The Victorian government has ordered an inquiry into the “insidious” practice of so-called “gay conversion” therapy.
Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy (pictured) has asked the state’s Health Complaints Commissioner to conduct a broad-ranging investigation into the dangerous and discredited practice, which involves attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexuality or gender identity.
“We have zero tolerance for anyone purporting to ‘convert’ gay people through any medical or therapeutic means,” Ms Hennessy told The Age.
“Victorians who have been harmed through these rogue groups should contact the Commissioner immediately so these unlawful practices can be stopped and practitioners prosecuted.”
The inquiry will capture registered or unregistered counsellors, clinicians who treat homosexuality as a disorder, and anyone purporting to convert LGBTI people through therapeutic means, including faith-based ministries and church figures who disguise their work as “spiritual guidance,” The Age reported.
Victorian Mental Health Minister Martin Foley told the ABC the practice is “illegal, it’s bullying, it’s traumatic on people and it needs to stop.”
“The Health Complaints Commissioner is encouraging people who have been subject to it to come forward and share their experiences — whether they’re in private organisations, religious organisations or from local crackpots, we need to put an end to this,” he said.
“You don’t convert someone from being who they are.”
“Gay conversion” or “ex-gay” therapies have been widely condemned as unethical and dangerous by numerous peak psychology bodies around the world.
But Fairfax Media reported last month that the practice had disappeared underground in Australia and was “hidden in evangelical churches and ministries, taking the form of exorcisms, prayer groups or counselling disguised as pastoral care.”
Victoria’s Health Complaints Commissioner has had the power to investigate practitioners allegedly offering “gay conversion” therapies since early 2017 but no one since then has come forward with a formal complaint, Fairfax reported.
The practice was thrown into the spotlight after a Victorian branch of the Liberal party put forward a motion for the party’s state conference to debate allowing healthcare providers to “offer counselling out of same-sex attraction to patients who request it.”
The motion was pulled by state president Michael Kroger after public outrage.
One survivor of such therapy, Chris, spoke out about the devastating toll it took on him and a petition he started calling for national action has received 35,000 signatures.
“Trying to ‘pray the gay away’ nearly killed me. I’m not the only one,” he said.
“So-called conversion therapy can cause depression, self-loathing and even suicide. I prayed to God asking him to either heal me, or kill me. I was so depressed, I wanted to die.”
Last month, Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said he planned to write to Queensland’s Office of the Health Ombudsman to ask what powers it had to crack down on the practice in the state.
“The idea that anyone should be running around saying that [gay people] need some kind of therapy to get converted is just disgusting,” he told Sky News.
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