Two years after it undertook to enact a law to ban sexuality and gender identity conversion practices, the ACT government last week introduced the legislation in the Assembly.

Unlike the law passed in Queensland and panned by survivors for not going far enough, the ACT’s Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill 2020 does not restrict itself to only health settings. The ACT law also prohibits religious individuals and faith-based institutions from carrying out practices that seek to change an individual’s sexuality and gender identity.

“Conversion practices are based in an ideology that LGBTQI people are ‘broken’ or ‘unnatural’ and encompass a wide range of activities that seek to ‘fix’ people, so that they become or express a heterosexual or cisgender identity,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said while placing the bill before the Assembly.

Barr, Australia’s first openly gay government leader, pointed out that such practices are not supported by science or the medical community.

“Evidence from survivors of conversion practices in the ACT and Australia reveals the extent and long-term impact of this harm.

Conversion practices can cause depression, suicidality, anxiety, decreased capacity for intimacy, poor self-esteem and social isolation. Survivors report that it can take a whole lifetime to undo the damage caused.”

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 The law proposes fines of up to $24,000 and prison terms of up to 12 months for performing harmful conversion practices on a child or a person with impaired decision-making ability or taking them out of ACT to subject them to such ‘therapies’, irrespective of a parent or a guardian consenting to such procedures.

The law also allows for a person harmed by conversion practices to lodge a complaint before the ACT Human Rights Commission. The provisions of the proposed law do not apply to supporting a person who is undergoing or considering gender transition.

Conversion practice survivors said that the ACT law goes much beyond Queensland in dealing with those who claim to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity.

“We are glad to see that the ACT biIl includes prohibitions on conversion practices performed by any person, as opposed to the Queensland legislation that is limited to health service providers,” Chris Csabs of SOGICE Survivors told Star Observer.

“We still need greater clarity regarding preventive measures, including strategies for dealing with referrals, advertising, and false and misleading claims made in informal spaces about the origin and nature of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. SOGICE Survivors also advocates for a redress scheme to enable survivors to have the best chance of accessing the support they need,” said Csabs.

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 According to SOGICE Survivors, “a vast majority of survivors have gone through conversion practices in religious or informal settings.”

The Australian Christian Lobby has already targeted the ACT bill, claiming the proposed law will “potentially turn parents, teachers, and pastors, into criminals if they teach a traditional view of sexuality.”

Chief Minister Barr addressed these concerns in the Assembly saying the proposed law was not about religious practices.

“This Bill is not about banning religious expression. This Bill is about protecting vulnerable people from harm.

“The ACT Government recognises that faith can be an important part of our lives, and we seek to create a community where LGBTQI people can practice their own faith in a way that includes and supports them in a safe way. With the passage of this Bill, religious individuals and institutions will still be able to teach their faith and provide guidance as to how to abide by religious tenets. They will only be prohibited from carrying out those practices directly targeted at changing an individual’s sexuality or gender identity.”

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 Minister for Justice Shane Rattenbury in a statement said that conversion practices were based on a bogus ideology and “transphobia and homophobia in all their forms have no place in Canberra.”

Last week Queensland became the first state in Australia to ban conversion practices. The Queensland law says that a health professional who carries out conversion practices is liable to be punished with fines and a jail term of upto 12-18 months.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews had in February 2019  made a commitment to ban conversion practices, but the government has yet to make good on this promise. In July 2020, the Labor opposition in South Australia said it would introduce a private member’s bill later this year to prohibit conversion practices.

Sign Equality Australia’s petition seeking an end to harmful LGBTQI conversion practices.

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