WA to ban conversion therapy after Christian ‘exorcisms’ exposed

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan and Esther Foundation's Esther House, accused of conversion therapy
Images: WA Government, Twitter

The Western Australia government has vowed to ban conversion therapy after an inquiry exposed abuse and anti-gay “exorcisms” at a Christian-linked rehab facility.

The Esther Foundation was a residential rehabilitation facility in Perth that claimed to provide support at Esther House for girls and women experiencing mental health and substance abuse issues.

But earlier this year, former residents came forward and alleged serious abuse, including harmful and discredited “conversion” practices like anti-gay exorcisms.

A parliamentary committee examining the Esther Foundation allegations heard witnesses’ shocking stories.

“Many witnesses expressed feelings ranging from disappointment to betrayal, from sadness to anger,” the inquiry’s report said.

“They entered the Esther Foundation when they were in a state of extreme vulnerability. Many reported leaving with more problems than they went in with.”

Among the inquiry’s recommendations is a statewide ban on so-called “conversion therapy”.

Alleged psychological abuse, assaults and gay ‘exorcisms’

Witnesses reported culturally harmful practices, medical complaints, family alienation, use of physical restraints, and physical and sexual assaults.

The committee heard allegations of emotional and psychological abuse, extreme and coercive religious practices, and LGBT “conversion” practices.

“We found that unacceptable practices occurred at the Esther Foundation, which caused harm,” the report read.

“Witnesses told us that certain Christian practices at the Esther Foundation were often traumatic, including prayer meetings late into the night, being held down forcibly for exorcism or ‘deliverance’ of demons, and faith healing.”

So-called LGBT “conversion” and suppression practices are formal and informal practices based on the ideology that LGBTIQA+ people have a disorder and require treatment.

They can include teachings, counselling, spiritual care activities, or other psychological or medical interventions.

Premier Mark McGowan slams harmful conversion therapy

In response to the inquiry’s report tabled this week, WA Premier Mark McGowan pledged to legislate the ban on conversion therapy.

“Not only are conversion and suppression practices ineffective, but they undermine the fundamental value of personal dignity and have long-term negative impacts on the health and mental health of LGBTIQA+ people in our community,” he said.

The ban will not impact accredited health professionals who provide lawful and ethical care, he said.

Attorney-General John Quigley added conversion practices “remain a problem” in some religious communities.

“Evidence from survivors and advocacy organisations has demonstrated ongoing harm and trauma caused by these practices, including long-term mental illness and suicidality,” he said.

Quigley stressed the ban won’t interfere with health professionals’ ability to “provide suitable therapy and counselling to LGBTIQA+ patients.”

He said the government will consult with the LGBTIQA+ community and the medical profession in drafting the new laws.

‘Immense bravery’ of survivors of Esther House

Lobby group Ending Conversion Practices WA welcomed the government’s commitment. The group praised the brave Esther House survivors who blew the whistle.

“Conversion practice survivors of Esther House shared their stories of experiencing harm [with] the inquiry,” the group said.

“We thank them for this act of immense bravery.

“We have a vision for LGBTQIA+ people to be safe from harms caused by conversion practices and ideology.

“Instead, [they should have] the freedom to explore and embrace their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“We’ll work with the McGowan Government to ensure legislative reforms are informed by the lived experience of conversion practices survivors.

“We also look forward to seeing strong support services for affected individuals. One in ten LGBQTIA+ people have experienced conversion practices.”

If this has brought up issues for you, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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