New legislation to outlaw gay conversion therapy was introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly yesterday (13 August), two years after the Government delivered its Capital of Equality plan.
Under the bill, those found to engage in the practice of sexuality or gender identity conversion of a protected person – defined as a child or a person who has impaired decision-making ability in relation to a matter relating to the person’s health or welfare – can face up to $24,000 in fines or 12 months’ imprisonment.
It will also be illegal to remove a protected person from the ACT for conversion therapy.
“We’ve certainly got survivors who are living in the ACT, and people who have experienced this sort of conversion therapy even in the past five to 10 years in the ACT,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.
“There are contemporary examples [and] I understand the practice to be still occurring in most Australian states and territories. It has evolved a little from the 20th-century practices that involved electro-shock therapy and the use of drugs to induce nausea … seeking to chemically alter them.
“It has become more psychological. There are still examples across the nation where organisations purport to be able to change someone’s sexuality in a way that is clearly debunked from medical and psychological professionals.”
Criminal charges will not be leveled against religious teachers or medical professionals or psychiatrists providing legitimate services that relate to the development or affirmation of a person’s sexuality or gender identity.
Mr Barr co-sponsored the bill with the Minister for Justice Shane Rattenbury.
“Conversion practices are based on a bogus ideology that LGBTIQ+ people are ‘broken’ or ‘unnatural’ and need to be fixed. This could not be further from the truth,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“These practices are abhorrent, dangerous and outdated. They can lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, even suicide. Survivors say it can take a whole lifetime to undo the damage caused – if achieved at all.”
Complaints will be dealt with through the ACT Human Rights Commission.
The bill’s explanatory statement outlined protections for religious schools.
“This measure will not prevent religious schools from teaching the tenets of their faith, including teachings on homosexuality or gender identity. It is aimed only at practices that actively seek to change the sexuality or gender identity of a person,” the statement says.
The bill is set to pass with the Canberra Liberals providing their in-principle support ahead of its introduction to the Assembly.