Christian Schools and “Conversion Practices”

We have been asked why Christian schools are expressing concerns about legislation that would ban “conversion practices”; there is a simple answer – we care about young people.

There is nobody who supports or condones the sort of coercive “gay conversion” practices which might have occurred in the context of psychological treatment and some faith communities in the middle of last century.  Such practices are abhorrent.

The legislation in place in Queensland, the ACT and most recently proposed in Victoria, the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 (VIC), however, go far beyond those practices, reaching into the heart of the current debate about caring for young people who are struggling with who they are, in particular their “gender identity”; whether they fit the cultural stereotypes around their sex or whether they might have a profound sense of difference. 

The legislation that has been adopted, and the proposed Bill in Victoria, are clearly ideologically driven, the objects of the ACT legislation, Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Act 2020 (ACT) make the intentions of that legislation clear –

“to affirm that—

(i)   all people have characteristics of sexuality and gender identity; and

(ii)  no combination of those characteristics constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency, disability or shortcoming…”

The Victorian Bill goes further (clause 3) clearly aiming to ‘denounce’ opposing views, reflecting the Attorney-General’s statement on the day the Bill was first introduced that alternative views “won’t be tolerated in Victoria”. This is legislation designed to suppression not merely the abhorrent practices of the past – but any alternative views about gender and sexuality.

The legislation, and Victorian Bill, have sweeping definitions of the actions caught up in their scope.  According to the Explanatory Memorandum for the Victorian Bill included within the scope of the “change or suppression practices” being addressed are mere “conversations with a community leader”.  This takes the Bill far beyond the coercive practices of the past.  Indeed, the explicit exclusion of the ability to consent to such conversations reinforces the oppressive nature of the Bill.

Last year a New Zealand Parliamentary Committee considered petitions to ban ‘conversion therapy’. The Committee recognised the vital need to allow questioning and advice in their Report which said (emphasis added) –

‘It is important that anyone with questions about their sexuality or gender identity feels comfortable seeking advice. This may be from a professional counsellor, family and friends, or within their religious community.

A ban on conversion therapy should not prevent anyone from seeking or providing such advice.’

For schools, as they walk with emerging adults as they establish their own identity and developing person-hood, this is essential.  For generations young people have sought the advice of teachers and other staff in matters far beyond the subject matter of a classroom. 

Just this week in the United Kingdom, the High Court considered the issue of consent for puberty blocking treatment.  The Court in their judgement raised concerns about the lack of investigation and research by proponents of the treatment into –

  • The 2,496% increase in referrals in less than a decade,
  • The significant change in the patient group, which is now predominately girls, and
  • The significant proportion of those presenting who also have a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

The Court went on to impose greater constraints on the use of puberty blockers, justifying this decision as follows:

“We express that view for these reasons. First, the clinical interventions involve significant, long-term and, in part, potentially irreversible long-term physical, and psychological consequences for young persons. The treatment involved is truly life changing, going as it does to the very heart of an individual’s identity. Secondly, at present, it is right to call the treatment experimental or innovative in the sense that there are currently limited studies/evidence of the efficacy or long-term effects of the treatment.

The legislation in Queensland and the ACT, and the Bill in Victoria, effectively entrench this type of treatment as the only option available.  This life changing treatment is explicitly protected in law, any alternative treatments, including “watchful waiting” are potentially criminal acts.  While we don’t expect mass prosecutions the effect of the threat of jail arising from subsequent complaints by a patient will make most health practitioners reluctant to explore alternative pathways.

Keira Bell, the young woman at the heart of the case in the UK, said of the decision:

“It was a judgment that will protect vulnerable young people. I wish that it had been made for me before I embarked on the devastating experiment of puberty blockers. My life would be very different today. … My hope was that outside of the noise of the culture wars the court would shine a light on this harmful experiment on vulnerable children and young people. These drugs seriously harmed me in more ways than one and they have harmed many more particularly young girls and women.”

The legislation in Queensland and the ACT, and the Bill in Victoria if passed, extinguish that hope.

There are increasing numbers of “Keiras” around the world, including within Australia.  Some of their stories are available here, but they are increasingly being documented around the world – despite considerable opposition.

The evidence being claimed to support the legislation is largely a 2018 publication by activist groups with support from La Trobe University, the origin of the deceitful and discredited ‘Safe Schools Program’. The report was based on untested claims now dating back up to 40 years, of 15 ‘survivors’ recruited through ‘social media, LBGTI media reportage of the project, and through various LGBTI, queer and ex-gay survivor networks’.   This is used to support claims that this legislation “will save lives” by those such as Victorian Gender and Sexuality Commissioner, Ro Allen.

The 2018 publication ignored the voices of those who have had a different experience, such as the 78 participants in a 2021 publication.  While sharing some of the same methodological shortcomings, it documents very different results, including a marked reduction in suicidal ideation –

“It is of fundamental importance to note from the statistics of this study that being able to change their sexual orientation or gender identity has potentially saved many of these participants’ lives. 75.6% of participants had a notable average baseline reduction in suicidal ideation of 39%.”

This is a complex and multi-faceted issue – but bans on “conversion practices” only allow a “one size fits all” solution.  If we truly care about our young people we must not submit to the small number of loud voices wanting to impose their views through such legislation.  The best, most suitable care needs to be made available to each child, whether it aligns with the predetermined ideology of such legislation or not.

We must ensure that our voices are heard. (As Dr Stephen Chavura described it on our recent podcast – this is simply a ‘meta’ form of loving your neighbour)

If you are in Victoria and want to oppose the Bill being proposed there head to the ValuEd Voices campaign page.

Want to read what others are saying about the Victorian Bill?

Murray Campbell, Pastor at Mentone Baptist Church has written extensively on the Bill:

A Day of Reckoning: Victorian Government pushes to ban Christian practices with threat of 10 years in prison

Added Information on the Conversion Practices Bill

Clarifying comments about The Age article

When Baptists suppress Baptist beliefs in support of Government conversion Bill

Stephen McAlpine, former lead pastor of Providence Church Midland and speaker at a number of Christian education conferences has also addressed the Bill:

The push to define conversion therapy as everything and anything

Rev Chris Duke, Convener of the Church & Nation Committee of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, has outlined:

What’s wrong with the Victorian Labor Government’s Conversion Therapy Ban?

Call for strenuous opposition to Victorian ‘conversion therapy’ ban legislation

Legal academic, Associate Professor Neil Forster, has cast his dispassionate legal eye over the Bill:

Victorian “Conversion Practices” Prohibition introduced

Further information about Victorian “Conversion Practices” Bill

Victoria’s Conversion Practices Bill is as bad as they say it is – provides a more recent updated overview.

Another legal view comes from Mark Sneddon, the Executive Director of the Institute for Civil Society:

Anti-conversion Bill’s rigid ideology and overreach will harm not help

James Parker has written in the Australian Presbyterian about his personal experiences of “conversion therapy”, Leah Russell writes in the same publication of her journey out of her ‘lesbian past’.

The Victorian Women’s Guild writes on the Bill here.

Akos Balogh, CEO of The Gospel Coalition Australia, refers to the Bill in his latest (number 4) post on what he describes as the subversive ideology affecting Australia and the West:

Are You Being Shaped By This Subversive Ideology?

Are You Being Shaped By This Subversive Ideology? (2)

Are You Being Shaped By This Subversive Ideology? (3)

Are You Being Shaped By This Subversive Ideology? (4)

 

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