Preventing harm, promoting justice

Responding to LGBT conversion therapy in Australia
Human rights LGBTI Gender identity Homosexuality Australia

This report highlights the nature, extent and impact of LGBT conversion therapies in Australia. The report is designed to help government, support services and faith communities to better respond to those experiencing conflict between their gender identity or sexual orientation and their beliefs.

The study aimed to:

  • illuminate the unique experiences and needs of LGBT people of faith who have undergone some form of religion-based conversion therapy;
  • outline the history, prevalence and changing nature of services provided to LGBT people of faith in Australia that pathologise same-sex attraction and gender diverse identities;
  • provide assistance to religious organisations and communities that promote and practise conversion therapy to provide more appropriate support to their LGBT members as they reconcile their religious, gender and sexual identities;
  • canvas international legal models and conduct a human rights based analysis of the issue and the competing rights and interests at play to inform the proposed legislative response; and
  • survey the existing legal landscape in Australia (with a particular focus on Victoria as an illustrative example) and consider legislative and regulatory options to restrict the promotion and provision of conversion therapies and similar practices, including by faith communities and organisations and both registered and unregistered health practitioner

Understanding and responding to this complex problem requires an interdisciplinary approach. In this report we have combined historical, social and legal research and analysis to enhance our understanding of conversion therapy practices in Australia and to make recommendations for reforms to prevent harm and promote justice in this area. Our methodology is stepped out in Chapter Two.

The short but dynamic history of the Australian religious LGBT conversion therapy movement is presented in Chapter Three. The historical review shows that attempts to reorient LGBT people are recent. In clinical medicine they were only ever experimental and were never successful.

Prior to the 1970s, the predominant religious approach to LGBT people was pastoral. When mainstream medicine ceased to experiment with the reorientation of LGBT people, faith-based conversion therapies and organisations emerged. These developed independently in Australia before becoming affiliated with like-minded international organisations in the 1980s.

In recent times, the conversion therapy movement has presented itself in more ethically acceptable postures, disguising its anti-LGBT ideology and reorientation efforts in the language of spiritual healing, mental health and religious liberty.

At the heart of this report, in Chapters Four and Five, are the voices and lived experiences of 15 LGBT people with experiences of conversion therapy, documented through social research. The participants engaged with various conversion therapy practices between 1986 and 2016 as part of their struggle to reconcile their sexuality or transgender identity with the beliefs and practices of their religious communities. For the majority of them, this has taken an extraordinary toll and they have ultimately been forced to choose between one part of themselves at the expense of another.

Those who have sacrificed their religious beliefs to be true to their sexuality or gender diverse identity have had to deal with the deep grief that comes with a loss of faith and being separated from their faith-based community, family and friends. Those who have remained faithful to the beliefs of their religious communities have often done so by denying their sexual feelings or gender diverse identity in order to pass as heterosexual and cisgender. Some live in a constant struggle to maintain their diverse gender, sexual identity and faith in the face of varying degrees of rejection from both LGBT and religious communities.

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