which is based on a myth. The Liberal Government must promptly make it clear that it would oppose this Bill.”

Brohier’s statement also echoes calls from the ACL’s Managing Director Martyn Iles, who spoke out against state bans back in 2019.

Speaking to InDaily, Shadow Human Services Minister Nat Cook said her Bill would be designed to see a conversion ban through changes to the Criminal Law Consolidation Act and the Health and Community Services Act, enforced by SA Police and the Health Complaints Commissioner.

“I think this is a situation where people would be blissfully unaware that this was actually an issue and clearly in a society where we expect and insist on equality and inclusion there should be no notion that this type of therapy is even considered,” Cook said.

“To think that there are people out there that would be wilfully and deliberately harming people purely on the basis of their sexuality and gender is something which I find completely unacceptable and I don’t think it passes any type of test in this community.”

Is there evidence of conversion therapy in Australia?

Yes. Conversion therapy, which is very much a reality across Australia, has been condemned by numerous medical and mental health professionals and peak bodies as harmful to LGBTIQ+ folks here and around the world.

The effects of the practice, which seeks to force people to deny their sexuality or gender identity, were examined in depth by La Trobe University, the Human Rights Law Centre and Gay & Lesbian Health Victoria in 2018, resulting in a comprehensive report.

Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT conversion therapy in Australia examined the experiences of 15 LGBT+ Australians who had survived the practice, developing recommendations for definitive legal reform.

The report urges governments, the health sector and religious communities themselves to better respond to those struggling to reconcile their sexuality or gender with their religious beliefs.

“The report reveals immense trauma and grief participants felt at the prospect of having to choose between their faith or their gender and sexuality, both intimate and important parts of themselves,” La Trobe University’s Dr Tim Jones said of the report in 2018.

“The psychological and spiritual trauma experienced by our participants, at their loss of faith, or their struggle to be accepted by their communities, was devastating.”

The future of conversion therapy practices in Australia is uncertain. While many states and territories, including Western Australia, have started considering how to enact a ban, the Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill is still on the horizon, and could undermine state legislation.

A special provision in the draft legislation that protects “statements of belief” (section 41.1.c) would allow the Attorney General to override future state laws prohibiting the promotion of the harmful and discredited practices.

Sections 15 and 16 of the Bill could also make it harder to deregister a counsellor who engages in conversion practices based on their religious beliefs.

Leigh Andrew Hill

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