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Australian Capital Territory bans ‘conversion therapy’, including by religious groups

Australian Capital Territory bans ‘conversion therapy’, including by religious groups

  • Campaigners who condemned Queensland’s ‘useless’ law welcome ACT ban, giving it seven out 10.
Sunrise in Canberra.

LGBT+ campaigners have welcomed the Australian Capital Territory’s new ban on ‘conversion therapy’ but say it could be even better.

The ACT – the small territory surrounding Australia’s capital, Canberra – passed the Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill earlier today.

Campaigners gave the new law a ‘seven out of 10’. They say it is far better than the law Queensland passed which they concluded was ‘useless’. However, they say the ACT’s ban ‘still falls short of the optimum position sought by survivor groups’.

The law bans anyone from attempting a ‘treatment’ or practice to change another person’s sexuality or gender identity. This includes counseling based on misleading claims that people can be ‘cured’ to become straight or that trans people are ‘broken’.

Furthermore, unlike Queensland, the ACT ban covers religious organizations which carry out the vast majority of the so-called therapies.

Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown said:

‘While no law can fix a complex social problem on its own, this law represents an important step along the way to ending the harm caused by these damaging practices.’

Likewise Chris Csabs from Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Change Efforts (SOGICE) Survivors said:

‘In passing this law, the ACT government has sent a strong message that conversion practices, whether performed by a health professional, a religious leader or any other person, are not to be tolerated.’

‘Seven out of 10’

Australian LGBT+ campaigners and ‘conversion therapy’ survivors strongly criticized the state of Queensland’s ban. They feared other states would copy the religious exemption Queensland granted – rendering the bans useless.

So far, only Queensland and the ACT have addressed the issue.

However, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania are all looking at bans. Meanwhile Australia’s other states – New South Wales and Western Australia – as well as the Northern Territory are still to act. So the ACT’s model may set a precedent.

Ivan Hinton-Teoh is a Canberra resident and spokesperson for national LGBT+ lobby group Just-Equal. He said:

‘The ACT legislation covers religious and informal settings which the Queensland legislation does not.

‘This is a vast improvement given that religious and informal conversion practices are the most common.

‘The ACT legislation also focuses on the intent of the practitioner and gives broad investigative powers to the ACT Human Rights Commission.

‘On the downside, the ACT legislation doesn’t properly address therapeutically false, damaging and misleading claims; referrals and advertising related to conversion practices; and attempts to suppress sexual orientation and gender identity.

‘Overall Just-Equal welcomes the ACT legislation as a step forward and rates it as seven out of 10.’

Meanwhile Brave Network and SOGICE Survivors encourage the ACT government to reject claims from conservative opponents that the definition of ‘conversion’ in the bill is too broad.

Nathan Despott from Brave Network said:

‘This law is ground-breaking as the first Australian example of legislation that successfully separates pseudoscientific conversion ideology from legitimate religious theology.

‘[It rejects] the myth that the damaging and misleading claims at the heart of conversion practices are a core part of religious tradition.’

The LGBT+ advocates hope Australia’s next ban will include all the advice from survivors’ groups.

‘Conversion therapy’ bans around the world

Psychologists and psychiatrists around the world agree that LGBT+ identities can’t be changed by ‘conversion therapy’. Moreover, experts say the ‘therapies’ and ‘cures’ are often dangerous. In some cases they even involved torture.

As a result, many countries are now considering bans.

So far only Malta, Ecuador, Brazil, Taiwan and Germany have introduced legal bans.

However, Israel, Canada, The Netherlands, UK, Ireland, Australia and Chile are also considering outlawing ‘conversion therapy’.

There are already bans in 20 US states: New Jersey, California, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New Mexico, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington, Hawaii, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado, Utah and Virginia as well as Washington DC and Puerto Rico.

Moreover, Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for the presidency, has promised he will ban the ‘therapies’ if he gets to the White House.

Meanwhile international LGBT+ organization ILGA World predicted 2020 could be a breakthrough year on the issue worldwide.