Victorian government passes ‘gold-standard’ conversion therapy ban

The Andrews government in Victoria has successfully passed its bill banning conversion therapy after a late night parliamentary debate.

The Change and Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill, which makes it illegal to try to suppress or change another person’s sexuality or gender identity, passed the Legislative Council 27 votes to nine late on Thursday night. The move has been welcomed by LGBTIQA+ rights groups who have turned the focus on to other states that have yet to take action on the issue.

Laws have been passed in Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory but other states have yet to take action.

The Victorian bill passed with two Liberal MP’s crossing the floor and voting against the bill. Liberal MPs Bev McArthur and Bernie Finn broke ranks with their colleagues and voted against the legislation. Earlier in the day Finn had expressed support for the bills aim of stopping conversion therapy but said he had concerns about how the bill affected free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

The new laws mean people who actively try to change or suppress another person’s sexuality or gender identity could face fines of up to $10,000 or significant jail sentences of up to a decade.

The legislation has been criticised for impinging on people’s ability to seek psychiatric counselling or religious guidance with the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, and church groups pushing for the legislation to be toned down. However survivors of conversion practices, the Australian Psychological Society and Thorne Harbour Health have voiced support for the legislation.

Survivors of conversion therapy welcome new laws

Survivors of LGBTQA+ conversion practices have applauded the passage of the new laws saying it is a hard-won legislative change that will save lives.

Nathan Despott from Victorian survivor support group Brave Network said that the legislation sets a new global standard due to its inclusion of recommendations from Australian survivors.

“These legislative changes have been hard-won, with survivors of conversion practices re-living their trauma in order to secure passage of this world-leading legislation. The ground-work often involved painfully sharing our stories and insights repeatedly over several years,” Despott said.

The advocate highlighted global research has found that conversion practices cause significant trauma to participants, with increased suicidality, decreased vocational success, and increased risk of homelessness.

“Conversion practices research released by La Trobe University earlier this month overwhelmingly demonstrates that conversion practices primarily occur in informal, religious spaces, grounded in an ideology of ‘brokenness’ and often cloaked as ‘pastoral care’,” Despott said. “By addressing these settings, this law will set a new global standard.”

Chris Csabs from survivor-led advocacy group SOGICE Survivors said the new legislation was developed with detailed input from survivors of LGBTQA+ conversion practices, and is deeply grounded in the latest Australian research.

“This legislation has utilised many of the recommendations in the SOGICE Survivor Statement, which means that it is largely survivor-informed,” Csabs said.

“It is beyond exciting that this has resulted in gold-standard legislation that will act as a powerful deterrent, ultimately saving lives.”

Supporters of bill say it’s introduction was met with a substantial misinformation campaign mounted by conservative religious groups, due to the bill’s focus on practices occurring in religious contexts.

“Survivors are so pleased that the Victorian Parliament and broader community have rejected the myth that the bill was vague or excessive. In reality, a ban that did not cover informal, religious practices would not have been a ban at all, but rather an endorsement for the conversion movement’s activities to flourish,” Despott said.

SOGICE Survivors and Brave are now advocating for similar legislation to be adopted in every state and territory.

“The goal of both Brave Network and SOGICE Survivors is to see an end to the harm that conversion practices cause, so that all Victorians, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, can live authentically and with pride,” said Csabs.

“We now call on all other Australian states to follow Victoria’s lead and pass legislation that is equally effective in ending conversion practices.”

Rodney Croome, spokesperson for LGBTI+ rights group just.equal said the challenge now is not just getting other states to bring in legislation , but also getting those who have already passed laws to bring them up to the standard of the Victorian legislation.

“Victoria now has a gold-standard law against conversion practices which will stop these cruel practices and save the lives of LGBTIQ+ people.” Croome said.  “We urge other states and territories to follow Victoria’s lead.”

“That includes Queensland which has a sub-standard law because it fails to address conversion practices in religious settings which most such practices occur.”

Croome praised conversion practice survivor advocates for achieving landmark legislation.

“Survivor advocates have not only achieved this gold-standard law, they have awakened the nation to cruel, life-threatening practices that most Australians thought were in the past.”

“Australia owes survivor advocates a debt of gratitude, not least for the lives their work will save.”

What do Western Australia’s political leaders say about bringing in legislation to ban conversion therapy?

In the lead up to Western Australia’s state election just.equal has written to both Premier Mark McGowan and Liberal leader Zak Kirkup asking them to outline their policies on key issues relating to the LGBTIQ+ community.

Brian Greig, the Western Australian spokesperson for just.equal said now is the time for both leaders to outline their stance on the issue.

“Premier McGowan and Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup must outline their party positions on conversion practices and state whether or not they will ban and criminalise this cruel anti-LGBT behaviour after the March election,” Greig said.

Greig said conversion ideology was based on the notion that LGBTI+ people are “sick” and can be “cured.”

“LGBT conversion practices have been condemned by the Australian Medical Association and Australian Psychological Society as harmful and dangerous.

“The research shows that it doesn’t work and only leads to anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. However, in WA it remains legal – including against children,” Greig said.

In September last year, Labor’s Parliamentary Secretary for Mental Health, Alanna Clohesy MLC, told state parliament that the McGowan Government had “no current plans” to ban conversion practices.

However, Clohesy also said that if the government were to implement such legislation then a Bill “similar to Victoria’s, could be considered in the future.”

Back in 2018 Health Minister Roger Cook voiced his opposition to conversion therapy practices but suggested that better monitoring of health professionals might be the most appropriate way to address the problem.

Greig said just.equal had written to all party leaders on 15 December last year asking them to respond to six questions on LGBTI+ law reform.

“Issues included conversion practices, Inclusive Education, banning faith schools from expelling LGBTI students and teachers, transgender reform, intersex reform and hate-speech laws.

“We are still waiting to hear from the Labor, Liberal and the Nationals in response to these questions,” Greig said.

Graeme Watson

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