The Andrews Government’s Conversion and Suppression Practices Ban Bill started with an idea many would support – banning non-consensual aversion therapy for sexual orientation. But it totally jumps the shark by making illegal (and often criminal) a very wide range of conduct directed towards a person (from mere conversation to counselling to therapy) by anyone – parents, relatives, friends, counsellors, clinicians, community or religious leaders. And it is completely irrelevant that the person requested and consented to the conduct – it is still illegal.
Hard to believe? Here is the key definition in the Bill. A change or suppression practice means a practice or conduct directed towards a person, whether with or without the person’s consent, on the basis of the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, for the purpose of changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person or inducing the person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The official explanation of the Bill says this definition “is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including, informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity”. So simple conversations are in the net (and they don’t have to be with a community leader).
Take some examples. Tom, a 40 year old man in a heterosexual marriage with children has feelings of same sex attraction which, at the time, he does not want. He discusses these with a trusted friend who advises him to ignore those feelings and focus on expressing his feelings for his wife and refers him to a counsellor who gives the same advice and self-talk strategies to achieve this. Under the Bill, both the friend and the counsellor have contravened the law by inducing Tom to change or suppress his same sex orientation. It is irrelevant that Tom asked for and consented to their help. If Tom later says he suffered sustained psychological harm from the counselling, the counsellor can be prosecuted and if found guilty jailed for up to 10 years and probably disqualified. It is irrelevant that at the time of the counselling, Tom was a consenting and enthusiastic client.
Bree, a 13 year old girl tells her parents she feels more like a boy and wants to identify as a boy. Her parents discuss it with her and a therapist and they all ask Bree to hold off any changes to see if the feelings persist through and after puberty. Under the Bill the conduct of the parents and the therapist is suppressing or inducing the child to suppress gender identity and is illegal. If Bree complains to the school or a social worker or relative who supports her desire to express a male gender identity now, an example in the Bill indicates that the parent’s conduct can be “emotional or psychological abuse” justifying a family violence order against the parents. In addition, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission can investigate the parents’ conduct, compel them to answer questions and issue them with a “compliance notice” to take or refrain from specified action. If the parents don’t contest the notice within 28 days in VCAT, the Commission can get a VCAT order compelling the parents to comply with the notice. And if it is proved that Bree suffered sustained psychological harm the parents and therapist can be charged with criminal offences. This lays bare the Bill’s agenda to intimidate every Victorian into an unquestioning affirmation stance on gender transition whether or not that is right for the particular child.
Let’s assume the State or a relative helps Bree out of the parents’ home and at 15 she transitions to a male gender identity as Brian by getting cross-sex hormone treatment which renders Brian infertile. At 21, like Keira Bell who has successfully sued the Tavistock gender transition clinic in London, Brian regrets the decision and seeks help to change gender identity expression back to a woman. But it is not clear that the Bill permits anyone to help Brian de-transition. The Bill permits assistance to a person to transition or express their gender identity but it is not clear that covers de-transition.
The Attorney-General told Parliament that there is no evidence that sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed or suppressed. On that basis a person can only “transition” gender identity one way – to the one true unchangeable gender identity. But that is not true – people change sexual orientation and gender identity over time. What are we to make of the increasing number of gender identity transitioners who now want to de-transition like Keira Bell (see their stories at freetochange.org)? If gender identity is not changeable, the Bill maroons those who wish to de-transition in a prison of illegality. If it is changeable then why does the Bill only permit it to be changed one way?
The government’s Bill imposes a rigid gender theory on complex and diverse human experience using criminal and civil penalties more fit for a paternalist dictatorship like East Germany than a pluralist democracy like Victoria. Can we instead try a simple Bill to ban non-consensual aversion therapy for sexual orientation?