conversion therapy

ABC Coverage of Conversion Therapy Laws is Misleading: Here’s Why

28 July 2022

8.5 MINS

A recent ABC “report” has grossly and blatantly distorted the debate around conversion therapy in Tasmania, strongly weighing in favour of the potentially detrimental legislation. This article is my reaction and response to the video.


The report is written by ABC’s Courts and Environment reporter Lucy McDonald, a reporter self-admittedly “Prone to occasional feminist rants”.

Not entirely sure what I’m getting myself into, I click play.

The video begins with a short reflection on the outcome of the 2017 same-sex marriage campaign. It draws on sentimental, heartwarming and celebratory “yes”-vote scenes.

I notice that the millions of Australians who voted against the change — and the millions more who didn’t care enough to vote — are totally ignored.

McDonald begins to report in a jubilant tone – maybe a bit too jubilant:

“… joyous celebration after a long battle. In 2017, Australians voted to give same-sex couples the right to marry. But for the LGBTQIA+ community the battle for equality is far from over.”

The Scourge of Modern Australia: Conversion Therapy

The ABC report proceeds to outline the grievous ills of the practice known as “conversion therapy”, with a “conversion therapy survivor”, Bron Larkins, providing the main evidence.

We are told by Larkins that the harm that happens through conversion practice is “real”.

While (frustratingly) Larkins is not forthcoming with a definition of this ‘real’ practice, McDonald soon enlightens me:

“[C]onversion practice [is] the belief that a person’s gender identity or sexuality can be changed.”


So the Bible becomes a problem, then, doesn’t it (cf. Ephesians 2 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11)?

The Bible is pretty clear that the Gospel is a catalyst for some pretty fundamental “change” — not the kind of change that targets people struggling with homosexuality and gender dysphoria, but not the kind that leaves them out, either.

Now, back to our friends at the ABC.

The Push to Ban “Conversion Therapy”

Apparently, conversion therapy “may sound like a thing of the past, but it’s still legal in more than half of Australian jurisdictions.”

The point MacDonald is trying to make here is that the practice is legitimated because it isn’t banned outright (she gets a spokesperson from Equality Australia to actually say it for her) and that the ideology behind “those practices” is accepted by society as a result.

Given her definition, I can confirm that conversion therapy is taking place: it happens whenever a soul finds Christ — whenever someone is… well, converted.

If you think about it, that means that the “ideology” behind conversion therapy is… orthodox Christianity.

Right. Now I see where this is going.

The conversion therapy survivor, Bron Larkins, picks up the story again, insisting that “I’m not broken; I’m not sick.”

Bron, as long as you insist that there is nothing wrong with you, you (and I — everyone, in fact) will remain broken, sick — worse, dead. We are all broken; we are all sick.

She continues.

Bron doesn’t want “anyone else to go through this harmful practice and have themselves and their family and their loved ones damaged”.

At this point, I start noticing some equivocation. Although she is still referring to “conversion practice”, I don’t know if she is using the same definition as McDonald provided earlier. The first definition referred to a “belief”. Now, Bron seems to be talking about something that can actually cause damage and harm.

The video continues.

Now, McDonald quotes a La Trobe report that says that 10 per cent of “sexual and gender diverse Australians are vulnerable to faith-based pressures to alter or suppress their sexual and/or gender identities”.

So here’s another definition: faith-based pressures to alter or suppress someone’s sexual and/or gender identities. As I suspected, it’s not the same definition as I heard at the start of the video.

This definition involves “pressure” to change someone’s identity…

(The Holy Spirit is going to get into a lot of trouble for this one.)

McDonald asserts that many who have experienced “conversion practices” are “severely harmed by” them (and “commonly” experience PTSD).

Conversion Practice: What is it actually? My own research

There are no examples given of what would constitute a conversion practice.

Evidently, these practices are faith-based, so presumably, it’s something to do with Christianity. But I still can’t figure out what they are getting at from the video — why are these practices harmful?

Frustrated at the lack of clarity in the report, I tap around on the internet for a while.

Ah, this will help.

An article about “Parent-Initiated Sexual Orientation Change Efforts With LGBT Adolescents” in the… um, Journal of Homosexuality.

Right. No bias there. No definition either.

It just says, “efforts to change sexual orientation, often referred to as ‘conversion’ or ‘reparative’ therapy… practiced by some mental health providers, clergy, and religious leaders”.

I need some actual examples.

At least now I know what “conversion therapy” is called in academic circles: sexual orientation change efforts — or SOCE.

I find a preprint research paper entitled, “Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) *reduce* suicide: Correcting a false research narrative” by a professor of sociology from The Catholic University of America (CUA).  The research paper’s findings are actually pretty interesting, but I’ll leave that for another time.

I finally have some examples.

The paper defines these practices as:

“programs or interventions ranging from camps, intensive study, aversion techniques to traditional talk therapy, collectively known as sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), or sometimes as ‘sexual re-orientation’, ‘conversion’ or ‘reparative’ therapies.”

That’s more helpful, but I’m still not sure what is considered SOCE in the Australian context — or in the particular context of this legislation. I’m also not quite sure what the ABC report is up in arms about (thanks to some vague and unclear reporting on McDonald’s part).

I find a La Trobe University report — conducted in partnership with… a few different groups:

  1. The Brave Network (no, not the privacy-respecting alternative browser): a pseudo-Christian organisation committed to “repairing the harm caused to the LGBTIQ community and their families inflicted by religious queerphobia, non-affirming theology, and the ex-gay/ex-trans/conversion therapy movement.” (emphasis mine)
  2. The Australian LGBTIQ+ Multicultural Council (or the Australian GLBTIQ Mulicultural Council, depending on who you read): “the national peak body for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer individuals and community groups of multicultural and multifaith backgrounds.”
  3. The Victorian Government: I’ve heard of them. I’ve heard about how much they understand and love Christianity, and Christian schools, and parents’ rights. Need I say more.

I found two things in this report that shed light on the ABC video. Firstly, it gave me some more examples of what “conversion practices” are.


“may involve formal conversion programs or ‘counselling’ practices, but more often involve less formal processes including pastoral care, interactions with religious or community leaders, prayer groups and other spiritual or cultural practices initiated within particular communities. Core to both these formal and informal change and suppression practices is the message conveyed to LGBTQA+ people that they are ‘broken’, ‘unacceptable’ to God, and need spiritual or psychological healing.”

Interestingly, however, the report makes no distinction between, for example, pastoral care or prayer groups that are sought out and initiated by someone wanting help, on the one hand, and aggressive, coercive and abusive practices on the other.

They are all lumped under the phrase “change and suppression (conversion) practices”.

Issues with the La Trobe Report

I recall that this must be the study the ABC report is citing. That explains why I couldn’t make any sense of the definition(s) provided in the video.

At the start of the video, Lucy McDonald provided a misleading definition of what conversion therapy entails (one that disagrees with the usages by Larkin and the La Trobe report).

Then, she quoted a conversion survivor and the La Trobe report — both of whom defined conversion therapy in a far broader way — to evidence the “harm” inflicted on those who experience “those attempts” — whichever ones she is referring to.

The La Trobe report itself is methodologically not-very-helpful (I was going to say “problematic”, but then, I’m not a professional).

To begin, it is vague and simplistic, basing its findings on anecdotes from thirty-five “LGBTQA+ affirming” people who “felt” that they had been damaged by participating in conversion practices.

The practices experienced by these people “ranged from teaching, prayer, informal counselling and other religious practices, to formal programs and therapy with registered health practitioners”.

Within the report, there is no way to actually link particular “conversion” experiences with particular kinds of self-described harm. Crucially, there was no way to tell if a particular kind of “change and suppression therapy” practice was responsible for a particular kind of harm reported by the interviewees.

After my excursion on the internet, I return to the video.

Australian Christian Lobby Opposition to the Change

The report quotes the ACL’s Christopher Brohier, who essentially makes the point that “coercive and abusive” practices (which, he argues, we have no evidence are happening in Australia) should not be conflated with “legitimate care and couselling”.

This definitely seems to concur with what I noticed above.

Brohier also says that “adults should have the right to choose”.

“If a person wants to have genuine, client-led therapy, that should be their right. The state shouldn’t be telling them, ‘no you can only have one sort of therapy’.”

As if to “clarify” the points made by Brohier above (lest people could get a bad taste in their mouth about the legislation), the video quickly shifts back to the legislation:

“… under the proposed changes expressing opinions or religious views about sexuality or gender will be protected.”

And then they bring on… the expert.

Just one expert. Not two experts: one representing either side of the debate. Just one expert to speak in favour of the legislation.

Prof Brendan Gogerty attempts to reassure those who might think their “personal beliefs” are under threat.

“… it’s just when we start crossing the boundary lines between personal beliefs and medical assertions that it’s a problem.”

I can’t say I find that overly reassuring. All I can hear is “get back in your private box, religious person!”

McDonald continues. Apparently, the legislation is “targeted at those trying to convince people their sexual or gender identity is a problem to fix”.

She is basically saying that if you keep your deeply held beliefs private, then you’ll be fine! But if you dare let your orthodox Christian doctrines actually have a conative impact on your life, then you have the weight of the law to deal with.

Gogerty, again:

“… you would have to persistently try to convince that person that they were dysfunctional or disordered because of their sexual attraction to another person or their feeling about their own gender…”

Again, part of what it means to be a Christian is to recognise that we are dysfunctional and disordered — including our sexual attraction (cf. Matthew 5:28) — until Christ redeems us and makes us new.

By this point, I’m taken aback by how dramatically this legislation could affect the church in Australia. Even granted that everything everyone supporting the laws says in the video is true.


The report finishes with two quotes.

Larkins gives an emotional plea to those listening:

“… conversion therapy has no place in medicine; it has no place in Australia. All we’re asking is to stop this harmful practice.”

Considering the ambiguity around what the practice is, I’m not so sure legislation enforcing her sentiment is a good idea.

Just for good measure, McDonald throws in her own thoughts on the matter:

“The fight for equality is a long way from over.”

Now, I don’t mind journalists having and expressing their opinions — in fact, I think we should encourage that — but when opinion disguises as objective news, I have a real issue. And I think that’s what I’m experiencing here.

The ABC has made very little attempt to cloak the fact that it has taken sides on this issue, and it needs to be called out.

Links: Some of the resources I came across in my internet wanderings:

“Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) *Reduce* Suicide: Correcting a False Research Narrative”, by Professor Donald Sullins of The Catholic University of America and the Ruth Institute.

“Scrutinizing Immutability: Research on Sexual Orientation and U.S. Legal Advocacy for Sexual Minorities”, by Professors Lisa M. Diamond & Clifford J. Rosky of the University of Uta in The Journal of Sex Research.

“Open Letter to the Victorian Attorney-General RE: Conversion Practices Bill 2021”, by the National Association of Practising Psychiatrists President, Dr Philip Morris AM, and University of Queensland Law Professor Prof Patrick Parkinson AM.

Also by the NAPP, their paper “Managing gender dysphoria/incongruence in children and adolescents: a perspective for debate”, is worth reading.

From a Christian perspective, Got Questions Ministries wrote a helpful short article: “What does the Bible say about the various forms of gender dysphoria?

Also, two opinion pieces:

Mark Sneddon, “Despite its good intentions, Victoria’s ‘conversion therapy’ bill will cause more harm than it prevents”, MercatorNet.

Belinda Brown, “The unscientific roots of bans on ‘conversion therapy’”, MercatorNet.

Other references:

You can read the full article by Lucy McDonald and James Dunlevie here, the Journal of Homosexuality article here, and the La Trobe University report, Healing Spiritual Harms: Supporting Recovery from LGBTQA+ Change and Suppression Practices, here.


Photo by cottonbro.

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