A major report confirms that religious conversion therapy and related practices are pervasive in many faith communities in Australia and causing real harm to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.
“Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT conversion therapy in Australia” reveals the voices and lived experiences of 15 LGBT people who have struggled to reconcile their sexuality and transgender identities with the beliefs and practices of their religious community. The report, a joint initiative of La Trobe University, the Human Rights Law Centre and Gay & Lesbian Health Victoria, provides a comprehensive history of the conversion movement in Australia, together with legal analysis and recommendations for reform.
Dr Tim Jones, senior lecturer in history at La Trobe University, said:
“Our research has shown that LGBT conversion therapy remains a real problem in Australian religious communities. We hope that these communities will receive the report, reflect on the damage it exposes and work towards ending those harms for their LGBT members.”
Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice calls for action by governments, the health sector and religious communities to better respond to people experiencing conflict between their gender identity or sexual orientation and their beliefs.
“The report reveals the immense trauma and grief participants felt at the prospect of having to choose between their faith or their gender and sexuality, both intimate and important parts of themselves. The psychological and spiritual trauma experienced by our participants, at their loss of faith, or their struggle to be accepted by their communities, was devastating,” added Dr Jones.
Anna Brown, director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said:
“The conversion movement’s activities are proven to be ineffective and harmful. Telling someone they are broken or sick because of who they are is profoundly psychologically damaging. We need to look to a world where lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans people of faith can be embraced as whole and human by the faith communities they love.”
The report provides a roadmap for future reform, with recommendations directed at state and federal governments and the health sector.
“We need stronger laws and support for survivors but also education about the harm caused by the cultural ideas and messaging prevalent within faith communities. We particularly urge governments across the country to respond to the acute vulnerability of children and young people in religious communities, said Ms Brown.
The report recommends adding to existing protections such as the Health Complaints Act 2016 (Vic) by introducing specific legislation to clearly prohibit conversion practices against adults when carried out by health or other professionals, and conversion practices against children undertaken by anyone regardless of their qualification.
“While adults are free to participate in informal religious conversion activities such as prayer groups and ‘spiritual deliverance’, as harmful as they are, as soon as these practices involve children, or are provided by counsellors or other professionals, there is a role for the law to play in protecting people from psychological harm.”
The report is clear that legislation must be accompanied by other measures, with a particular focus on evidence based interventions in faith communities.
“The law is only one part of the solution, because a ban will not impact on the informal practices among adults that we know are prevalent in Australia’s conversion movement, and may drive them further underground in certain faith communities. We recommend a multi-faceted approach implemented in partnership with religious institutions and communities to help, not harm, LGBT people of faith,” added Ms Brown.
Response from survivors of conversion therapy
Anthony Hind is one of the many LGBTIQ Australians impacted by conversion therapy, whose experience illustrates that conversion therapies are misguided, ineffective and harmful.
“In my twenties, when I was earnestly seeking to build a life that would honour my deep faith and make a difference in the world, my spiritual leaders told me that I was ‘sexually broken’ and ‘in need of healing’. My quest to change my sexual orientation saw me praying, being prayed over, and introspecting, self-censoring and even participating in exorcisms. I tried for many years, with great passion and desire for change – and nothing worked.”
“Not only is gay conversion therapy completely ineffective, it’s also incredibly unsafe. It did a huge amount of psychological damage to me. And I know that I hurt other people deeply along the way as well because I was so out-of-sync with who I really was. Now, I happily know that I’m gay, I’m not broken, and I’m not in need of healing.”
Benson Andrews was a young man when he was subjected to gay conversion therapy.
“As a young man who attended therapy to be made straight, I experienced hypnosis, exorcism, and was told that the reason I was gay was because my mother was overbearing, and my father was distant, thus making me more feminine, and searching for the love I supposedly did not receive from my father, in other men.
“I experienced months of night terrors, which later in life I was told can be brought on by extreme stress, however the church told me these were demonic attacks, which only saw me engage in more exorcisms. As a result I began losing my hair at the age of 16 due to stress. After years of engaging with the therapy I made attempts to take my own life, as I knew nothing had changed. Eventually I gained the strength to leave the church and come out, and engaged in non-religious therapy to attempt to repair the damage, and still do so almost ten years on.”
Chris Csabs talked about the importance of the report and the research for survivors and the community.
“As a survivor of the gay conversion movement it feels amazing to know that our experiences are being heard nationally and that there is finally research that confirms the prevalence and damage of the gay conversion movement in Australia.”
“My hope is that the recommendations made in the report are heeded by those in power and acted upon so that we can protect our community, and in particular our vulnerable young people, from this dangerous movement.”
“The messaging of the movement that told me that I was “broken” has caused long-term damage to me. I hope that this research is now used to stop the harm it continues to cause others in the LGBT+ community.”
Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT conversion therapy in Australia was funded by La Trobe University and is a joint initiative of the Human Rights Law Centre, Gay & Lesbian Health Victoria and La Trobe University, authored by Tim Jones, Anna Brown, Lee Carnie, Gillian Fletcher and Liam Leonard.
This report contains content that may be distressing for some people. Please contact Switchboard on 1800 184 527 if it raises anything for you.
LGBTI people of faith can also connect with The Brave Network, which is volunteer run advocacy and support organisation: www.bravenetwork.org.au
Two counsellors who specialise in providing support to people around faith and sexuality or gender identity issues are:
Jonathan Tandos, Clinical Psychologist (https://www.goodtherapy.com.au/jonathan_tandos)
Matt Glover, MGA Counselling (http://mgacounselling.com.au/)
For interviews call:
Michelle Bennett, director of communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519