Gay conversion therapy ban needed after Christian rehab scandal

western australian government mark mcgowan esther foundation
Images: WA Government, Twitter

LGBTIQ advocates have urged the Western Australian government to comprehensively ban dangerous gay “conversion therapy” after a Christian rehab facility’s residents were allegedly given gay “exorcisms”.

In WA, a state parliamentary inquiry is looking at shocking allegations of abuse and mistreatment at the Esther Foundation women’s rehabilitation centre in Perth.

The centre, which had links to Pentecostal churches, offered refuge and counselling to women and girls going through mental health and addiction issues.

But the Esther House facility in Perth went into administration in April after more than 250 people came forward with allegations of abuse and mistreatment.

Former residents alleged they were sexually assaulted, denied proper health services and forced into gay “conversion therapy”.

The women have alleged there were no qualified counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists at the facility. Instead, the women went through religious exorcisms to release “demons”.

In 2009, staff allegedly told one resident, who was 14, that the devil was putting her homosexual thoughts and feelings inside her.

“The workers would pray over me, lay hands and attempt to exorcise the demons that were causing my homosexuality,” she said.

Non-consensual conversion therapy in Christian rehab facility

In a submission to the parliamentary inquiry, Ending Conversion Practices WA and Youth Pride Network said the conversion therapy allegations were “deeply concerning”.

They said the Esther House residents were at the facility for issues completely unrelated to their sexual orientation.

“While accessing the facility, LGBTQA+ people were subjected to these practices non-consensually, in place of actual support or treatment for drug and alcohol issues,” the group said.

They said in Western Australia there’s an “absence of effective policy” prohibiting the harmful LGBTQ conversion practices.

This “leaves the door open for people to be exposed to proven harms and trauma caused by such practices,” the two groups warn.

“The state government currently does not have the requisite powers to investigate and address conversion practices … in services that don’t receive direct Government funding,” they said.

“[There’s] potential for these practices to continue to occur unchecked in other rehabilitation, mental health and health services that are faith-based, unaccredited and not using evidenced-based practices.”

McGowan government’s bill doesn’t go far enough

WA Premier Mark McGowan has pledged a ban on the harmful “conversion” practices. But LGBTIQ advocates warn the government’s proposal doesn’t go far enough.

The McGowan government’s Health and Disability Services (Complaints) Amendment Bill 2021 passed its first vote in the lower house in May.

Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson told parliament at the time conversion practices had caused LGBTIQ people “incredibly damaging trauma, with deep and long-lasting pain and suffering”.

She said this is by “people who purport to be counsellors or social workers or who dress themselves up as all sorts of other professionals providing health advice”.

“It’s important we protect our community from those people and practices. [We must] put in place a robust regulatory framework that also has significant penalties associated with it,” she said.

But LGBTIQ groups have warned the proposed WA bill doesn’t go far enough. It fails to target the use of the practice in religious and educational settings.

A 2021 La Trobe University report found the majority of conversion practices occur in religious settings.

WA should follow Victorian government’s strong conversion therapy ban

Sanderson acknowledged the current amendment bill “will not cover conversion therapies purported by religious organisations that aren’t presenting a so-called health service.”

“That needs to be dealt with in separate legislation and certainly the government is investigating that and how that may be implemented,” she said.

LGBTIQ Christian group Equal Voices has told the Victorian legislation was a strong model the WA government should consider.

The Victorian government passed that legislation last year. That bill went further than the ACT and Queensland’s laws because the Victorian law explicitly banned conversion practices in religious settings.

“As LGBTIQ+ Christians, we reject attempts to suppress or deny a person’s identity,” convener Wendy Hendry said.

“Too many of our friends and supporters have been harmed by such practices.

“It is absolutely vital that legislation should apply to all people and entities, not just health and community service providers.”

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