Is Western Australia the safe haven for conversion practices?

Warning: This report contains mentions of conversion practices, sexual assault and suicide. 

Western Australian based organisation True Identity, in collaboration with the Australian Christian Lobby, are pushing for the McGowan Government to resist introducing laws which would stop religious based counsellors from treating people for, what they describe as – unwanted same-sex attraction.

Equality advocates however describe the practice as nothing more than “gay conversion therapy”, and have repeated their call for the McGowan Government to ban the practice as other states have – sending a warning that Western Australia is becoming the “safe haven” for the practice.

The call comes in the wake of the Australian Christian Lobby currently touring the state to promote religious based counselling services for unwanted same-sex attraction, and lobbying the government to resist calls for new laws.

On social media proponents of the services of True Identity shared a letter which they describe as being from a 28-year-old man who has travelled to Western Australia to engage the services.

Writing to Premier Mark McGowan, Josef, says he moved to Western Australia because Victoria introduced its Change or Suppression (Conversion Practices Prohibition Act 2021).

The young man details that he is a victim of childhood sexual abuse and rape, and as a result he suffers from anxiety, depression, gender dysphoria, suicide ideation, and panic attacks. He says that since starting therapy here in Western Australia he’s experiencing the best mental health of his life, thanks to prayer and counselling.

Similarly, a video on the True Identity YouTube channel features a woman saying that she came to Western Australia after laws were introduced in the Australian Capital Territory.

“Since stepping out of the lesbian lifestyle over a year ago, and undergoing counselling I am at last starting to deal with the underlying trauma of my childhood sexual abuse, and the wounds I later experienced via lesbian relationships.” she says.

“I’m in WA to find support from my past trauma, support I can no longer access alongside my family in the ACT due to recent changes in their laws.”

In the Real Lives presentation that has been touring around Western Australia, and presented at online forums, Australian Christian Lobby State Director Peter Abetz and True Identity founder James Parker give a presentation that claims nobody is “born that way”. They say there are hundreds of people trying to resist their same-sex attracting through prayer and counselling services.

A series of speakers share their experiences; absent fathers, childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault as adults, substance abuse, sex work are common features in their stories. One after one they say that the True Identity program has helped them embrace heterosexuality, or at least abstinence from same-sex attraction.

In media appearances Parker has previously claimed that many of the people he works with at first have no recollection of their childhood trauma, which he suggests can be a trigger for same-sex attraction.

Psychologists however have largely discredited the theory that traumatic memories can be repressed, and warned that practices which attempt to recover memories can actually trigger false memories.

Spokesperson for just.equal Australia, Brian Greig, said as other states had moved to ban conversion practices, WA was becoming a haven for this ‘junk science’ and its harmful effects.

“LGBTI people are not ‘sick’ and cannot be ‘cured.’ When religious fundamentalists promote this mythology, they cause serious psychological harm to very vulnerable people.

“This is because the programs understandably fail, and the desperate people who undertake them are blamed for this failure, creating a downwards spiral of self-loathing.

“Conversion practices are simply a pseudo-science of mumbo-jumbo invented by anti-LGBTI campaigners to legitimise ongoing stigma against LGBTI people,” Greig said.

LGBTI conversion practices have been banned and criminalised in Queensland, the ACT and Victoria. Tasmania and South Australia are currently looking at following suit.

“LGBTI conversion practices have been condemned by the Australian Medical Association and Australian Psychological Society as harmful and dangerous.” Brian Greig said.

“The overwhelming evidence shows that it just pushes LGBTI people deeper into denial, creating depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal ideation, even in children.”

Greig said that just.equal had written to Health Minister Roger Cook and Mental Health Minister Stephen Dawson back in May, urging them to follow other states with a ban.

“We wrote to the relevant Health Ministers pointing out that under consumer law, a Sales Representative cannot sell a washing machine if they know it won’t work, can cause harm and has no technology behind it.

“However, under WA health law there is nothing to stop advocates of conversion practices promoting their ‘treatments’ without disclosing the risks, the failure rate and the lack of science behind it.

“For this reason, those coerced, encouraged or attracted into undertaking such practices are not in a position to make an informed choice,” Greig said.

Peter Abetz from the Australian Christian Lobby has argued that the services promoted by True Identity are not conversion practices, and are needed by those who want to engage them.

Graeme Watson 

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