Federal Labor has committed to “ending the practice” of discredited “gay conversion” therapy if the party wins next month’s election.
The harmful 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.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said in a statement there is no place in modern Australia for the “conversion” or “ex-gay” practices and pledged to work with states and territories to impose a nationwide ban.
Dreyfus said the party “will work with survivors and advocates on a range of strategies to end this insidious practice, including a nationwide ban.”
“Labor believes that no one should be subjected to painful, unnecessary and harmful pseudoscientific practices,” he said.
But in response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said action on the issue is up to the states.
“I don’t support gay conversion therapy, don’t recommend it, never have, but it’s ultimately a matter for the states,” he told Sky News on Tuesday morning.
“I think we should focus on the things we actually have control over and that’s taxes. I’m looking to lower taxes.”
National LGBTIQ advocacy organisation Equality Australia and conversion therapy survivors welcomed Labor’s commitment to work towards a ban.
“It’s fantastic to see federal Labor commit to playing a leadership role in tackling the lasting harm caused by these insidious practices in faith communities across the nation,” chief executive Anna Brown said.
“There is a role for both the federal and state governments to play in developing legislation, policies and programs to end the harm caused by anti-LGBT conversion therapy.”
Nathan Despott from the Brave Network, a support and advocacy group for LGBTIQ people of faith, said “too many” LGBTIQ Australians in conservative faith communities “continue to be told they are ‘broken’ and need healing.”
“The ‘conversion movement’ is fuelled by an unregulated counselling industry, sloppy definitions of ‘pastoral care’, and a culture of shame and secrecy,” he said.
Earlier this year Victoria became the first state to commit to legislating a ban on conversion therapy, after an inquiry by the state’s Health Complaints Commissioner found “overwhelming evidence” it does serious harm to those subjected to it.
Last October, a report by the Human Rights Law Centre and La Trobe University found at that time 10 organisations in Australia and New Zealand were advertising the provision of conversion therapies.
But the report warned legislating against “informal” activities in faith-based settings would drive proponents further underground and awareness campaigns educating about the risks of conversion therapy also played a role.
One survivor quoted in the report underwent extreme “aversion” therapy in the 1980s that involved ice baths and electroshock therapy.
But another told researchers it was the “insidious and unrelenting ex-gay messaging” they were subjected to over a long period of time that “ate away” at their wellbeing and self-worth.
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