Greens call for conversion therapy ban in Western Australia

OPINION

Attempting to change or interfere with a person’s identity is a terrible abuse of human rights. And yet, up to 10% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans Australians are vulnerable to harmful so-called conversion therapy practices, according to a 2018 report from La Trobe University and the Human Rights Law Centre.

Conversion therapy attempts to change, ‘repair’ or ‘cure’ a person’s sexuality or gender identity – and in doing so causes significant, long-lasting distress and harm. It is ineffective, unscientific and most commonly practiced in churches, faith-based schools or in other religious contexts under the guise of ‘spiritual healing’ or ‘self-improvement.’

At 2018, there were at least 10 ‘conversion’ groups publicly offering conversion therapy services across Australia. The real number is likely to be much higher, with the practice conducted through many informal ‘counselling sessions,’ ‘prayer groups’ and online forums.

These ‘spiritual counselling’ sessions are delivered by church or other religious leaders with no counselling qualifications, and little understanding of mental health best practice.

Not surprisingly, attempts to ‘pray away the gay’ are not only ineffective, but cause deep confusion, distress and self-hatred among a long list of lasting psychological impacts.

In the 2018 report Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT Conversion Therapy in Australia from La Trobe University and the Human Rights Law Centre, one survivor explains he was subjected to hypnosis and repeated exorcisms as part of his ‘treatment’ at an Australian church over a number of years. By 16, extreme stress had caused his hair to start falling out. He later attempted to take his own life. Ten years on, having left the church and come out as gay, he was still receiving non-religious counselling to try to deal with the immense trauma.

The practice continues in Western Australia and across the country.

We know that LGBTIQ children and young people experience poorer mental health outcomes and have greater risk of suicidal behaviours than their peers. This makes them particularly vulnerable to the terrible impacts of conversion therapy.

Worryingly, LGBTIQ children and young people from religious backgrounds, and often with no power to resist, are most vulnerable. This is in direct conflict with community expectations that LGBTIQ children and young people be nurtured and protected from physical and psychological harm.

Protecting LGBTIQ youth from harmful practices such as conversion therapy is one of the top concerns to come out of a young people’s advisory group set up to advise the WA Commissioner for Children and Young People in his work.

There is no place for this abhorrent practice in modern day Western Australia.

Any intervention claiming to ‘treat’ something which is not a disorder is absolutely unethical and should be banned immediately.

Gay conversion therapy is rightly opposed by the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Physicians and the Australian Psychological Society.

The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims now recognises gay conversion therapy as a form of torture.

Victoria and ACT have committed to banning the practice and, while Queensland last week became the first state to actual pass laws banning conversion therapy, its legislation has been widely criticised for targeting only official health and mental health providers, leaving out religious organisations and effectively missing the point.

We must do better in WA. Despite committing in 2018 to banning the practice, the WA Government has yet to act. It must demonstrate its commitment to protecting some of our community’s most vulnerable people and ban conversion therapy now.

Alison Xamon

Alison Xamon MLC is a members of The Greens in the Western Australian Parliament. 


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