Sixteen Uniting Church ministers have in a joint letter extended their support to the ACT government’s new law that seeks to ban sexuality and gender identity conversion practices.

This is in sharp contrast to conservative Christian organisations that have in the past two weeks upped the ante against the Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill 2020, that they claim will turn pastors, teachers and parents into criminals.

The ACT legislative assembly is scheduled to take up the bill for discussion on Thursday and a group of 16 ministers from Uniting Churches in the territory have sent a joint letter to 25 MLAs saying they support it.

“As Christians, we support this legislation. Not all of our fellow Christians hold this position. However, we are very clear about our commitment to support this piece of legislation,” the letter said.

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 John Squires, Presbytery Minister of Canberra Region Presbytery is the author of the letter, which he said he drafted  after seeking the opinion of Uniting Church ministers in ACT.

“It has become increasingly clear that gender identity, and sexual orientation, as key elements of human identity, each exist on a spectrum. Neither is confined to a binary state. Humanity is not comprised, simply of heterosexual males and heterosexual females,” said the letter, adding, “we believe that it is important not to invalidate, undermine, or challenge the identity of any individual. It is vital that, in accepting people as they are, we accept their sexual orientation, and their gender identity, without qualification.”

The letter cited the Australian Medical Association’s opinion about the harm caused by conversion practices, as well as other Christian leaders in the UK endorsing a ban on the procedure. The ministers referred to the long-term harm caused by conversion practices, including, “depression, suicidality, anxiety, decreased sexual function, poor self-esteem, social isolation, and decreased capacity for intimacy/”

“We do not wish to see any activity that produces such results encouraged,” the letter said.

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 Chief Minister Andrew Barr had placed the law before the legislative assembly on August 13, 2020. The law prohibits practices that seek to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity

Anyone who breaches the law and performs conversion practices on a child or a person with impaired decision-making ability or takes them out of the ACT to subject them to such “therapies” can be punished with fines of up to $24,000 and prison terms of up to 12 months. A parent or guardian’s consent to such practices is immaterial.

A person harmed by conversion practices can lodge a complaint before the ACT Human Rights Commission. Supporting a person who is undergoing or considering gender transition is not prohibited.

Queensland, which became the first state in Australia to ban conversion practices earlier this month, had restricted the application of the law only to health professionals. The ACT law does away with this and applies to health and other settings including religious places, which according to survivors are where a majority of conversion practices occur.

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 A 2018 report by La Trobe University and Human Rights Law Centre found that “up to 10% of LGBTQI Australians are still vulnerable to harmful conversion therapy practices.”

The research added that “conversion therapy teaching and practice remain pervasive in Australia’s mainstream, conservative Protestant Christian communities, as well as in conservative Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist communities.”

The Australian Christian Lobby has claimed that the ACT law would turn “parents, teachers, and pastors, into criminals if they teach a traditional view of sexuality.”

Melbourne-based group Binary Australia, that claims gender is binary, was called out by Barr for indulging in a robocall campaign about the ACT conversion practices law.

 

Jacob Ingram, a Labor candidate for the ACT election, said he had received an email from Binary Australia threatening him with negative ads if he supported the bill banning conversion practices.

Today I got an email from ‘Binary Australia’ threatening to blackmail me with negative ads if I support Labor’s bill to…

Posted by Jacob Ingram for Kurrajong on Tuesday, 25 August 2020

The ACT government said the law “will not prevent religious schools from teaching the tenets of their faith,including teachings on homosexuality or gender identity. It is aimed only at practices that actively seek to change the sexuality or gender identity of a person.”

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