Victorian Conversion Practices Ban: The legislative faucet directing sexual flow

22 November 2019

5.4 MINS

The Victorian Government has already committed to prohibiting what it calls ‘harmful LGBT conversion practices’ and is seeking the community’s views on the best way to implement this ban. (due 24 November)

Given the breadth of the definition of ‘conversion practices’ — sometimes called ‘gay conversion therapy’ — it’s disappointing there wasn’t a broader community consultation into ‘if’ some of these practices should be banned rather than simply ‘how’ the ban should be implemented. But that’s Victorian politics.

What is really being banned?

Conversion practices to be banned, includes any practice — yes that’s any practice — or treatment that seeks to change, suppress or eliminate an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to reduce or eliminate sexual and/or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender, or efforts to change gender expressions.

The Executive Summary of Health Complaints Commissioner (HCC) Report on the Inquiry into Conversion Therapy summarized that ‘there is widespread condemnation of any form of sexual orientation change effort in Australia and overseas.’ I don’t know if anyone else can see the irony in that.

It’s not ‘any form’ of sexual orientation change effort that’s being condemned. It’s just any effort in changing toward what has been defined as heteronormativity. No-one will be permitted to advocate directing sexual flow toward age-old acceptance of the binary nature of physicality. This ban will act as a faucet to ensure legally-sanctioned sexuality flow is only one way.

So much for freedom of choice.

When gender-fluidity advocates only apply the concept of fluidity in one direction, both fluidity and free agency become meaningless words and mere illusions. It’s an affront to freedom of choice.

On the one hand, the government is legislating that children, developmentally immature and minors before the law, must be supported in their decisions about who they are as sexual beings and empowered to make adult choices about this.

Meanwhile, mature adults who may have rethought that position through lived experience, by virtue of this legislative faucet banning advocacy for change, will be denied the opportunity to receive advice about how to facilitate the desired change.

The HCC Report does note that ‘Conversion therapy/practices’ does not include any practice or treatment that … ‘provides acceptance, support and understanding of an individual, or facilitates an individual’s coping, social support and identity exploration and development … ‘as long as such practices or treatments do not seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.’

But where do those people go who do seek to change? Simply put, this tells individuals who freely change their own mind about what’s best for them, that others can’t affirm their desire to change or assist in that process. Legislation suggests an individual with unwanted sexual feelings must accept and follow those feelings, rather than exercise their will to control them and go against the flow. Surely people should be free to do that!

The Last Prejudice: Against Ex-Gays and Trans Regret

The definition of what constitutes ‘Conversion Practices’ is too broad and the idea of fluidity too narrow. While any coercive practices to ‘convert’ a person against their will are clearly not desirable, the definition presented seems to also prohibit offering a response to those who freely seek an inward change; a change that many others have undertaken quite successfully. Those successes appear to have been overlooked in calling for the ban.

This joint initiative of La Trobe University, the Human Rights Law Centre and Gay & Lesbian Health Victoria has ignored the 20 renowned empirical case studies that demonstrate over a 40-year period that there has been considerable success in assisting individuals with unwanted orientation issues and/or same-sex attraction.

James Parker has written passionately about this from his own experience and research. The website Sex Change Regret is devoted to the multitudes of people who do regret their decisions and may have benefited from counselling earlier, rather than live with the consequences of hormone blockers and surgery.

Where is the discussion paper that supports their de-transitioning and offers support for the physical and psychological harm they have endured by those committed to the ‘one-way flow’ in sexual expression? They are the ideological outcasts going against the tide.

Parents Usurped by the State

Parents first and society at large have the burden of obligation to support and do no harm to children. They should have primary responsibility for them. International law offers as a human right the opportunity for parents to raise their children according to their own values and beliefs. That’s parents, not the state.

The Victorian state government seeks to usurp that right under the guise of reducing harm. It is in fact a matter of definitions and re-definitions with little consensus about what causes ‘harm.’

Sexual Promiscuity Over Self-Control

The HCC Report highlights how we are speaking at cross-purposes, concluding that advocates for celibacy and abstinence are causing harm. They make this observation without regard to the harm individuals may suffer from engaging in high-risk sexual activity. Causing or avoiding – these are polar opposites requiring a broader engagement with communities.

With regard to minors before the law, one would think that abstinence would offer the less harmful approach. It has been said ‘if in doubt, go without’ – and those seeking assistance for unwanted same-sex attraction or identity confusion are in doubt.

When it comes to the developing mind, body, soul and worldview of children, surely the wait-and-see approach is less harmful than an early fixation on their sexuality, and the formation of an identity which is primarily based on sexuality.

The heartbreaking story of 19 year-old Nathaniel and his regrets following what he describes as his ‘Frankenstein hack job’ is a poignant case in point.

Broadening the Definition of “Child Abuse”

The Conversion Practices Discussion Paper notes: ‘It would also be possible to amend existing child abuse regulation to clarify that they include conversion practices.’

If child abuse regulations were to include conversion practices as child abuse, will concerned parents, family or community members who recommend abstinence in the child’s best interest, be at risk of prosecution for their ‘conversion practices/child abuse?’

Under this broad legislative framework, will they be classified as child abusers? Is there no protection for the nations Nathaniels who were counselled to mutilate their bodies, and now have to live with the physical and psychological pain of regret?

Decisions Taken in Maturity

There are many decisions that mature adults make on behalf of minors in order that they have the opportunity to mature and become fully-informed themselves. Ultimately, they will form their own views about a whole gamut of issues including sexuality.

Given sexual fluidity and the whirlpool of emotions young people may experience is accepted, surely damming up the direction of flow through a narrative and legal structure that bans counselling to resist those feelings may prove more harmful.

Research has demonstrated that gender dysphoria in children overwhelmingly settles in adulthood and the direction may change. Therefore, only encouraging them to follow their immature (i.e., not fully developed) thoughts and emotional responses is a reckless exercise on behalf of those who should support their full development to free agency as adults.

All parents, carers and counsellors should demonstrate a duty of care, and parents should have the primary care responsibility. It is coercion that is troubling, particularly when it comes to children and other more vulnerable citizens.

This ban is a coercive measure which not only undermines the voice of family and community, but silences those who would listen to and affirm an individual’s expression of legitimate doubt about their feelings, orientation or gender identity.

Citizens are on notice that

‘The impact of a ban of conversion practices on the right to freedom of religion may be justified given the nature and extent of the harm described in the HCC and HRLC Reports. Legislation to implement the government announced ban on conversion practices needs to demonstrate that it is necessary, effective, and proportionate to protect LGBT individuals from harm.’

Necessary, effective, and proportionate…’ Yet people change their minds, and shouldn’t they have that opportunity? How can we honestly talk about the harm of offering an alternative support narrative, when we see the unnecessary, ineffective and disproportionate harm suffered by our Nathaniels?

This type of ban is totalitarian in nature, and harmful to genuine fluidity and free agency. The best way to implement this ban is simply not to.


Photo by FransA from Pexels.

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