- The Guardian
- Issue #1949
CW: discussion of conversion practices, anti-LGBTQ+ violence.
A Bill to ban conversion therapy recently passed Victoria’s Upper House and is set to become law. The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill makes it illegal to try to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity in Victoria, with a maximum penalty of up to ten years in prison. The move has been hailed as a major milestone in the national campaign to outlaw conversion practices.
Conversion therapies are aimed at changing the gender or sexual identity of LGBTQ+ people. This can include physical and psychological abuse, as well as non-consensual medical interventions. Conversion therapies have absolutely no basis in science or medicine and are actively harmful to those forced to endure them. For this reason, many human rights groups condemn them.
Conversion therapies have been practiced in Australia for over a century. In the late 19th century, the term “homosexuality” began to appear in print for the first time. By 1903, the hysteria-fuelled search for a “cure” had begun in earnest. Various conversion ‘therapies’ were experimented with throughout the 20th Century and the industry boomed from the 1960s up until the 1970s when the practice began to fall out of favour among the medical establishment.
Today, faith-based conversion is the most common form of conversion therapy. Therefore, it is not surprising that some faith-based groups opposed the ban on the basis that it infringes upon religious freedoms. It is hard to take such claims seriously when one considers the effects of conversion therapies on those who have survived them.
Conversion therapy causes long-lasting psychological damage, acute distress and feelings of shame, isolation and guilt, as well as internalised homophobia, self-hatred and confusion about one’s sexual and gender identity. On a societal level, it sends the message that queerness is something to be cured, and invalidates the identities of LGBTQ+ people.
The LGBTQ+ community has come a long way in the battle for acceptance in Australia. In 1975, South Australia became the first state to decriminalise homosexuality, and in 1997 Tasmania finally became the last. Most recently, the Commonwealth Marriage Act was amended to expand the definition of marriage, allowing same-sex marriage in Australia. Queensland, the ACT and now Victoria have outlawed conversion therapy but it is still currently legal in NSW, SA, WA, NT and Tasmania. At every step, grassroots LGBTQ+ activism has been the driving force of change.
Conversion therapies reflect an aversion to queer identities as deviations from the heterosexual, patriarchal nuclear family model that capitalism depends upon to reproduce the working class. The ruling class would have us believe that the breakdown of social life in Australia is due to “social perversion.” In reality, it is oppressively long hours and alienating work which keeps us socially isolated, as well as limiting opportunities for the cultural and educational development. Hence, anti-LGBTQ+ practices not only deflect attention away from the destruction wrought by capitalism, they also further entrench division among us. The Victorian ban on conversion therapy is therefore long overdue, and a key step forward in building a united intersectional Australian working class movement.