LGBTIQ+ religious conversion ‘therapy’ is still hurting Western Australians

OPINION: Alison Xamon MLC is a member of The Greens in the Western Australian Parliament.

LGBTIQ religious conversion ‘therapy’ is still hurting Western Australians.

It is hurting them in complex and long-lasting ways.

While it is impossible to quantify exactly how many Western Australians are directly affected, La Trobe University’s February 2021 report Healing Spiritual Harms, suggests at least one in ten LGBTIQ Australians are vulnerable to pressure or coercion to undergo a form of religious suppression of their sexuality or gender identity.

Some seek it out, hoping to re-align their sexuality with their religious beliefs. Others are coerced because, in many religious circles, being gay and being faithful are just not compatible. People feel they must choose – or are forced to choose – between the truth about their faith, and the truth about themselves.

The intersection between sexuality, religion and culture is complicated.

The horrific psychological consequences of attempts at religious conversion are well documented. Many survivors are left with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and require extensive non-religious counselling – a process that is often hampered, according to La Trobe, by their deep shame, and an understandable distrust of mental health professionals.

In short, the impact of conversion practices on the lives of Western Australians is devastating. It is little wonder the International Council for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, as of 2020, recognises the practice as a form of torture.

It has been four years since WA Labor was elected to Government, promising as part of its election manifesto that it would “work towards” a ban on LGBTIQ conversion ‘therapy’ in WA.

It has not happened.

Health Minister Roger Cook has repeatedly voiced his opposition to the practice, but his Government has to date refused to commit to introducing legislation to ban it.

It is not enough to say that the Government opposes the practice. It must practice what it is preaching and act to protect people from long-lasting psychological harm.

We know that there is strong support from the WA LGBTIQ community to ban conversion practices in Western Australia. A Pre-Election survey from Rainbow Futures WA has shown 91.4% of respondents want an end to conversion practices and ongoing support for survivors. The issue garnered the most emphatic support of any law reform.

Support for the LGBTIQ community is at an all-time high. Western Australians on the whole expect – and want – people who identify as LGBTIQ to be protected. And celebrated.

But just four weeks out from the election, the WA Government is yet to make any announcement about its intentions (if any) to end conversion practices.

Meanwhile, stories of people’s experiences with LGBTIQ conversation ‘therapy’ continue to emerge from across the world.

While their stories are all different – common themes are plenty: the counsellor’s methods – questionable at best and downright abusive at worst; the loneliness and isolation; the confusion; the fear of losing friends, family and church and, in lots of cases, the desperately trying to just not be gay anymore.

As if it were a choice. Or even something not worthy of being.

Since the Minister first voiced his opposition to the widely discredited and damaging ‘therapy,’ Queensland and ACT have introduced legislation to ban it (though it should be noted that Queensland’s bill has been widely criticised for failing to include sexuality-correcting counselling which takes place in religious and informal settings.)

Victoria’s Upper House passed legislation banning the practice just this week. Appropriately in line with the seriousness of these practices, consequences include prison terms of up to 10 years and significant fines for anyone caught trying to suppress or change someone’s sexuality by conducting suppression practices.

Once again, WA is behind the game.

The WA Government’s refusal to introduce legislation to outlaw conversion practices is putting people’s lives at risk.

It must commit to banning this harmful practice in Western Australia, including – and specifically – in religious settings.



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