Queensland has become the first state in Australia to criminalise so-called gay conversion therapy after regional lawmakers voted on Thursday to make the practice illegal.
Under the new law, healthcare professionals could face up to 18 months in jail for attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity using practices such as aversion therapy,
hypnotherapy and psychoanalysis.
“The ban sends a clear message to Queenslanders that conversion therapy is harmful in all contexts,” said Peter Black, president of the Queensland Council for LGBTI Health.
“It is important that there are penalties for this dangerous and discredited practice,” Black told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“There continues to be a need for education and further research on the harms of conversion therapies, as well as support for survivors of conversion therapies.”
Moves around the world to outlaw the practice, which involves attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, have gathered pace in recent months.
In July, Israel took the first step towards an outright ban, with a bill passing the first stage of the parliamentary process.
Worldwide, several countries have partially or fully outlawed gay conversion therapy, including Malta, Brazil and Germany.
Addressing parliament on Thursday, Queensland Health Minister and Deputy Premier Steven Miles said conversion therapy was a “highly destructive and unethical” practice, adding “the risks are even greater” for LGBT+ young people.
“Being LGBTIQ is not an affliction or disease that requires medical treatment,” Miles said.
“No treatment or practice can change a person’s sexual attraction or experience of gender.”
Doctors, counsellors, and psychologists who perform conversion therapy could face up to 12 months imprisonment, or 18 months if the victim is a minor.
Some Australian survivors of conversion therapy, however, said they were “extremely concerned” about the limitations of the legislation, which only applied to healthcare professionals.
“Overwhelmingly, the bulk of harm occurs over time in informal settings … not in therapeutic contexts,” SOGICE Survivors and Brave Network, two organisations advocating for survivors of conversion therapy, said in a joint statement.
“Health professionals are only very rarely involved in conversion practices in 2020, and therefore must not be the sole focus of any legislation or response.”
In 2018, a report by La Trobe University and the Human Rights Law Centre found conversion therapy is “pervasive” in Australian faith communities, with at least 10 organisations offering the practice in Australia and New Zealand.
Two other Australian jurisdictions – Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – have committed to banning conversion therapy.
On Thursday, the ACT introduced a bill to outlaw conversion therapy for minors, and last October, the Victorian government began public consultation on similar legislation.
-Seb Starcevic @SebStarcevic – Thomson Reuters Foundation