The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) has welcomed the Victorian government’s recent pledge to outlaw gay “conversion therapy” and called on other states to look at similar bans.
The discredited “conversion” practices attempt to change or suppress an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity using psychological or spiritual means, and have been condemned by major health bodies around the world.
At the Midsumma Pride March last weekend, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced his government would work on new legislation to outlaw the “bigoted quackery” in the state.
AASW National President Christine Craik said they welcomed the move and said as long as the harmful practice remained legal it sent a message that LGBTIQ individuals are not “normal” and need to be fixed.
“These messages do so much damage and need to be stopped,” she said.
The Victorian government’s proposed ban came after an investigation into “conversion” practices by the state’s Health Complaints Commissioner, who found those subjected to the practices experienced “long-term psychological harm and distress”.
“This is something that social workers and other mental health professionals have known for many years,” Ms Craik said.
“The Victorian Government’s announcement sends a clear and positive message to young people who may be dealing with the stress and anxiety of knowing they are same-sex attracted and the social pressures that are associated with it in an unaccepting environment.”
Ms Craik said the AASW wants other states and territories to follow Victoria’s lead in outlawing the practices, and has called on the federal government to support states and territories by fully funding the Safe Schools anti-bullying program.
“We all have a role in taking a stand against homophobia, including internalised homophobia, which is when LGBTIQ individuals can sometimes believe the homophobic messages and attitudes around them,” Ms Craik said.
“It causes needless harm and division in communities and can lead to poorer health and wellbeing outcomes in LGBTIQ individuals, which we have seen is sometimes fatal.
“This is why the Victorian Government’s announcement is so important – it is a welcome step in continuing to affirm the health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ Australians.”
Last October, a report from La Trobe University documented the experiences of more than a dozen LGBT survivors of harmful “gay conversion” or “ex-gay” therapies over the decades, with the report claiming the practices remain a “real problem” in Australia’s religious communities.
One participant underwent extreme “aversion” therapy in the 1980s that involved ice baths and electroshock therapy, but another survivor told researchers it was the “insidious and unrelenting ex-gay messaging” over a long period of time that “ate away” at their wellbeing and self-worth.
In Queensland, doctors Fiona Bisshop and Stuart Aitken set up a survey allowing Queenslanders to share their current experiences with the practices following a state government-led roundtable discussion on the issue.
In September, a coalition of survivors, LGBTIQ advocates and churches urged the federal government to address the issue, delivering a 50,000-signature petition calling for an inquiry into the issue, greater powers for health and consumer watchdogs, tougher regulations for counsellors, and a public health and awareness campaign.
(Photo courtesy of AASW)