Developments in Australia suggest an improvement in LGBTQ+ community relations with regard to conversion therapy. The Australian Capital Territory followed Queensland in criminalising practises attempting to carry out treatments on those with ‘diminished decision-making capabilities and children’. 

The United Nations define conversion therapy as “violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity”. Conversion ideology presents sexual and gender minorities as mentally unwell and often deploys language such as ‘cure’, ‘heal’ and ‘correct’ to attract vulnerable individuals. There is also a marked financial vulnerability present in victims as the practise is completely fraudulent, resulting only in distress. 

The new legislation can punish medical practitioners with up to 12 months in prison and a AU$24,000fine, but critics of the new legislation say that the amendments to law make little difference to the overall scope of the damage caused by the pseudoscience. 

Chris Csabs, lead campaigner for Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Change Efforts- a voice for survivors, tells OutNewsGlobal that the new legislations are still lacking “There are several recommendations and nuance that SOGICE Survivors advised should be included that were not.” 

Pic: @julfe

Chris, now 35, was only 16 when he first experienced conversion therapy at the behest of a religious minister, who also ran a prominent ‘ex-gay’ program at the time. Living Waters was present in many western countries, including Australia and Canada, and engaged with LGBT individuals, issuing informal prayer seeking ‘healing’ from so-called sexual and/or identity afflictions. 

The SOGICE advice notes that ‘The ideology often connects LGBTQA+ identity to early childhood developmental issues such as trauma and abuse.’ Chris notes that his relationship with his father was discussed in relation to his sexual orientation. 

Most attempts at ‘conversion’ occur in religious settings- often referred to as “ex-gay ministry”- whereby the moral and legitimate ways in which law can interfere remain challenging. 

The new laws ban a medical professional, perhaps a therapist or counsellor, from legally offering ‘change treatments’ or ‘conversion therapies’- it doesn’t restrict the ability of a religious community leader to offer similar services in a pastoral role. 

“The vast majority of conversion practices occur in informal settings, generally in a religious context. Unlike the Queensland legislation, the ACT legislation is not limited to therapeutic/health contexts, and attempts at changing a persons sexual orientation or gender identity in a religious setting are not exempt.” 

SOGICE highlight the differences between religious expressions and damaging practises “There is a marked difference between conservative religious homo/bi/transphobia and conversion ideology. The first is rooted in religious beliefs about ‘sin’, a religious doctrine that does not always align with modern secular and ethical values. 

Conversion ideology, on the other hand, is a contemporary pseudo-science grounded in psychoanalytic hypotheses developed in the 19th century then later abandoned by modern psychology in the mid-20th century.”

Striking the balance between religious freedom and the mental health of LGBT persons is a fine line-one that is important to SOGICE- “Freedom of belief must be protected, however activities, behaviour and practices that infringe on the rights of other human beings cannot be reconciled with the right to religious freedom. 

“Faith communities and religious Australians currently have the freedom to believe and preach what they like, for example, about whether or not being LGBTQA+ is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. They are not free, however, to harm or promote harm towards LGBTQA+ people. Freedom of belief does not equate to freedom of behaviour and it certainly does not equate to freedom from consequences.

“We wish to make clear that a faith community that merely preaches that homosexuality is a sin would not be considered to be involved in LGBTQA+ conversion practices.

“However, if the faith community preached that, for example, LGBTQA+ people can be ‘fixed’ and need to seek ‘healing’, this would be promoting harm towards LGBTQA+ people, as conversion ideology and practices are known and understood to be significantly harmful to LGBTQA+ people.”

Had Chris been in the ACT at the time of this new legislature, he would have qualified as a victim of an unlawful practise, due to his age when conversion therapies were first introduced to him. However, even within the new laws, it’s difficult to incorporate ways in which to help people recover from the process. 

“I wanted to retain my faith, and many of them saw that as part of the problem. Finding appropriate help when leaving the conversion movement was one of the hardest things because most mental health professionals, counsellors, whilst well-intentioned, had no idea how to support me.” 

How Are Other Countries Taking A Stance? 

So far, The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights notes that only three countries worldwide- Brazil, Malta and Ecuador-have nationwide bans on conversion therapies. 

The Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity at the OHCHR – Mr Victor Madrigal-Borloz has initiated dialogue with the international community to try and encourage more countries to adopt bans. 

France, Norway and Israel are currently leveraging bills to offer nationwide bans similar to the above nations. 

Germany and Albania have adopted nationwide ‘restrictions’ on the practices, with regional bans being implemented in Australia, Canada, Mexico, Spain and certain states in the USA. 

The movement #EndConversionTherapy prompted Instagram and Facebook to ban the promotion of conversion therapy practises on their respective platforms- An important distinction, as in the majority of countries with some restrictions, referrals and advertising of conversion therapies are not banned. 

Pic: @sharonmccutcheon

The United Kingdom 

Mr Madrigal-Borloz notes the UK has ‘committed to introducing national bills addressing conversion therapy’. The UK government pledged to offer restrictions on the practice in 2018- this still hasn’t materialised. A ‘progress report’ was released in 2019 stating the process will begin shortly- it, also, hasn’t materialised. 

One in twenty LGBT individuals are said to be offered ‘conversion therapies’, with a select few even being suggested so through the NHS- which at present time is not illegal

Speaking in July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said ‘conversion therapy’ was “absolutely abhorrent” and had “no place in civilised society”. 

In multi-cultural areas of Britain, where there is a stronger affiliation to religion, the level of homophobia is just shy of double the average rate of the rest of the country. A 2015 YouGov poll shows homophobic values to be at 29% in London, and 16% in rural Britain. 

Yet the impetus to amend these laws may be lost in the backdrop of the pandemic and Brexit negotiations. 

Canada 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has prorogued government In Canada, putting a halt to the amendments of many bills, including Bill C-8, which aims to criminalise conversion therapy brought upon an individual ‘against their will’. 

The language used in the proposed bill highlights problems similar to those faced in Australia. This bill will also aim to stop the enforcement of conversion therapies, but doesn’t ban the practise outright in all its forms. 

The Minister of Justice David Lametti says the bill rightly aims to ‘criminalise where there has been coercion’, but he remains steadfast that consenting adults are not a risk group. ‘We felt that a competent adult could, conceivably, defend their right in court to consent to this kind of activity.’ 

Thereby lays the fundamental issue in the new legislature- as the probability of an adult challenging their choice to undergo conversion therapy remains highly unlikely and therefore forgoes the previous psychological distress an individual must have been endured in the initial instance. 

Poland 

Despite joining the EU in 2004, Poland’s willingness to adopt the European stance on human rights remains tentative at best. 

Poland’s LGBT community were dealt insult to injury as an Episcopal meeting lead to the production of a 27-page dossier outlining ‘solutions’ to the LGBT population. 

The document admits, perhaps to avoid condemnation, that ‘conversion therapy’ is “in contradiction” to scientific evidence. However, so called “testimonies” are referenced as legitimate proof in combatting the proposed issue of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

In concurrent with the general sentiment surrounding conversion therapy, the Polish report notes that variations of orientation and identity are akin to a mental illness, suggesting that “sexuality wasn’t an irrevocable or irretrievable coding” and was instead simply a “symptom of wounds of their personality”. 

How Do Western Values Continue To Uphold Intolerance? 

It has been wrongly argued that in a democratic society, a person should always have the ‘choice’ to explore the possibility of changing their sexuality or gender identity. However, this just acts as a guise and loophole for which institutions use to pray on the vulnerable. 

Chris says “One of the issues I have with the argument that adults should be able to ‘choose’ to subject themselves to conversion practices is that in my experience, including many years involved in faith communities and advocacy, I have never come across an adult who has chosen to subject themselves to conversion practices without first having been subjected to harmful conversion ideology over several years, and most often as a child or teenager.” 

The SOGICE full statement can be found here.

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