A landmark new report detailing the extent of conversion therapy practices in Australia has found that up to ten per cent of Australian LGBT people remain vulnerable to sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).
‘Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT conversion therapy in Australia’ reveals the experiences of 15 queer Australians who have endured conversion therapy.
“Our research has shown that LGBT conversion therapy remains a real problem in Australian religious communities,” said LaTrobe senior lecturer Dr Tim Jones.
“We hope that these communities will receive the report, reflect on the damage it exposes and work towards ending those harms for their LGBT members.
“The report reveals the immense trauma and grief participants felt at the prospect of having to choose between their faith or their gender and sexuality, both intimate and important parts of themselves.
“The psychological and spiritual trauma experienced by our participants, at their loss of faith, or their struggle to be accepted by their communities, was devastating,” Jones said.
The report says that simply banning conversion therapy – which surveys have indicated is the top political priority for LGBTI Australians – is not enough.
“We need stronger laws and support for survivors but also education about the harm caused by the cultural ideas and messaging prevalent within faith communities,” said Anna Brown, director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre.
“We particularly urge governments across the country to respond to the acute vulnerability of children and young people in religious communities.”
The report recommends banning conversion therapy practices against minors outright, while prohibiting the practices against adults when carried out by health or other professionals.
“While adults are free to participate in informal religious conversion activities such as prayer groups and ‘spiritual deliverance’, as harmful as they are, as soon as these practices involve children, or are provided by counsellors or other professionals, there is a role for the law to play in protecting people from psychological harm,” Brown said.
The report states that there are currently at least ten organisations currently promoting ex-gay and ex-trans therapies in Australia and New Zealand, and notes that ongoing ministries which have offered conversion therapy practices are now much less explicit in their messaging.
Brisbane-based Liberty Inc., which between 2016 and 2018 removed direct reference to conversion therapy on their website, now offers counselling for those “struggling with unwanted same sex attraction”.
Chris Csabs, a survivor of conversion therapy and outspoken advocate advocate against the practice, welcomed the report.
“My hope is that the recommendations made in the report are heeded by those in power and acted upon so that we can protect our community, and in particular our vulnerable young people, from this dangerous movement.
“The messaging of the movement that told me that I was ‘broken’ has caused long-term damage to me. I hope that this research is now used to stop the harm it continues to cause others in the LGBT+ community.”
Last month Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that conversion therapy was “not an issue” he was focused on, despite a petition – started by Csabs – bearing over 43,000 signatures being sent to the PM, among other high-profile politicians.
The Greens have since passed a motion in the Senate calling on the government to take action against SOCE.
In August, the Australian Christian Lobby slammed a draft Labor Party proposal to criminalise conversion therapy practices, calling it “an extraordinary attack on people of faith and parents’ rights.”
The ACL’s conversion therapy rhetoric now revolved chiefly around ex-trans therapy, with their director Martyn Iles fretting that “under Labor’s proposed new laws, Christian parents will become criminals and domestic abusers simply for affirming that their sons are boys and their daughters are girls.”
You can read the full report into conversion therapy practices in Australia by clicking here.