Practitioners of so-called “gay conversion therapy” could face prosecution in Victoria as the state government launches an inquiry into the “highly damaging” practice.
Health Minister Jill Hennessy has written to Health Complaints Commissioner Karen Cusack, requesting she investigate the practice which purports to ‘cure’ homosexuality.
The minister was spurred on by a letter she received from “a victim of the practices of so-called ‘gay conversion therapy’ and ‘ex-gay ideology’.”
“Gay conversion therapy has been proven to be ineffective and highly damaging,” Ms Hennessy said in her subsequent letter to Health Complaints Commissioner Karen Cusack, released on Thursday.
“Victims of the practice have displayed poor mental and physical health outcomes. Some have tragically lost their lives to suicide.”
Ms Cusack has the power to crack down on unregistered practitioners making unproven claims, including conversion therapy.
Neither the government nor the commissioner’s office could provide AAP with information about which groups might be behind the practice, but Ms Hennessy called on anyone who had been subject to it to contact the Health Complaints Commission.
La Trobe University religion and sexuality expert Tim Jones is wrapping up a study on conversion therapy and says the majority of its practitioners in Australia are conservative Protestants.
“We estimated from our study, that if you’re a member of one of these conservative religious groups and you went to your religious leader saying you want help with your sexuality or want to change your sexual orientation, that you would be able to be referred to a religious group or private counsellor who would engage in conversion activities with you,” he said.
These activities could include “Alcoholics Anonymous-style group therapy” or praying for a cure.
“The core messages from conservative groups who buy into this ideology is that same-sex attraction and gender diverse identification is a sign of brokenness – so people are told they’re broken and sinful and need to change,” Mr Jones said.
He added it was not about attacking religious groups but attempting to get them to understand conversion therapy practices “never work and they always hurt people”.
A woman who works at a church in Melbourne – but who doesn’t want to be identified – said the issue of same-sex attraction would likely be approached in the same way as issues such as alcoholism.
But she stressed “it would be up to how they feel about that and whether they see that as an issue in their life”.
The inquiry’s launch comes weeks after Victorian Liberals president Michael Kroger intervened to stop a motion on the practice being debated at the party’s state council meeting.
It called for state legislation to allow health practitioners to “offer counselling out of same-sex attraction or gender transitioning to patients who request it”.
But the motion was dropped and opposition leader Matthew Guy said there was “absolutely no chance” it would get up under his leadership.
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