Conversion Therapy: The overdue bill to protect young LGBTQA

The big topic in New Zealand at the moment is our recent bill aimed at banning Conversion Therapy. But what really is Conversion Therapy, and what are the odds of it being banned in Aotearoa?

Conversion Therapy, also known as “reparative therapy” or “gay cure therapy” is when select groups, usually spurred by religious beliefs, try to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

In practice, it means trying to stop or suppress someone from being gay, or from living as a different gender to their sex recorded at birth. The practice itself on the less extreme side can include talking therapies and prayer. More extreme forms can include exorcisms, physical violence, and food deprivation.

The sad fact is Conversion Therapy is often aimed at the younger generations. According to The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 10% of LGBTQ youth reported undergoing conversion therapy, with 78% reporting it occurred when they were under age 18. Youth who reported undergoing conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not.

If we strip Conversion Therapy down to its core, what is it is a group of people who are uncomfortable with another sexual or gender orientation who believe that it is their job to make these groups conform to their own belief systems.

While some conversion therapists continue to use physical methods, including painful aversive conditioning, the most common techniques in New Zealand s today include “talk therapies” that licensed or unlicensed practitioners use in an attempt to “treat” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

They may falsely claim that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a result of abuse and childhood trauma, or otherwise a result of the person’s environment and upbringing. Part of the reason for the vast diversity in experiences of change efforts is due to the fact that modern science has so thoroughly rejected the practice, so there is no accredited training for mental health professionals on how to attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. That also means there is no ethical standard of care for doing so.

Especially for faith-based providers, conversion therapy often involves teachings pulled from religious texts, prayer, spiritual discipline, and practices modeled off of twelve-step programs targeting “sexual brokenness,” “unwanted same-sex attractions,” or “gender confusion.”

Importantly, “conversion therapy” does not include counseling that helps a person to find social support or explore their identity. Laws against conversion therapy also do not prevent people from providing treatment for sexual assault, harassment, and abuse.

To see how ridiculous this idea is, try flipping the narrative. If a group of homosexual men forced a heterosexual man into therapy and made him pray until he wanted to suck a dick, there would be outrage and disbelief this had happened. Yet somehow in our progressive state, the opposite is still a Government-funded practice.

What is our government doing about it?

Conversion Therapy itself is an example of the poor practice of combing church and state and happens when religious beliefs get intertwined with laws. However at least now our Government is taking a stand to protect the rainbow community.

Recently, our government introduced the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill, Minister of Justice, Kris Faafoi, said the measures proposed were aimed at ending conversion practices which don’t work, are widely discredited, and cause harm to rainbow communities and the wider community.

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“Those who have experienced conversion practices talk about ongoing mental health distress, depression, shame and stigma, and even suicidal thoughts,” Kris Faafoi said.

“Health professionals, religious leaders, and human rights advocates here and overseas have spoken out against these practices as harmful and having the potential to perpetuate prejudice, discrimination, and abuse towards members of rainbow communities,” Kris Faafoi said.

Now our country is looking to follow suit for those who have already banned this practice, including the US, Canada, Germany, the UK, and the Australian states of Queensland, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory.

Conversion practices have no place in modern New Zealand. They are based on the false belief that any person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is broken and in need of fixing.

In 2021, it should be acceptable to be true to who you are without the chance that you’ll be asked to ‘pray away the gay’.

So how can you help?

Sign the bill and have your voice be heard to speak out against this historical, inaccurate, and inhumane practice. – templates for submissions – how to make a submission.