NSW Labor introduces ban on LGBTIQ conversion practices

March 20, 2024
Protesting in Gadigal/Sydney in February 2023. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

New South Wales Labor introduced a bill on March 13 to criminalise conversion practices that seek to suppress a person’s sexual orientation and cause serious physical harm.

If passed, the bill would outlaw practices, sustained efforts, or treatments that are “done with the intention of changing or suppressing the individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity”. There would be a maximum penalty of five years.

Gay conversion practices include pressure from a church, or religious figure, to suppress one’s sexuality, to religious rituals such as exorcisms and psychiatric or psychological “treatments” and aversion tactics.

Survivors told the ABC on March 13 about being sent to conversion therapy “group camps” or hypnotherapy sessions.

Labor and the Coalition committed to banning LGBTIQ conversion practices before last year’s March election.

Such laws have been passed in Victoria, the ACT and New Zealand, while Tasmania and South Australia are considering reforms.

LGBTIQ organisations have welcomed the bill.

Equality Australia’s spokesperson Anna Brown said: “We stand with survivors in welcoming this bill and we urge all MPs to seize this opportunity to end these archaic and harmful practices which have already caused untold harm and have no place in modern Australia.”

Co-founder of survivors of Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Change Efforts said: “I went through conversion practices in Sydney starting when I was only 16 years old.

“The introduction of legislation is a good and important step towards protecting LGBTQA+ people from experiencing similar harms.”

The Australian Christian Lobby opposes the bill, claiming it would outlaw the expression of religious opinion.

NSW Premier Chris Minns confirmed that the bill makes allowances for prayer. Attorney-General Michael Daley said religious leaders who gave sermons about homosexuality being “a sin” were protected under the laws.

Minns also confirmed that conversations between parents and children were exempted from the bill.

Vilification of queer people is beyond the scope of proposed bill.

Equality Australia said the bill only criminalises “intentional conduct that results in substantial physical or mental harm” or “which involves taking people outside NSW to engage in conduct that would otherwise be prohibited in NSW”.

It clarifies that LGBTIQ conversion practices do not include: appropriate clinical care; helping an individual develop their coping skills; development or identity exploration (including parents discussing matters with their children); religious expressions (including prayer) that are not directed at changing or suppressing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

It sets up a complaints mechanism so that people who suffer conversion practices can seek justice.

It also gives the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board powers to disseminate information, conduct research and hold public inquiries about conversion practices.

Equality Australia said it was reviewing the bill closely “and working with all MPs in parliament to ensure survivors are protected comprehensively from harm”.

“Abuse dressed up as pastoral care or guidance is a breach of trust and power.”

West Australian activist and Queer Liberation Boorloo spokesperson Alex Wallace criticised the WA Labor for lagging behind the rest of the country, especially as promised law reform 18 months ago.

“It took NSW Labor 354 days to introduce a ban on conversion practices,” Wallace said. “It’s a crucial piece of queer law reform we’ve been promised time and time again. But it is now been 2559 days since WA Labor came to power and we have yet to see it act on promises to the LGBTIQ community.”

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