The Victorian Change and Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 has passed the lower house and may be voted into law in February 2021. The Bill ostensibly targets cruel, coercive and degrading therapies to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, but in the process also prohibits all requested, non-coercive therapies. It seeks not only to regulate the counselling of pastors and the discussions parents have with their own children, but to prohibit and punish conversations and advice about mainstream moral beliefs. This amounts to the most radical attack on parents and church in any democratic country in the world.
The Bill is a deception practised on the people of Victoria by its own government. It would appear that the Minister for Health formed a preconceived plan and has then been party to an elaborate ruse of ‘consultation’ to bring this about. What is the evidence for this?
1/ The Health Complaints Commission seems to have been created with this end in mind.
A document from the Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) states as much. The agenda of the Victorian government therefore was already formed in 2016, when the Health Complaints Act (HCA) was passed to create the position of Health Complaints Commissioner (HCC) empowered to investigate matters raised by the minister, not just complaints they received in the course of their operations. Three years later, a DJCS questionnaire entitled ‘Legislative option to implement a ban on conversion practices discussion paper’ stated that ‘The Health Complaints Act 2016 (HCA) was intended to enable the HCC to respond to gay conversion practices where they are performed by a health service.’ Perhaps they have said just a little too much!
2/ The inquiry was created by the Minister, not driven by complaints.
In 2018 the Victorian Minister for Health formally instructed to the HCC to inquire into conversion therapy, “despite the fact that since the Health Complaints Commission was set up in February, 2017 no one had come forward with a formal complaint about any incidents of harm from counselling out of same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.”
3/ There has been no transparency in the consultation process. The HHC report was not made public.
Incredibly, the HCC produced no public report, only a flimsy two page executive summary in November 2018 that was critical of conversion therapy and advocating legislative change. The summary draws attention to the three countries in the world where there are laws against involuntary conversion therapy. The summary makes no mention of parents, and ‘religious freedoms’ are specifically excluded from the report.
4. We are told that the Minister was greatly influenced also by a second report, known as the HRLC report.
But the HRLC report is worthless. Yet, although compromised by its selective data-gathering, by its patent bias, and, most seriously, by the lack of transparency in its funding, it has been accorded preferential significance by the minister.
We are told that the minister formed the view that urgent legislative change was required on the basis of the HHC report, received in October 2018, and a second ‘report’ received in November 2018, Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT conversion therapy in Australia, co-produced by the then Latrobe Gay and Lesbian Health and the Human Rights Law Centre. This report declares itself to be funded by Latrobe University.
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The report’s methodology sought testimonies of gay and lesbian ‘survivors’ with grievances against religious groups. As a result the report recommended legislation to stop parents and ministers of religion talking informally with children about these matters. While personal testimonies are powerful in any context, a sample size of fifteen recruited from LGBTI networks and social media is statistically meaningless and cannot be presented as a justification for legislation that has the temerity to regulate the mainstream religious advice of pastors, rabbis, and imams to their own flocks, and of parents to their own children.
But here’s the real twist. The Latrobe Gay and Lesbian Health (GLHV) was a unit in the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) at Latrobe. The 2018 annual report for ARCSHS declares ‘Formerly known as GLHV@ARCSHS, the newly renamed Rainbow Health Victoria is funded by the Victorian Government to improve the health and wellbeing of LGBTI Victorians and the care they receive.’ This disingenuous report, funded by the Victorian government itself, now has become a key reason for the government to act urgently. So much for consultation!
5/ The process goes to extraordinary lengths to coverup the implicit deceptions.
This HRLC report is nothing but a flawed submission, one that was never made to the HHC. Self-described as a ‘major report’, it found its way into the minister’s hands just at the right time, and despite the embarrassment that it is a government-funded attack on religion, the minister has not hesitated to deem it an extraordinary influence in her decision-making. This must call into question not only the minister’s judgment but also her motives.
The later Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) consultation, drawing heavily on the HHC report, and Latrobe Gay and Lesbian Health/Human Rights Law Centre report, appears to complete the masquerade. The DJCS report made repeated scrupulous reference to the HRLC (Human Rights Law Centre) report, but without mentioning its funding, co-authorship, and recruitment methods. This sham consultation conceals the extraordinary lengths to avoid the light of objective evaluation revealing the genesis of this legislation.
The Bill has been vigorously advanced with a minimum of information, time and transparency. Even MPs received only a memorandum explaining the language of the Bill while presenting as a given the need for most urgent legislation to protect the vulnerable.
In Queensland, a transparent parliamentary inquiry was created, leading to significant modification of their 2020 legislation that focused only on professional conversion therapies. This is standard practice for controversial legislation. But not in Victoria.
6/ In 21st Century Australia, cruel and coercive conversion practices are a myth.
The Bill makes wildly exaggerated claims of terrible practices in order to shut down all opposed to its underpinning ideology. It purports to address cruel, coercive and degrading therapies to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This language brings visions of confinement, unrequested hypnosis, verbal abuse and humiliation, surgery, hormonal medications … the whole toolkit of Dr Frankenstein.
Yet such gothic conversion practices are a myth, and ‘can hardly be considered a scientifically responsible basis for legal prohibitions’, so writes the editor of the Journal of Human Sexuality. He continues (emphasis added):
The scholars and activists who purvey these prevalence statistics appear more than willing to create the impression that an astronomical level of LGBT exposure to the worst coercive and aversive behavioral interventions has occurred and is still taking place. Such claims are occurring four decades after such practices have ceased to be utilized by professionals to modify sexual orientation, even by therapists still willing to explore sexual attraction and gender identity fluidity with clients who request this.
If the Bill were concerned about coercive practices, even though already unlawful, they would be its redundant focus. This Bill, however, prohibits non-coercive and requested therapies as well. It prohibits all religious counselling, professional treatment and parental advice. It even prohibits approaches to groups such as Courage International or the Changed Movement, with proven track records of effective change support for those who ask.
7/ The talk of human rights is a furphy: sexual orientation and gender beliefs are not, properly speaking, human rights.
The Bill presents itself as champion of human rights. Enforcement will be in the hands of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. What can be wrong with defending human rights? Again, this furthers the elaborate masquerade.
The wording of the Bill evokes the Yogyakarta Principles as justification for gender ideology and sexual expression. Yet the very architect of the Yogyakarta Principles, Michael O’Flaherty, admits that sexual orientation and gender beliefs are not human rights. In speaking to the ILGA Conference in Lithuania in 2007, he explains,
We have human rights because we exist, not because we are gay or straight, and irrespective of our gender identities.
It is true to say: ‘I have human rights if I play cricket, if I smoke, or if am in prison.’ But it is not true to claim a human right to play cricket, to smoke, to go to prison, to be gay, trans, or heterosexual. It’s faulty logic or intentionally deceptive.
In any case, the Yogyakarta Principles are not worth the paper they are written on. There were only 29 signatories, and it was rejected by the UN General Assembly and mainstream feminists who denounce gender fabrications as opposed to what is truly female: ‘One cannot on one hand claim to be in support of feminism while also claiming there is no such thing as women.’ The views of JK Rowling and of Germaine Greer against gender ideology are also well publicised.
8/ Neither the Minister nor the Bill seem interested in reality but in advancing an unsound ideology.
The Bill disregards the sociological and scientific realities of sexual orientation and gender identity. As neither sexual orientation nor gender dysphoria are mental illnesses, the explanation for them must either lie wholly in our genes and in epigenetic factors beyond our control, wholly in our free choices, or in a combination of both: certain genetic dispositions predisposing but not predetermining desires and behaviour.
It is well established that neither same sex attraction nor gender dysphoria are wholly attributable to genes. Identical twin studies show this. For example, one Australian study published in 2000 found that if one twin identifies as gay, only about one in nine genetically identical siblings will also identify as gay. Further, a 2019 study in Nature found that the established psychological assumptions about the genetic components of same sex attraction were simply wrong:
… on the genetic level, there is no single dimension from opposite-sex to same-sex preference. The existence of such a dimension, in which the more someone is attracted to the same-sex the less they are attracted to the opposite-sex, is the premise of the Kinsey scale, a research tool ubiquitously used to measure sexual orientation.
Professor Andrea Ganna, a geneticist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, who led the study stated simply ‘There is no ‘gay gene’. Rather, sexual and gender preferences result from an interplay of certain genetic and epigenetic dispositions with one’s environment and choices. Choice plays an even greater role in manifested sexual behaviours. As a consequence of this interplay of nature and choice, pathways of thought, desire and behaviour are established and consolidated. These pathways will necessarily be open to future change through voluntarily sought, appropriate interventions.
Such self-conditioned neuroplastic modification of desires, behaviour and capacities is a primary mechanism in stroke recovery, learning to play the piano, establishing online and social habits, overcoming or succumbing to discouragement, or in following or choosing to re-condition one’s desires. In short, self-determined neuroplastic modification is present wherever choices and patterns of behaviour intersect. To ban the possibility of conversion therapy is to be ignorant of the understanding we now have of how desires and behaviours are neurobiologically established. For a legislator, such ignorance is culpable; it will deny alternatives to some of our most vulnerable people, and open the State to class actions for neglect of duty of care.
9/ Ideology trumps children in Victoria.
Sadly it will be the children who are most damaged from all this. The architects of the Bill ignore the weight of international discontent with the gender insanity that has filled the minds and scarred the bodies of too many young persons already. Blind Freddy can see that the more airplay a society gives to gender dysphoria, the more it will become an issue. The more social media and entertainment are sexualised, the more young people will define their lives around sex. It’s obvious.
In most recent developments, the overreach of advocates of transitioning is now being called out by US and UK courts. On December 1, 2020, the UK High Court ruled that children under 16 are “unlikely to be able to give informed consent” to conversion therapy. Less than two weeks earlier, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals struck down conversion therapy bans in Florida. One male-to-female transitioning US teenager, in bitterly regretting their surgery, described it as ‘… a Frankenstein hack job’.
The focus on coercive practices is a masquerade. The Bill trades away the futures of vulnerable children in a brazen attempt to normalise a radical sexual agenda, to erode parental rights, and to establish a certain regulation of religion. The Bill stitches up a case against parents and religion, fuelled by deceit and ideology without basis in science or objective transparent consultation. The promoters of the Bill are neither interested in facts and reality, nor in the welfare of the most vulnerable, but only in achieving their ends.
Dr Andy Mullins teaches formation of character in the Masters program at the University of Notre Dame Australia. His doctorate investigated the intersection of neuroscience and moral behaviour. He is the author of Parenting for Character. He may be contacted at email@example.com