Greens Senator Janet Rice is calling on the Australian Federal Government to urgently implement a national ban on conversion therapy. In a speech to the Senate last Thursday, she urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to take action against the discredited and unethical practice.
In the moving and shocking speech, Rice shared the story of Chris, who knew he was gay at 10. Chris later came out to a church leader and at the age of 16 was sent to conversion therapy counselling.
“Gay conversion therapy is not as rare as you might think. Chris's story highlights how destructive, how damaging, this so-called therapy is, and why we need to stamp out this harmful practice once and for all," Rice said.
When Chris was 17, his church arranged for him to begin a conversion therapy program run by Living Waters Australia, the country's longest running conversion therapy practitioners.
According to Janet, Chris went to weekly meetings where “members spoke about their sins and they learned about the spiritual and experiential reasons that had led them to turn gay.”
Chris suffered so much guilt and shame from the therapy that he chose to stay celibate for years, telling Rice 'It was a pretty lonely way to live, really—but that's what I felt I had to do.”
“He believed there were demons inside him and was desperate to be healed. Can you imagine the fear he must have felt? He prayed to God, asking him to either heal him or kill him. Heal him or kill him. As you can imagine, the trauma associated with attempted gay conversion still affects Chris today. How could it not?” Rice told parliament.
According to Rice, research conducted by Dr Timothy Jones and others at La Trobe University shows that the use of conversion therapy is expanding in Australia and being pushed further underground. It is mainly offered by evangelical churches and ministries and is available through online courses.
Thankfully, Chris has learnt to accept himself as he is and is now flourishing, but Rice is calling for the government to protect all vulnerable LGBT children.
“We know that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer young people suffer much worse mental health than heterosexual young people. The fact that gay conversion therapy is still happening in 2018 is absolutely unacceptable. LGBTIQ people should be receiving support, education and understanding, not being funnelled into vicious programs that use shame and fear as 'conversion' tactics in the name of religion.”
The Australian Labor Party has announced that it will outlaw conversion therapy if it wins the next election, however the coalition government have so far refused to take action. In April, the Victoria Liberal Party State Council was set to debate allowing doctors to "offer counselling out of same-sex attraction or gender transitioning to patients who request it.” The debate was cancelled after Liberal State President Michael Kroger intervened to shut the issue down.
The managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Martyn Iles, has defended the use of conversion therapy and begun a fear campaign against the Labor party’s plan to ban it. In an article titled ‘They Want your Children" posted to the ACL website on June 26, he wrote:
“The truth is that under this ideology, someone’s subjective feelings about their sexuality or gender cannot be questioned, contradicted, counselled, or changed – even if the person were to desire help to change.”
“I hate to say it, but if these proposed laws see the light of day, children will be removed from Christian parents. Worse – Christians won’t be fit to parent unless they submit to the State’s teaching on sexuality and gender. Christian parents will become criminals and psychological and domestic abusers.”