Victoria’s gay conversion ­bill ‘to make counselling illegal’

The Australian 1 February 2021 – Rachel Baxendale
A bill to ban gay conversion ­therapy would criminalise counselling by mental health professionals for people experiencing gender dysphoria, according to a national body representing practising psychiatrists.

In a letter to Victorian ­Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes, National Association of Practising Psychiatrists president Philip Morris argues the bill, to be debated in the state upper house this week, is “based to a very large ­extent on erroneous and unscientific beliefs”.

The psychiatrists’ argument adds to similar views from civil libertarians, church groups and radical feminists who say that while they support a ban on ­coercive practices which attempt to change sexual or gender identity, they are concerned Victoria’s bill — which goes further than legislation in any other jurisdiction in the world — will have unintended consequences.

Dr Morris said he was concerned the legislation was premised on the belief that “there is no evidence that … gender identity can be changed”.

“This is an extraordinary proposition and is contradicted by a large body of medical and scientific evidence,” Dr Morris wrote in a letter co-signed by University of Queensland law professor Patrick Parkinson.

He cited the cases of 12 adolescents who as patients at London’s Tavistock Gender Identity ­Development Service initially sought to medically transition but decided against hormone treatment after counselling. “This is the psychotherapy counselling your bill seeks to discourage by threatening practitioners with jail terms,” Dr Morris wrote.

He said he regarded “therapeutic exploration” of gender dysphoria “in a way that may lead a patient to decide not to proceed with puberty blocking medication, cross-sex hormone treatment and sex-reassignment surgery” was “an ethical obligation for a health professional”, which would be criminalised under the proposed legislation.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said: “The right outcome is banning gay conversion therapy, but we need to make sure that some of the other things that (the government has) put into this bill … can be dealt with,” he said.

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