ACT passes ban on harmful ‘conversion therapy’

act chief minister andrew barr gay conversion therapy chris csabs
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Photo: YouTube

The Australian Capital Territory has passed a bill to ban harmful LGBT “conversion therapy” across the territory.

The bill defines sexuality or gender identity conversion practices as “a treatment or other practice… the purported purpose of which is to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity”.

From early next year, anyone using the practices would face up to 12 months jail or a fine of $24,000.

ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay, who is a Christian minister, became emotional in parliament as he recalled counselling conversion therapy survivors. He said the survivors’ stories are “painful and traumatic”.

“I have led congregations and communities of faith where people have sought refuge after [undergoing] conversion therapies,” Ramsay said.

“[The practices] have been done in the name of the church and even at times in the name of God.”

Ramsay said it was naive to suggest the “dangerous” conversion practices could be stopped through health regulations alone.

“There is an insidious and clandestine manner in which these practices are carried out, mostly against children,” he said.

“An abuse of young people is not appropriately best covered by civil regulations. That is why criminal sanctions ought to apply.”

Conversion therapy survivors welcome ACT bill

The law prohibits conversion practices that occur in both formal and informal contexts, focusing on the intent of the “practitioner”.

Affirming a person’s identity, providing acceptance, support or understanding, or helping a person to explore or develop their own identity, aren’t conversion practices under the ACT’s law.

Neither are safe and appropriate health services, or health services which a provider reasonably considers meets their professional or legal obligations.

Canberra conversion therapy survivor Chris Csabs welcomed the law. He said it includes a “a powerful and unprecedented affirmation of the psychological equality” of queer people.

“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,” he said.

Just.equal spokesperson Ivan Hinton-Teoh rated the ACT’s ban as “7 out of 10” and said it was far better than the Queensland government’s legislation.

Survivors have slammed the Queensland bill, passed earlier this month, as “utterly ineffective”.

“The ACT legislation covers religious and informal settings which the Queensland legislation does not,” he said.

“This is a vast improvement given that religious and informal conversion practices are the most common,” Mr Hinton-Teoh said.

“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.”

Support needed for current survivors

Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown said a two-year statutory review of the law will monitor its effectiveness.

“The law must be met with redress and support for current survivors, and investment in programs to build awareness of the harm caused by conversion therapy,” she said.

“LGBTQ people are whole. They are perfect as they are, and deserve to live with the dignity and respect afforded to everyone.”

Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania are also looking to ban conversion practices over the next few years.

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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