A survivor of “gay conversion therapy” has called on federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to take action to ban the debunked and dangerous practice in Australia.
In a combative interview with ABC Radio this week, Hunt said he didn’t support gay conversion therapy but drew criticism for expressing concern over the “constant view that nobody, anywhere, is allowed to have a different view” and repeatedly demanding journalist Patricia Karvelas explain her views about freedom of speech.
Hunt was responding to a recent push within Victoria’s Liberal Party to grant parents access to gay conversion therapy for their children.
On Monday, a motion calling for legislation allowing healthcare providers to “offer counselling out of same-sex attraction” that made it onto the agenda for debate at the party’s upcoming state conference was pulled by Victorian Liberals president Michael Kroger.
“It’s not something I support, it’s not federal government policy, it’s not going to be federal government policy and we’re not about to change our position on that,” Hunt told ABC Radio.
He added, “People are entitled to have different views, views that I disagree with.”
But Chris, an Australian survivor of the therapy, said it was “galling” to hear Hunt seemingly link the dangerous and discredited practice to freedom of speech.
“He should have been saying it has absolutely no place in a modern Australia. Instead he supported people’s right to defend this disgusting practice,” he told Fairfax Media.
Chris said at age 16 he began conversations with a Sydney church leader who introduced him to the so-called “gay conversion therapy” – the discredited practice of trying to change sexual orientation using psychological or spiritual means.
“When I confided in this church leader that I thought that I may be gay, he suggested that I could be ‘healed’, telling me about an ‘ex-gay’ ministry,” he said.
“To a teenager like me, ridden with guilt, anxiety and revulsion at my emerging attraction to the same sex, the idea I could be healed of the ‘sickness’ of homosexuality was appealing.”
He said the course involved weekly meetings that resembled Alcoholics Anonymous, where people would read from a textbook detailing spiritual and pseudo-scientific reasons for their “broken sexuality”.
“The church taught me to hate myself, and now it was telling me there was a way to be fixed,” he said.
“Self-hatred and overwhelming guilt took over my life. I pledged to remain celibate until God healed me… I stayed celibate for years and became deeply depressed, asking God to heal me or kill me.
“After nine months, I finished the course… and I was as gay as I had ever been.
“I have seen many friends and acquaintances live with the damage that their own ordeals with gay conversion caused. I still battle with the scars, eight years later.”
Chris said recent media reports that “gay conversion” therapy had moved underground in Australia prompted him to start a Change.org petition last month calling on Greg Hunt and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to outlaw it at a federal level.
He said Britain and several American states had taken action to ban the therapies, but the only Australian jurisdiction that had taken action was Victoria.
Last year, the Victorian Government gave the state’s Health Complaints Commissioner the power to investigate and ban health practitioners who treat homosexuality as a disorder.
“Outlawing gay conversion therapy is not controversial – it’s evidence-based, ethical and plain common sense,” he said.
“Our Health Minister must issue a clear statement which condemns the practice – and commit to national change.”
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.