Australia Here is what we know about Victoria's gay conversion bill
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A bill banning LGBTIQ+ conversion practices looks set to pass the Victorian Upper House today despite concerns from the Opposition, religious leaders, and health professionals who believe the law may have "unintended consequences".
Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said the legislation reflected the "overwhelming view" of Victorians and came about because the Government listened to survivors of conversion "therapy".
"We've heard them, we've believed them, and we've got scientific and medical evidence to back up that these practices are incredibly harmful and don't work," she told ABC Radio Melbourne.
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What is the bill?
Themakes it illegal to try to change or suppress a person's sexual orientation or gender identity in Victoria.
It also gives the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) the power to investigate reports of conversion practices and refer matters to police.
To be considered a change or suppression practice, conduct must meet three criteria:
- Be directed at an individual
- Occur on the basis of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, and
- Have the aim to change or suppress that person's identity
Assisting a person to express their gender identity and the work of professional health service providers do not amount to suppression practices, according to the bill.
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If someone is found to have conducted suppression practices that cause serious injury, they could face criminal charges, including up to 10 years in jail or a fine of almost $10,000.
For less serious offences the VEOHRC can provide education or participate in facilitation.
Who supports the bill?
The bill is expected to pass the Upper House with the support of the Greens' Samantha Ratnam, the Reason Party's Fiona Patten, and the Animal Justice Party's Andy Meddick.
For Mr Meddick, the father of two transgender children, banning suppression practices is deeply personal.
"My wife and I have been told that we are failures," Mr Meddick said.
"That we are evil, that my children are broken and they need to be fixed.
"I just find those sorts of things absolutely abhorrent."
He does not believe the legislation will stop religious ministers explaining the teachings of their faith.
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"What it will stop them from doing is berating that person … from telling them that there is something wrong with them and from going down a path of trying to correct them," Mr Meddick said.
Nathan Despott is a survivor of 10 years of conversion practices and a steering committee member at the Brave Network, a support group for LGBTIQ+ people of faith.
He said the bill was one of the most thorough he had seen in LGBTIQ+ legislation.
"It is precise and nuanced. It targets harm where it occurs, it does not stop conversations," he said.
Over the past five years the Brave Network estimated it helped more than 300 people who had been subjected to conversion practices, in addition to many more enquiries.
Mr Despott said conversion practices were "a catastrophic problem in Victoria today", and people calling for the bill to be paused was due to it being a challenge to their world view.
"At the heart of all this is profound anxiety because it is so important to conservatives that they are able to hold and celebrate the view that queer people are broken," he said.
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Who is seeking a pause?
Several religious organisations have called for an "urgent pause" on the bill so there can be more consultation.
An open letter published by the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) and some Catholic leaders said "at present the bill appears to target people of faith in an unprecedented way, puts limits on ordinary conversations in families, and legislates for what prayer is legal and what prayer is not".
ICV vice-president Adel Salman said they were against harmful conversion practices but were worried the bill will prevent religious ministers from providing one-on-one pastoral care.
"People of faith who are struggling with their sexuality are actually seeking that advice," Mr Salman said.
When asked how many people had come to him, or other faith leaders, for advice on their sexuality or gender identity, Mr Salman said he did not know of anyone specifically.
Some medical professionals, including the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) are also concerned the bill will have "unintended consequences".
RANZCP chair Kerryn Rubin stressed it was was "strongly in favour" of the bill but was worried the wording was not specific enough.
"The wording of the bill is so vague that current evidence-based, exploratory-style treatments … could be drawn into this and viewed as a conversion practice," Dr Rubin said.
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"Often these things don't get clarified until there are test cases.
"My concern is for many practitioners that will mean they don't want to be a test case, so they will say 'look, I'm actually not going to work with this group of people because I am too concerned about the potential ambiguities'."
The Opposition will move amendments to the bill calling for further consultation but are unlikely to gain support.
"The Liberal Nationals strongly believe that coercive [LGBTIQ+] conversion practices are barbaric and have no place in Victoria," said shadow attorney-general Edward O'Donohue.
"Daniel Andrews needs to listen to the many Victorians who support banning gay conversion therapies but have legitimate concerns about the drafting of this bill."
Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes denies the legislation would stop "ordinary conversations" or evidence-based medical treatments, and said the Government had consulted extensively on the bill since October 2019.
Why is this bill important?
While debate rages about whether or not the legislation could have unintended consequences, what is not in question is the damage conversion practices can do to individuals.
and said he "will still be recovering for a really long time".
He was told he would go to hell unless he changed his sexual identity and was referred to a formal program that involved exorcism and prayer.
Mr McIvor said religious leaders "can say all they want" about pastoral care, but the simple fact is "they want to keep changing people because they believe they are broken".
"It is actually a really well thought-out piece of legislation. The reason for some of the loudest voices against the legislation is they know that after it passes they will have to stop," he said.
"It is about time that they did."
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