Victoria’s ‘conversion therapy’ bill is too broad and too harsh

MercatorNet 25 January 2021
The Victorian government will soon be debating a “conversion therapy” bill. It has been introduced in response to reports by people of practices they experienced as harmful and traumatic (at the time or later) which were intended to change their sexual orientation or sexual behaviour from same-sex attracted to opposite sex attracted or suppress the expression of same-sex orientation or behaviour.

Historical practices included invasive and non-consensual medical and psychiatric aversion therapies which were abusive and are no longer practised. According to Attorney-General Jill Hennessy, contemporary change or suppression practices include counselling or psychology, formal behaviour-change programs, residential camps, support groups, and religious-based approaches like prayer and deliverance.  These contemporary practices are usually sought and consented to by a person who, at the time, wishes to change or manage their sexual desires.

But the Bill is not limited to these historical or contemporary practices. The Bill proposes to ban any conduct (including a conversation) by any person directed towards any second person on the basis of the second person’s sexual orientation (or gender identity) where the conduct is intended to “suppress or change” the second person’s sexual orientation (or gender identity) or induce the second person to suppress or change their sexual orientation (or gender identity).

The scope of ‘suppressing or changing’

Instead of trying to define and ban “harmful” conduct and practices, the Bill makes illegal all practices and conduct (including a conversation or family discussion, counselling, pastoral care, prayer) engaged in for the purpose of “suppressing or changing” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, even if the conduct was requested and consented to by the person and even if that person experienced the conduct as beneficial rather than harmful.

The first major problem with the Bill then is that it bans far too broad a range of conduct by any person – ranging from non- consensual aversion therapy (which should be banned) to consensual counselling which people are free to join and leave, and even a simple conversation within a family or between friends.

The second major problem with the Bill is that it assumes that no person can ever benefit from the contemporary practices and conduct which it bans and no person (including an adult) can be trusted to make the decision for themselves whether to start or stop engaging in such practices.

Yet there is significant evidence (such as a recent Australian study of 78 ex-LGB people) that some same-sex oriented people who were unhappy in that orientation freely chose to engage in some practices the Bill would ban (such as secular and religious counselling) and experienced them as highly beneficial (even preventing suicidal ideation) and as helping them move to what they describe as a contented heterosexual orientation and relationship (a change practice under the Bill) or a celibate life (a suppression practice under the Bill).

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