Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 - Legislation

10 December 2020

I too rise to speak on the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020. This bill is all about putting a stop to outdated, ineffective and, in some cases, truly barbaric practices that cause a lifetime of trauma and harm to LGBT Victorians. And I do want to start by saying to all LGBT Victorians: you are valid, you are loved and you cannot be fixed, because you were never broken; you are not broken to start with, and do not let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Now, it goes without saying that modern conversion and suppression practices today do not resemble the downright medieval practices of those in the 1950s. These days they are a lot more subtle but unfortunately no less damaging. They take the form of spiritual counselling and healing for sexual brokenness and are almost always hidden in the guise of religious and pastoral services. Now, in the extreme cases we know of it has also involved more abusive acts like beatings, electrocution and even rape, and I think it is obvious to all of us here today just how mentally scarring these practices really are and can be. It is definitely something that I have never had to worry about happening to me, but that does not mean that I do not know that these practices do not work; we all know they do not work. And it is not just us. Every credible medical authority in Australia, from the Australian Psychological Society to the Australian Medical Association, and even the United Nations, has condemned conversion therapy as lacking medical and scientific validity.

It is estimated that up to 10 per cent of LGBT Australians are vulnerable to conversion and suppression practices, and the long-term impacts, we know, are far worse. Just last year 16 per cent of LGBTI youth between the ages of 16 and 27 reported that they had attempted suicide. For bisexuals aged 18 and up, that number jumps up to 27.8 per cent. On top of this nearly 40 per cent of LGBT people aged 16 and over were diagnosed and treated for mental disorders in the last three years. These statistics are far, far too high, and these practices only add to these statistics. We need these numbers to come down, and we need to do that by making sure that LGBT Victorians have the right to feel safe, they have the right to feel valid and they most certainly have the right to feel loved, no matter who they are, where they go to school or, most importantly, what their family looks like.

I have had a lot of emails sent to me over the last week, and they have all raised very similar points. There are concerns that this bill aims to destroy freedom of religion in the family and that it stifles free speech, and there are concerns over gender identity and transgenderism. I thought it was appropriate to take this opportunity today when speaking on this bill to bust some of these myths, essentially, surrounding what this bill is truly about. It is important to start off by clarifying just exactly what conversion and suppression practices are defined as. The bill sets out three requirements. The conduct must be directed towards an individual, the conduct must be on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and the conduct must have the intention of changing their sexuality. What that means is that people can only engage in conversion practices if they single out an individual person on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and they seek to change them.

One of the biggest complaints that I have heard about this bill is that it is an infringement on religious freedom. You know, for the life of me I cannot see why banning conversion and suppression practices would necessarily stop someone from going to their local church or from holding their beliefs or their values. I think we need to make this clear: freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. Just as you have the right to practise your faith, others also have the right to not practise your faith. That is why I think it is a right on the part of LGBT Victorians to be kept safe from religious practices that are designed specifically to fill them with feelings of shame and feelings of disgust over who they are. We know that is not okay. Your faith does not give you the right to determine that someone else’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a problem that you can solve. Having interacted with a number of religious communities in my electorate, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, I can assure the house that they have enough positive aspects of their faith to pray on and act out without engaging in conversion practices. But more to the point, the bill does not actually make it illegal for you to follow your faith’s belief on sexuality, however much we may disagree. It does not ban statements, sermons or religious counselling in which one’s views on sexuality are stated.

Some of the concerns I have also heard are that this bill seeks to stop religious schools from teaching and practising religion, and that could not be any further from the truth, because this bill does not stop religious education and it does not stop schools from teaching the values and teaching the beliefs of their religion. But what it does do is that it stops schools from promoting, from encouraging or forcing a child to undergo practices that seek to change their sexual orientation and gender identity, such as sending them to the school chaplain for religious counselling. I think this change is appropriate. I say this, and I know this, because my children go to a local Catholic primary school, and let me tell you I do not know any teacher in that school that would subject a child to those kinds of practices. Because as much as our local religious schools are religious institutions—we know that—they are schools first, and like any other school, they owe their kids a duty of care. They have a duty to keep them safe, and that includes LGBT Victorian students. Let us be clear. Most LGBT kids do not choose which school they go to, especially at such a young age. They should not be punished for who they are because the school happens to disagree, and that is exactly what this bill makes clear.

Now, another key issue I see raised with the bill revolves around gender identity and transgenderism. I most certainly accept this is something that not everyone in our local community fully understands. It is complicated. But I do think there is a lot of misinformation out there about transitioning treatments and gender dysphoria. Misinformation about puberty blockers, hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery that seems to have been circulated in relation to this bill all fail to consider that existing laws are in place right now here in Australia relating to gender dysphoria and these treatment procedures. So for starters, no child will be subject to gender reassignment therapy because it is an adult surgery, and you need to be 18 to have that. You cannot begin to undergo hormone therapy until you are at least 15 or 16 years of age and then only after consulting with a paediatric endocrinologist, a psychiatrist and another mental health professional—and even then you need to go to court to get court approval and test for competency before you can go ahead with transitioning. This is not something that you just decide to do and go ahead and do overnight.

Nothing in this bill changes those procedures. I want to assure people out there in my community who worry about gender identity and transitioning procedures: you do not have to worry. The laws that govern these procedures are not a question of facts or feelings. They are based on medical guidelines and surgical standards. They are matters of psychiatry as much as biology. But what this bill does make clear is this: what children with gender dysphoria need is to speak to trained psychiatrists and speak to trained medical experts who want to understand what they are feeling and what they are going through, rather than go to counselling to change it.

Now, this bill certainly ensures that LGBT Victorians are given the protections they deserve from ineffective and harmful practices predicated on the belief that who they are is wrong. So by making conversion and suppression practices an offence, our government is sending a clear and powerful message that LGBT people here in Victoria are valid and equal. And that is why I am proud to commend this bill to the house.