Conversion Therapy: It’s all about politics, not science

Like a noxious weed, from time to time so-called “Reparative” or “Conversion” Therapy sometimes known as “Pray away the Gay” and run by “ex-Gay” groups, rears its ugly head. Seeing the recent OUTinPerth articles about a report of a Victorian Liberal Party branch push to make so called “Reparative Therapy” available got me thinking;

·     Is this anything more than “sour losers” trying to “turn back the clock” after not getting the result they wanted in the recent Marriage Equality survey?;

·     Have those who propose this, looked at the massive amount of research to show it doesn’t work and can cause negative impacts on people’s religious beliefs?;

·     Who will pay the legal damages claims for anyone who is a “recipient” of this “therapy” (or the family if someone suicides afterwards) and then sues the practitioner (if they can find someone to try to “cure” someone) when it doesn’t work?


While the result overall of the recent Marriage Equality poll was in favour of allowing all Australian loving couples to marry, there certainly were places and groups that opposed this change.

There are many who oppose any sort of change in society, (for any number of reasons) e.g. The ordination of women; Legalisation of consenting sexual activity between same sex adults; Legalisation of abortion; Recognition of Indigenous Australians. But then opposition to change is nothing new.

In Australia in my lifetime we’ve gone (over a few decades) from a situation where it was illegal for Gay men to have consenting sex, to a situation where Same Sex couples can marry. We also no longer have “Electric Shock therapy” to “cure” homosexuality.

We’ve also gone from seeing Lesbians and Gay men as a rarity, “freaks”, or stereotypes e.g. “Mr Humphries” in “Are you being served”. It is now commonplace to see “everyday” Lesbians and Gay men in the media and everyday life. This does not mean it’s all “wonderful” or Nirvana (and I’m not talking about the pop group). Just think what can happen if two men walk down the street holding hands, just like an opposite sex couple?


While readers of OUTinPerth may well be comfortable with their sexuality, this is not necessarily the case with all who have same-sex attractions. Some see this as their “cross to bear”, rather than a “God-given Gift” and a normal and natural variation in human sexuality.

I’d ask readers to think what it would be like, discovering your same-sex attraction and wanting to be a “Good Christian”. However, you’ve grown up in a setting where you are told that the only way to be a “Good Christian” is to get married to an opposite sex partner. Your also well aware of the often (selectively) quoted sections in the bible, that are widely said to condemn homosexuality.

Although less likely nowadays, not so long ago, (as noted above) a young (or not so young) LGBTI person may not have known of any “Out and Proud” LGBTI people.

Imagine you “confess” to your attractions or thoughts, or concerns, to a person in a position of authority in your Church (which is at the centre, or at least a large part of your world). They then tell you that “There are people who can help ‘cure’ you” and you think “all your Christmas’s have come at once”.  Trouble is they won’t be told that this sort of “treatment” as well as having no scientific validity, has no real chances of “success”.

An article on the ABC website gives some idea of the hurt and pain that can be inflicted by these Reparative Therapy practices. That story gives some idea of the reasons why organisations like The Australian Psychological Society and the American Psychological Association condemn this practice.


For those having difficulties reconciling their homosexuality and their religious beliefs, a few suggestions could be to;

·     Seek out a “Supportive” religious community (QLife may be able to assist);

·     Try to avoid the more vocal opponents of homosexual equality in your faith community;

·     For the LGBTI person, try to accept that there will be extremes, from those who cannot accept that someone they know is same-sex attracted, through to those who are completely accepting, as well as various points in between;

·     Recognise that “coming out” as both LGBTI and a “person of faith” can be like coming out as LGBTI, an ongoing process, with both positive and negative experiences;

·     Be prepared to learn about how the Bible (apart from any other religious texts) have been misinterpreted, selectively quoted and used to justify anti-LBGTI attitudes and beliefs, via books like Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (by John Boswell), or Bulletproof Faith by Candace Chellew-Hodge;

·     Accept that you can be both an LGBTI person and a person of faith and seek competent professional help if you need it


The main points I’d like to make are that;

a.)     Reparative therapy doesn’t work, and psychological research shows it can cause considerable psychological damage to those on whom it is “practiced”;

b.)     It is possible to be both a person of faith and an LGBTI person;

c.)     We need to be forever vigilant and prepared to stand up and challenge those opposed to equality and moving forward who try to “turn the clocks back”.

Colin Longworth

Colin is a psychologist in private practice and a long-term volunteer at Living Proud and its predecessor organisations.

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