The Extent To Which Anti-Gay Conversion Therapy Is Used In Australia Has Been Revealed And It Is Anti-Good News

If you thought straight brain-washing was just an American thing then we need to change your thinking.

It would be easy to assume that anti-gay conversion therapy is largely an American practice: they’re known for evangelical strains of Christianity that rarely flourish elsewhere, and the majority of the well-known media representations of conversion therapy are American (But I’m A Cheerleader, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Boy Erased).

But anti-gay conversion therapy has been taking place in Australia since the 1970s, and a new report released today reveals just how widespread it is. (Note: despite being colloquially known as ‘ex-gay’ ministries, these groups also target transgender and gender diverse individuals as well).

The Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice report, co-authored by researchers drawn from the Human Rights Law Centre, La Trobe University and GLHV (formerly known as Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria).

The study found that up to 10% of LGBTQ Australians are still vulnerable to conversion therapy practices, and at least ten organisations in Australia and New Zealand currently advertise conversion therapy services.

According to the report, “Rather than receding, our research suggests that conversion practices and ideologies are being mainstreamed within particular Christian churches.”

Australia saw the emergence of ex-gay ministries in the late 1970s, following their emergence in the United States. The majority of these ministries are Protestant Christian – the report explains that Catholics generally just encourage chastity and celibacy for everyone who isn’t married, gay or straight. The report also mentions that conservative Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist groups have also offered conversion therapies in the past.

Conversion therapy often uses the language of self-help blended with psychoanalytic practices to lend them an air of legitimacy. Many films that have looked at conversion therapy have touched on this – both But I’m A Cheerleader and The Miseducation of Cameron Post feature characters looking for the ‘root’ of their ‘perversion’ – the traumatic event that caused them to think they were gay.

The movement gained prominence in the 90s when Australian ex-gay ministries joined forces with their bigger American equivalents. In that same decade, hate groups like the Westboro Baptist Church also gained prominence.

By 2002, there were as many as 30 ex-gay ministries operating around the country, and their practices included counselling, residential camps, exercises aimed at encouraging ‘normative’ gender behaviour, and spiritual interventions like prayer, scripture reading, fasting and spiritual healing. Well-known cases mentioned in the report include those of an international student who was threatened with being sent back to their country of origin to face the prospect of corrective rape, and another case where a minor was given electroshock therapy against their will.

A report from the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year interviewed people who’d been subjected to conversion therapy, and they had to endure practices such as aversion therapy and people speaking in tongues.

In addition to those practices, the report found that:

“Some ex-gay ministries also referred clients to trusted registered medical and psychological clinicians who were known to provide psychotherapy, pharmacological and aversion therapies aimed at sexual orientation or gender identity change.”

Homosexuality wasn’t removed completely from the DSM (the manual used in the US to classify mental disorders) until 1987.

According to the report, in the decade following 2002, the number of ministries advertising conversion therapy declined, but researchers were unable to link this decline with a decline in the actual practicing of conversion therapy.

These ministries tried to adapt: they began emphasising that they were looking to assist people who experienced ‘unwanted’ same-sex attraction; that is, people who agreed there was something wrong with them.

This focus on agency is reinforced in the report’s own conclusions; according to the Sydney Morning Herald, the researchers make clear that adults who wish to seek faith-based guidance should be allowed to do so, because legislating against that would limit religious freedom. The researchers do recommend outlawing conversion therapy for minors, however.

For adults, the report suggests challenging these ministries by raising awareness of the severity of these harms and supporting the development of improved pastoral practice with LGBT people”, although the researchers add that “once a practitioner is providing services as a professional, or purporting to, in our view it is appropriate for the state to step in to regulate the provision of those services”.

Allowing these ministries to continue to exist in any way, shape or form is harmful to the LGBTQ community. Adults who feel so ashamed of who they are that they seek out the services of these ministries shouldn’t be encouraged to do so in the name of free will; instead, unpacking the reasons they feel so ashamed with a licensed medical professional would be much more productive.

The best that someone can hope for as a result of conversion therapy is a denial of their identity; there is no serious scientific research that suggests sexuality can be changed under duress.

The Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have condemned conversion therapy, with RACP’s President, Dr Catherine Yelland, telling Triple J:

“Gay conversion therapy is unethical, harmful and not supported by medical evidence.”

Making exceptions for religious organisations to perpetuate harmful practices is not an example of making reasonable allowances in the name of religious freedom; it’s actively prioritising a religious group’s right to perpetuate misinformation and bigotry over the right of LGBTQ people to feel safe and supported.

The fact that religious schools in Australia have been allowed to expel gay students is another example of this misguided attempt to ensure religious freedom. Children deserve to feel supported by their schools, not demonised or cast out, and religious schools should be held to the same standards as everyone else (and, indeed, both major parties agree, as Morrison announced last week he will be working to close the loophole).

If religious schools are now being held to the same standards as government schools, why can’t religious organisations be held to the same standards as secular organisations when it comes to conversion therapy?

Bakers In Northern Ireland Have Won The Right To Not Make Pro-Gay Marriage Cakes

Happy National Coming Out Day!

The Supreme Court in Northern Ireland has ruled in favour of a baker who refused to bake a pro-gay marriage cake featuring Bert & Ernie of Sesame Street.

The story first made headlines in 2014, when a gay rights activist visited Ashers Baking Company and asked them to make a cake that said ‘Support Gay Marriage’ underneath a photo of Bert & Ernie. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that hasn’t passed a law legalising same-sex marriage.

Bert doesn’t like that.

The bakery’s staff passed the order along to their head office, who declared the cake to be at odds with their beliefs. In the end, another bakery made the cake, and the issue was taken to court.

The activist took the issue to court with the assistance of the Northern Irish Equality Commission, and initially, the court agreed that the bakery’s actions were discriminatory. That verdict was upheld following an appeal, but this week, a second appeal was successful, and the Supreme Court found that the bakery’s actions were not discriminatory.

This decision comes after the United States Supreme Court made a similar ruling in June. They ruled in favour of a Colorado-based baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2012.

While the US Supreme Court focused on the religious freedom (a right guaranteed by the First Amendment) of the baker, the UK Supreme Court focused on not forcing the bakery to ice a message that it profoundly disagreed with.


“The bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to Mr Lee because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage, but that is quite different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed.”

Australia hasn’t yet had a case like this, although a case where Christian Youth Camps were sued for denying a group of gay teenagers use of their facilities found that CYC had unlawfully discriminated against the group.

The CYC tried to use the religious freedom exemptions included in the Equal Opportunity Act of 1995 (VIC), but the court found that since the group was not ‘a body established for religious purposes’, the exemptions weren’t applicable. If a bakery tried to use a similar argument to those used in the US or UK in Australia, it might have difficulty given bakeries don’t exist for religious purposes.

Activists fear that these rulings will set a precedent that allows private businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexuality and defend their right to do using an argument of religious freedom, or free speech. The manager of Ashers Baking Company described the Supreme Court’s decision in their favour as a “victory for free speech” when he spoke to the media.

The UK case is tricky, because the bakery argued that they weren’t discriminating against the activist because he was gay, it was because they didn’t agree with the message he wanted on the cake. So the bakers in the two cases used different arguments, but achieved the same results.

These cases raise all sorts of questions, including: where does one person’s right to free speech end and another’s begin? Which other groups can be discriminated against on the grounds of religious freedom or free speech?

Anti-discrimination laws exist for a reason. But these cases tell us that they aren’t enough when religious freedom or free speech are perceived as being under threat, as does yesterday’s news that Prime Minister Scott Morrison supports the right of religious schools to expel students on the basis of their sexuality. I just hope that if a similar case comes up in Australia, the courts do the right thing.

GLAAD’s New Award Category Will Help Give Gaymers The Representation They Deserve

The announcement of the new category comes ahead of the 30th GLAAD Media Awards next year.

GLAAD will recognise video games that have outstanding “LGBTQ-inclusive content” starting next year at the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards.

While the awards have previously recognised outstanding comic books, blogs, TV shows and movies, this is the first time video games will be included among the categories.

The full description of the category is:

Given to a video game with outstanding LGBTQ-inclusive content. Award is given for an interactive experience that includes authentic and impactful LGBTQ characters or storylines. Judging will take into consideration the degree to which the LGBTQ-inclusive content is effectively woven into gameplay, including player agency and the world itself. 

AKA, the inclusion of LGBTQ characters should be meaningful and not tokenistic. Think Life Is Strange or Gone Home, or The Last Of Us: Part II.

Speaking to The Hollywood ReporterGLAAD’s VP of Programs Zeke Stokes said that “there was an unprecedented number of LGBTQ-inclusive games in 2017”, and that GLAAD “can’t ignore the video gaming space”, adding that it’s “super evident the gaming industry are willing” to help make sure LGBTQ people are included in media. Stokes also said that GLAAD is expecting more than a dozen nominees for the category.

GLAAD has previously recognised Dragon Age: Inquisition for its inclusion of LGBTQ characters in 2014.

Nominations are currently open for next year’s awards, and nominees will be announced in January.

(Header photo courtesy of Dontnod Entertainment)


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