Christian Schools and "Conversion Practices"

Christian schools have serious concerns about legislation that outlaws “conversion practices” because…

We care about young people!

There is nobody who supports or condones the sort of coercive “gay conversion” practices which might have occurred in the context of psychological treatment and some faith communities in the middle of last century.  Such practices are abhorrent.

The legislation in place in Queensland, the ACT and most recently introduced in Victoria, the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practises Prohibition Act 2021 (VIC), however, go far beyond those practices, reaching into the heart of the current debate about caring for young people who are struggling with who they are, in particular their “gender identity”; whether they fit the cultural stereotypes around their sex or whether they might have a profound sense of difference.

The legislation that has been adopted are clearly ideologically driven, the objects of the ACT legislation, Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Act 2020 (ACT) make the intentions of that legislation clear –

“to affirm that—

(i)   all people have characteristics of sexuality and gender identity; and

(ii)  no combination of those characteristics constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency, disability or shortcoming…”

The Victorian Act goes further (clause 3) clearly aiming to ‘denounce’ opposing views, reflecting the Attorney-General’s statement on the day the Bill was first introduced that alternative views “won’t be tolerated in Victoria”. This is legislation designed to suppress any alternative views about gender and sexuality, not merely the abhorrent practices of the past.

The legislation, including the Victorian Act, have sweeping definitions of the actions caught up in their scope.  According to the Explanatory Memorandum for the Victorian Bill included within the scope of the “change or suppression practices” being addressed are mere “conversations with a community leader”.  This takes the Act far beyond the coercive practices of the past.  Indeed, the explicit exclusion of the ability to consent to such conversations reinforces the oppressive nature of the Act.

In 2019 a New Zealand Parliamentary Committee considered petitions to ban ‘conversion therapy’. The Committee recognised the vital need to allow questioning and advice in their Report which said (emphasis added) –

‘It is important that anyone with questions about their sexuality or gender identity feels comfortable seeking advice. This may be from a professional counsellor, family and friends, or within their religious community.

A ban on conversion therapy should not prevent anyone from seeking or providing such advice.”

For schools, as they walk with emerging adults as they establish their own identity and developing person-hood, this is essential.  For generations young people have sought the advice of teachers and other staff in matters far beyond the subject matter of a classroom.

In 2020, in the United Kingdom, the High Court considered the issue of consent for puberty blocking treatment.  The Court in their judgement raised concerns about the lack of investigation and research by proponents of the treatment into –

  • The 2,496% increase in referrals in less than a decade,
  • The significant change in the patient group, which is now predominately girls, and
  • The significant proportion of those presenting who also have a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

The Court went on to impose greater constraints on the use of puberty blockers, justifying this decision as follows:

“We express that view for these reasons. First, the clinical interventions involve significant, long-term and, in part, potentially irreversible long-term physical, and psychological consequences for young persons. The treatment involved is truly life changing, going as it does to the very heart of an individual’s identity. Secondly, at present, it is right to call the treatment experimental or innovative in the sense that there are currently limited studies/evidence of the efficacy or long-term effects of the treatment.

The legislation in ACT, Victoria and Queensland effectively entrench this type of treatment as the only option available.  This life changing treatment is explicitly protected in law, any alternative treatments, including “watchful waiting” are potentially criminal acts.  While we don’t expect mass prosecutions the effect of the threat of jail arising from subsequent complaints by a patient will make most health practitioners reluctant to explore alternative pathways.

Keira Bell, the young woman at the heart of the case in the UK, said of the decision:

“It was a judgment that will protect vulnerable young people. I wish that it had been made for me before I embarked on the devastating experiment of puberty blockers. My life would be very different today. … My hope was that outside of the noise of the culture wars the court would shine a light on this harmful experiment on vulnerable children and young people. These drugs seriously harmed me in more ways than one and they have harmed many more particularly young girls and women.”

While that UK decision was overturned on legal technicalities the observations made and noted above were not affected.

The legislation in Queensland, ACT and Victoria extinguish that hope.

There are increasing numbers of “Keiras” around the world, including within Australia.  Some of their stories are available here, but they are increasingly being documented around the world – despite considerable opposition.

The evidence being claimed to support the legislation is largely a 2018 publication by activist groups with support from La Trobe University, the origin of the deceitful and discredited ‘Safe Schools Program’. The report was based on untested claims now dating back up to 40 years, of 15 ‘survivors’ recruited through ‘social media, LBGTI media reportage of the project, and through various LGBTI, queer and ex-gay survivor networks’. This is used to support claims that this legislation “will save lives” by those such as the now Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights  Commissioner, Ro Allen.

The 2018 publication ignored the voices of those who have had a different experience, such as the 78 participants in a 2021 publication.  While sharing some of the same methodological shortcomings, it documents very different results, including a marked reduction in suicidal ideation –

“IT IS OF FUNDAMENTAL IMPORTANCE TO NOTE FROM THE STATISTICS OF THIS STUDY THAT BEING ABLE TO CHANGE THEIR SEXUAL ORIENTATION OR GENDER IDENTITY HAS POTENTIALLY SAVED MANY OF THESE PARTICIPANTS’ LIVES. 75.6% OF PARTICIPANTS HAD A NOTABLE AVERAGE BASELINE REDUCTION IN SUICIDAL IDEATION OF 39%.”

A 2018 peer-reviewed study of 1500 people found change therapy did not increase harm behaviours.

After “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), the study found that the non-SOCE group was statistically indistinguishable from the SOCE group on seven factors: substance abuse; alcohol dependence, self-harm; suicide ideation; suicide planning; suicide intentions; or suicide attempts.

The authors state that “sexual minority persons who had undergone failed SOCE therapy did not suffer higher psychological or social harm. Concerns to restrict or ban SOCE due to elevated harm are unfounded.”

In 2021, a ground-breaking Australian study revealed that children with gender dysphoria were presenting with severe behavioural issues that clinicians believed were entangled with their dysphoria.

The 5-year study of 79 children with gender dysphoria was conducted at a children’s hospital in Westmead, Sydney.

The study authors noted that “Key challenges faced by the clinicians included … the difficulties of untangling gender dysphoria from comorbid factors such as anxiety, depression, and sexual abuse.”

They conclude that their results strongly support a “biopsychosocial, trauma-informed model of mental health care” which is necessary to address “unresolved trauma and loss, the maintenance of subjective well-being, and the development of the self.”

The study strongly suggests that a child with gender dysphoria will not receive the best care solely by affirmation of their desires, as the Queensland, ACT and Victorian legislation blindly enforces.

This is a complex and multi-faceted issue – but bans on “conversion practices” only allow a “one size fits all” solution.

If we truly care about our young people we must not submit to the small number of loud voices wanting to impose their views through such legislation.

The best, most suitable care needs to be made available to each child, whether it aligns with the predetermined ideology of such legislation or not.

We must ensure that our voices are heard. 

Legislation to ban "conversion practises" in effect in Victoria

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021 (VIC) commenced operation in February 2022.

It is a highly complex bit of legislation, but some aspects are very clear:

The Bill is clearly ideologically driven, the objects (section 3) stating:

(2) In enacting this Act, it is the intention of the Parliament —

              (a)  to denounce and give statutory recognition to the serious harm caused by change or suppression practices; and
              (b)  to affirm that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not broken and in need of fixing; and
              (c)  to affirm that no sexual orientation or gender identity constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency or shortcoming; and
              (d)  to affirm that change or suppression practices are deceptive and harmful both to the person subject to the change or suppression practices and to the community as a whole.

The definition of change or suppression practice, section 5, is the broadest in the country, and possibly the world, prohibiting practices “for the purpose of:

(i) changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person; or
(ii) inducing the person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

So the practice itself does not need to have the purpose of changing or suppressing , it can simply be ‘inducing’ a person to themselves change or suppress.  Promotion of abstinence to those who may be same sex attracted would seem to fall squarely within this definition.

The consent of the person involved is irrelevant for the definition of change or suppression practice – those struggling with same sex attraction and seeking help to not act on their desires will have no avenue for assistance.

The definition of change or suppression practice explicitly targets people of faith, explicitly including with the definition of change or suppression practice – “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism”.  Indeed it is noted in the Explanatory Memorandum, which can be used by Courts in interpreting the legislation, that the definition is (emphasis added) –

“intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including, informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity, and more formal practices, such as behaviour change programs and residential camps.”

SIMPLY HAVING A CONVERSATION AS A ‘COMMUNITY LEADER’ WITH SOMEBODY IS INTENDED TO BE IMPACTED BY THIS LEGISLATION.

Attorney-General Jill Hennessy made the intention of the Victorian Government very clear that “These views won’t be tolerated in Victoria …” arguing that “”Our government is very firmly of the view that gay, lesbian and trans people, they don’t need to be fixed, they are perfect the way they are”.