This is the first of a series of articles that I’m aiming to write on the topic of Gay Conversion Therapy. The Victorian Government has announced that it will introduce legislation in 2020 to ban Conversion Practice (Therapy) in Victoria. While the original issue was gay conversion therapy, the scope has been broadened to include any and all sexualities, including transgenderism.
I wrote on this topic twice last year, and on both occasions, I expressed concerns with conversation therapies. It is important for readers to hear that I am not supportive of certain practices. I have explained,
“To begin with, testimonies of gay conversion therapies are disturbing. Far from being ‘normal,’ these practices belong to fringe religious groups, finding little or no support amongst mainstream Christian Churches and theology. As a Christian, I do not support or agree with gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality. I feel for those who have undergone these traumatic experiences, wishing that they had not, and praying that they will find true and lasting recovery and peace.
The conversation is important because the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity.”
Having said this, and without taking anything away from Victorians who have been subject to dangerous and unethical practices, there are serious questions here and concerns that must be adequately addressed by the Government before considering any legislation.
The Government has invited Victorians to give feedback on the issue, although the process appears to be a furphy. In the same opening remarks that invite Victorians to offer their views, the Government also makes it clear that they intend to ban conversion practices.
“In February 2019 the Victorian Government committed to prohibiting harmful LGBT conversion practices.
Conversion practices are any practices or treatments that attempt to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
We’re asking Victorians to have their say. We want to know how you think the law can prevent the harm caused by LGBT conversion practices and protect and support LGBT Victorians.
The feedback you give us will inform the way the government approaches the ban and help shape the law.
The commitment to the ban follows the Health Complaints Commissioner Inquiry into Conversion Therapy report (HCC Report) which recommended the introduction of legislation to ban the practices in Victoria.”
Despite this Government exercise sounding awfully like a case of confirmation bias, I intend to proceed, for like I said above, “the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity.” In addition, there are also very real and relevant issues here relating to religious freedom. I will address these in a later post.
In this post, I want to draw your attention to the Report, Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice, which forms a basis for the forthcoming legislation. The Report was a joint exercise between 3 organisations, the Human Rights Law Centre, La Trobe University, and the Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria.
One might expect that an academic report of this importance would be thorough and broad, encompassing different perspectives and listening to a breadth of experiences, from those who have undergone conversion practices to those who have been practitioners and with others who have advocated against them.
Surely the researchers interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of people. Surely dozens of organisations were included in the process for comment, both religious and secular groups. Did they interview anyone who practices conversion therapy? The answer seems to be, no. The report upon which the Victorian Government is building its case to ban conversion practice depends largely on the stories of 15 individuals who each allege a negative experience of gay conversion practices.
“reveals the voices and lived experiences of 15 LGBT people who have struggled to reconcile their sexuality and transgender identities with the beliefs and practices of their religious community.”
“Nine participants identified as male and gay, two as female and lesbian, two as transgender, one as female and bisexual and one as non-binary. Thirteen participants were from Christian backgrounds, one from a Jewish background and one from a Buddhist background.”
Surely 15 individuals is an inadequate pool size from which to draw substantive conclusions. More importantly, the research appears to be guilty of sampling bias. The recruitment process was limited to a narrow range of networks, which inevitably biased the sampling group that would be chosen.
“Participants were recruited through social media, LGBTI media reportage of the project, and through various LGBTI, queer and ex-gay survivor networks. Participants were selected, using theoretical sampling, to be broadly representative of religious and LGBT demographics in Australia, and were screened for their psychological capacity to undertake an in-depth life interview about potentially traumatic personal histories.”
Significantly, no persons from Muslim, Hindu, or irreligious backgrounds were interviewed, and only persons who were negatively impacted are included in the report. While the 15 participants are Australians, it is not known how many were recipients of conversion practices in Victoria, which I would have thought is important for the given context.
It is also important to note that the report was co-written by an LGBTI advocacy group and by La Trobe University (which is famously responsible for orchestrating the Safe Schools curriculum). The credibility of the research is further weakened by the fact that the project steering committee consisted of representatives from LGBT lobby groups and progressive religious groups. To my knowledge, not one of the advisors represents a faith group that holds to the traditional understanding of sexuality and marriage. Why is that so?
In other words, from beginning to end, this report is skewed. Even before one word was written, the trajectory was obvious. In my opinion, the report is biased, narrow in its engagement with relevant parties, and relies on a selected group of advisors who are predisposed to criticise beliefs and practices that don’t fully support LGBTIQ ideologies and lifestyles.
Once again, I am not arguing against the experiences of the 15 people and neither am I advocating for the kinds of therapies mentioned in the report. Pseudo-psychological and or spiritual practices aimed at altering a person’s sexuality can be harmful. However, the Government’s adoption of the HRLC report is no way to put together public policy, let alone for establishing Government legislation. The HRLC report may be used as a position paper but little more.
Victorians have been given the impression that Conversion Practices are widespread across the country and endemic within religious organisations, especially among Christians. The report states that, “Nonetheless, the ideology of the conversion therapy movement has become mainstreamed in many conservative Christian communities.” The reality is very different, and despite comments like in the previous sentence, the report evidences that the practice is marginal at most.
When a journalist from the ABC contacted me back in 2017, to ask what I thought about gay conversion therapy, I answered,
“that sounds awful…I don’t know anyone who practices this and so I couldn’t even tell you who to speak to about it…I wouldn’t want anyone subject to this kind of counselling and I don’t know anyone who has been.”
If these conversion therapies are not a widespread and common practice throughout Victoria, one begins to ask, why is the Government making this into such a significant public issue, even warranting laws to prohibit practices that are voluntarily undertaken by people? I suspect part of the answer lays in the proposed definition of conversion practice, which will be the subject of my next post.
There was a typo earlier, which read HCC report, not HRLC. I have since fixed this