In Victoria, Australia, the government is preparing to ban gay conversion therapy after consultations with survivors.
The so-called conversion therapy targets the LGBTQ+ community and suggests that a person’s sexual identity or gender can be changed or suppressed through psychiatric treatments, counseling therapies, or spiritual intervention.
The Australian government is now preparing legislation to outlaw the practice, considering consultations with hundreds of members of the public as well as key figures such as survivors of conversion therapy, LGBTQ+ advocates, and religious organizations.
Ashe Powell, a former youth pastor at a Gippsland church, said in an ABC News report that he was given the option of undergoing conversion ‘therapy’ or leaving the church after he came out as gay. Members of his church community tried to convince him his sexuality was a result of bad life experiences.
“I lost a lot more than my job. I lost my financial stability. I lost most of my community at the time and I lost a fair bit of my relationship with my family. But that has since been regained,” Powell recalled.
“That started, I would say, a two or three-year full-scale breakdown for me. I actually went into substance abuse and I really suffered at the hand of that. I was never able to hold down a job after that,” he said.
“I lost my dad a couple of years before I had this job. It was a fairly traumatic thing for me and it was suggested by quite a few people that was the reason for my sexuality or gender identity.”
The survivors want both formal and informal versions of conversion therapy outlawed, including unregulated counseling services, support groups, conferences, and online interactive coursework or mentoring programs.
Nathan Despott, the spokesperson for LGBTQ+ support group The Brave Network, said these kinds of ‘informal’ conversion practices can be particularly harmful because they can be carried out by close connections.
“If the person decides to walk away from the conversion practices, and from that environment, they risk losing vital, possibly lifelong or long-term connections with people that they’ve seen as authority figures who care for them and possibly with family as well,” he explained.
Despott argued that penalties for conversion therapy ‘should be based on whether or not someone has delivered conversion practices’, instead of relying on the survivor to prove what they went through.
Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said the government was ‘banning so-called conversion therapy’ and making sure the laws put in place will ‘end this harmful, cruel and bigoted practice once and for all’.