QLD Has Banned Conversion Practices, But Survivors Are Demanding More
People all over the world have had to endure traumatic, unethical practices aimed at realigning their sexual and gender identities for years.
Queensland has now become the first state in Australia to make these conversion practices illegal.
But survivors are saying that the new ban kind of misses the mark by focusing on health care which really doesn’t cause most of the harm. It’s the unethical religious and social beliefs that underpin conversion practices which need to stop.
I want to understand what actually needs to be done to protect those at risk of conversion practices and essentially, why survivors aren’t celebrating the new law.
Conversion practices first started because some people of faith genuinely believe that LGBTIQ people are born broken, and that with enough ‘therapy’ their sexual orientation, gender identity or same-sex attractions can be ‘cured’.
It’s a completely baseless idea that fundamentally goes against the basic human rights all people are entitled to.
But this didn’t stop the theology from spreading, and as the idea grew it ultimately subjected people all around the world – including children – to some pretty awful treatments aimed at realigning their identities in one way or another.
Nathan Despott: “I went through 10 years of conversion practices and it affected me deeply.”
That’s Nathan Despott, a survivor of conversion practices who co-founded the Melbourne-based support group Brave Network.
Forms of conversion practices still exist today under more covert names like counselling, pastoral care, prayer ministry, or support groups.
Survivors like Nathan have debunked the ‘therapy’ myth because it is so far from that, and they’ve been fighting for the practice to be banned for a while.
Which is why the news about Queensland’s ban might sound like good news, and it is.
But not completely.
Why The QLD Ban Isn’t Enough
Nathan told me that under Queensland’s new law, only healthcare professionals could face up to 18 months in jail for continuing conversion practices.
ND: “The legislation, by focusing narrowly on health service providers and by not including reference to survivor support, referrals, advertising and therapeutic fraud – by not focusing on informal settings and practices – it basically avoids 99% if you like, of the harm.”
Nathan worries that the new law is being prematurely celebrated by the government, when really a lot more needs to be done if conversion practices are actually going to stop happening.
ND: “Essentially what we want to see is states and territories understand that regardless of whether you’re a trained professional or, a qualified or licensed professional or, whether you’re an informal pastoral care worker – if you are making claims that are therapeutic claims, that are pseudo-scientific and totally opposed by peak health bodies, people believe in what you’re saying and are being harmed as a result.”
The Australian Psychological Society came out in strong opposition to conversion practices in 2015, and the Victorian Government has been working closely with Brave Network for six years now, planning stronger intervention through community support, education and research.
And it’s these types of social changes that survivors want to see, the ones that can combat the everyday messages survivors like Nathan were taught within his faith and community.
ND: “’You’re psychologically dysfunctional, you need healing, you can successfully suppress these things without much harm to yourself’. Believing these things about yourself deeply causes incredible mental health issues that can last for years and decades into people’s lives moving forward.”
One of the biggest challenges for the people who are trying to see a complete end to conversion practices is that some organisations like the Australian Christian Lobby are protecting this harmful theology under Australia’s religious freedom bill – which Nathan is hoping will be scrapped by the federal government.
ND: “What a lot of these conservative groups try to push is that these false and misleading claims and therapeutic, fraudulent claims are actually part of their deeply held, traditional sort of theology. And no you don’t get to draw a circle around that and say that it’s part of religious freedom.”
While Queensland’s ban on conversion practices is a step in the right direction, advocacy groups are campaigning for people to know that Australia still has a really long way to go in ensuring both the equality and safety of LGBTIQ+ people.
And a successful marriage vote or one ban in one state isn’t nearly enough to stop the ongoing trauma and discrimination that the community still face.