Greens Senator Janet Rice has shared the story of a survivor of dangerous “gay conversion” therapy in the parliament and renewed calls for the federal government to take action on the harmful practice.
Senator Rice spoke on Wednesday about Canberra man Chris (pictured, right), who endured the discredited therapy as a teenager and in March started a petition calling for a nationwide ban on the practice that now has close to 41,000 signatures.
“Looking back, Chris can now say that he knew he was gay when he was around 10 years old. Some years later, he came out to a church leader who wanted him to be cured,” Senator Rice said.
“Chris began sessions with a counselor aimed at changing his sexuality. He was only 16 when his conversion therapy began.
“At 17, Chris’s church introduced him to the leader of a program designed to turn him straight, and eventually, believing he needed to be cured of his sexuality, he was desperate enough to try it.
“Chris recalls that, every week, members spoke about their sins and they learned about the spiritual and experiential reasons that had led them to turn gay. He speaks of being so ashamed and guilt-ridden that he remained completely celibate for years.
“In his words: ‘It was a pretty lonely way to live but that’s what I felt I had to do.’ He believed there were demons inside him and was desperate to be healed.
“He prayed to God, asking him to either heal him or kill him. As you can imagine, the trauma associated with attempted gay conversion still affects Chris today. How could it not?”
“Gay conversion” or “ex-gay” therapies have been widely condemned as unethical and dangerous by numerous bodies around the world including the United Nations, the Australian Psychological Society, and peak psychology bodies in the US and the UK.
But Fairfax Media reported in April that the practice had not disappeared and was underground in Australia and was “hidden in evangelical churches and ministries, taking the form of exorcisms, prayer groups or counselling disguised as pastoral care.”
Senator Rice said she was “sickened” to think that Chris’ church could put him through such harmful processes and said it was “absolutely unacceptable” the therapy was still happening in 2018.
“I’m so glad that he has come through the trauma that he endured from conversion therapy. He is now flourishing and is comfortable with who he is,” she said.
“But what about the other kids who are not so lucky, who don’t come out the other side?”
Senator Rice called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Health Minister Greg Hunt to “work with the states and territories, to engage with experts, to hear survivors and to stamp out this harmful practice once and for all.”
“We need to eradicate all reparative sexual orientation and gender identity conversion therapies,” she said.
“No-one else should have to feel the fear and shame that Chris felt for so many years.”
A spokesperson for Mr Hunt told Fairfax Media in April, “This is not something which is funded, supported or practiced under the Commonwealth. Therefore by law this is a matter for states.”
Currently Victoria is the only Australian jurisdiction where “gay conversion” therapies are banned from being offered to people under the age of 18.
If this story has brought up issues for you, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.