Victoria has joined Queensland and the ACT in outlawing gay conversion therapy. but the archaic practice continues to avoid the spotlight on the federal level.
‘Gay conversion’ therapy has finally been outlawed in Victoria, with a new bill passing by a measure of 27-9. The bill makes it illegal to try and change or suppress a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
The laws follow similar reforms about the practice in Queensland and the ACT. Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown said that “this law sends a powerful message that LGBTQ+ people are whole and valid just as they are, and establishes powerful mechanisms to deal with incredibly harmful practices that LGBTQ+ people have, for too long, endured across Victoria,” she said.
Per the ABC, the bill “also gives power to Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to investigate and refer matters to the police. The law includes prison terms of up to 10 years or hefty fines for anyone caught trying to suppress or change someone’s sexuality by conducting suppression practices.”
Investigations reveal that gay conversion practices are prevalent in Australia, hidden in health services, schools and religious ministries that are informally linked to churches and counsellors.
They can take the form of exorcisms, prayer groups or counselling disguised as pastoral care. In such settings, gay people are offered “spiritual healing” in an attempt to exorcise the demons of their sexuality.
Some practitioners have used hypnosis and aversion techniques such as inducing nausea and vomiting when their ‘patient’ is shown ‘homosexual’ images.
“The preconception is that it’s an American thing that was exported to Australia and doesn’t exist any more,” explains La Trobe University academic Tim Jones. “If you’re in a Protestant church or you’re in any other form of conservative religious community, it’s likely that community will be linked into a network in which you’ll be able to be referred to someone for conversion therapy.”
There is no scientific or medical evidence to support the use of conversion therapies.
The practice is opposed by the Australian Psychological Society, the Australian Medical Association, and numerous other professional health and human rights bodies.
The 2015 Australian Psychological Society Position Statement wrote:
“There is no peer-reviewed empirical psychological research objectively documenting the ability to ‘change’ an individual’s sexual orientation… empirical evidence indicates that attempts at changing sexual orientation can be harmful.”
Federal government’s view
Former Federal health minister Greg Hunt says the government does not support gay conversion therapy, but defended Victorian Liberal members for proposing a motion to allow doctors to offer counselling out of same-sex attraction.
Mr Hunt had previously responded to questions on the prevalence of gay conversion therapy by saying “this is a matter for states.” After much criticism, he now says he is opposed to it and that the practice “… has not, and will never be, a policy under a Coalition Government.”
In April 2018, acting prime minister Michael McCormack said he had no view “one way or another” on the practice, saying he had not looked into the issue.
In 1993, while editor of the Daily Advertiser, Mr McCormack wrote a homophobic editorial about gay Australians and HIV/Aids wherein he argued that “a week never goes by anymore that homosexuals and their sordid behaviour don’t become further entrenched in society”, and adding:
“Unfortunately gays are here and, if the disease their unnatural acts helped spread doesn’t wipe out humanity, they’re here to stay.”
In 2019, in response to Labor suggesting that there should be a national ban on the practice, Scott Morrison told Sky News: “I don’t support gay conversion therapy, don’t recommend it, never have but it’s ultimately a matter for the states…I think we should focus on the things we actually have control over and that’s taxes. I’m looking to lower taxes.”
The Liberal Party is heavily supported by the Australian Christian Lobby. During last year’s marriage equality postal vote, the head of the lobby, Lyle Shelton, expressed the view that parents should have the option to send their children to gay conversion therapy.