ACT’s conversion therapy ban puts practitioners at risk

Canberra Times 26 August 2020
The Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill, introduced into the ACT Assembly a couple of weeks ago, has become embroiled in controversy. It arises out of lobbying by members of the LGBT community to ban “conversion therapy”, in the context of past practices seeking to change people’s sexual orientation. However, the main controversy about the bill concerns its prohibition of what it describes as “gender identity conversion practices”.

Penalties for engaging in a “conversion practice” are severe. Practitioners are liable to 12 months’ imprisonment; but so too are parents who take their children out of the ACT for the purpose of such a conversion practice being performed on a child.

The ACT government has good intentions, but the criminal law should be absolutely clear. People have a right to know what conduct breaches the law so that they can avoid committing an offence. Herein lies the problem. The definition of a “conversion practice” is extraordinarily vague. It is “a treatment or other practice the purpose, or purported purpose, of which is to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity”. No examples are given, such as aversion therapy, which decades ago was seen by some as an appropriate means of correcting an unwanted same-sex orientation. The bill is scarcely about gay conversion therapy at all.

The bill at least explains what conversion therapy is not. It is lawful to assist a person undergoing a gender transition or considering doing so, or to express their gender identity. All the examples the bill gives of what is not a “conversion practice” concern approaches that affirm a person’s gender identity and assist them to transition.

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