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Jewish Care Victoria welcomes legislative ban on harmful LGBTI+ conversion practices

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30 November 2020

The Victorian Parliament have announced legislation to outlaw ‘therapy’ practices that attempt to change or suppress a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, a decision welcomed by Jewish Care.

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020, introduced to the Legislative Assembly last week, will empower the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to investigate reports of harmful conversion practices.

Under the new law there are a range of options to prevent harm to LGBTI+ people and bring offenders to justice, including consent-based facilitation, investigation and enforcement action by the Equal Opportunity Commission. Additionally, the legislation enables strong criminal sanctions – up to 10 years’ jail – to be enforced against people who subject others to these damaging practices. Those who try to circumvent the laws by sending Victorians out of the state will also face criminal sanctions and fines up to $10,000.

Often referred to as ‘gay conversion therapy’, and described by Attorney-General Jill Hennessy as "bigoted quackery", these practices are based on the falsehood that a person's sexuality or gender identity can be changed or suppressed through a range of interventions including electro-convulsion therapy, counselling techniques, and spiritual guidance.

Conversion attempts are reportedly ineffective, unethical and often harmful, exacerbating anxiety and self-hatred among those treated. 

The Australian Psychological Society have stated that there is no evidence that these approaches can change a person’s sexual orientation, however there is “clinical evidence that reparative, conversion and ex-gay approaches can compound the challenges already faced by some lesbians and gay men” and a “considerable body of evidence documenting the negative effects of stigma associated with homosexuality, including higher rates of depression”.

Jewish Care called for this legislative ban, in a joint submission with the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) to the Victorian government.  Jewish Care CEO, Bill Appleby, said “Practices such as these are a contravention of a person’s fundamental human rights; the harm that may be caused to people subjected to such practices can have immediate and long-lasting adverse effects on health; and conversion practices in the main diminish, devalue, and attempt to erase the presence of LGBTI+ people in our communities”.

In announcing this legislation, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said, “Cruel and bigoted practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity will soon be stamped out across Victoria.”     

Samuel Murray, Jewish Care’s Executive sponsor for LGBTI+ inclusive practice, said, “This bill sends a strong message to all Victorians that conversion practices are not therapeutic, are known to cause significant long-term psychological and emotional harm, and that a person’s sexuality or gender identity is real and valid and not a mental disorder to be cured. The real danger to LGBTI+ people and their mental health and wellbeing is societal ignorance, prejudice and the pressure to conform to entrenched heteronormative societal values.”

Jewish Care, a Rainbow Tick Accredited organisation, has a strong commitment to LGBTI+ diversity and inclusivity and has committed to ensuring the organisation continues to provide a safe and welcoming environment to all staff and volunteers along with the ongoing development of all services and supports to embrace the rich and broad diversity of the Victorian Jewish community.

Victoria will be the third Australian jurisdiction to legislate against conversion practices. Both Queensland and the ACT passed similar laws earlier this year, with LGBTI+ activists and human rights organisations lobbying for a national standard.