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ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay after state bans gay conversion therapy

A politician has choked back tears after the Australian Capital Territory became the second state or territory to ban gay conversion therapy.

The Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill was passed in the ACT Legislative Assembly on Thursday afternoon, and is expected to come into force early next year.  

Anyone found to be using the controversial therapy to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be slapped with either a hefty $24,000 fine or 12-month jail sentence, the ABC reported. 

ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay broke down in the assembly as he recalled devastating stories about gay conversion.

‘I have led congregations and communities of faith where people have sought refuge after being subjected to conversion therapies that have been done in the name of the church and even at times in the name of God,’ he said.  

‘Madam Speaker, these are not my stories to tell. But I can assure members that they are painful and they are traumatic.’ 

Queensland became the first Australian state to ban gay conversion therapy on August 20. 

Doctors, counsellors and psychologists could now face up to 18 months in a Queensland prison if found guilty of using aversion therapy, hypnotherapy or psychoanalysis as part of conversion therapy.

Some people have undergone a host of bizarre and extreme practices to change their sexual orientation, including exorcism, hugging and even electric shock therapy.

‘Behavioural management’ is also used, as is giving patients nausea-inducing drugs while showing them a picture of someone of the same sex.

Some practitioners also use counselling or ‘repression techniques’ to encourage a person to keep their feelings about sex or identity private. 

State Health Minister Steven Miles told parliament being LGBTIQ did not require medical treatment, as it was not an affliction or disease.

He said conversion therapy was ‘highly destructive and unethical’.

‘No treatment or practice can change a person’s sexual attraction or experience of gender,’ Mr Miles said, according to a report by SBS. 

He has previously called practice ‘immoral’ and said it has ‘long been discredited by the medical sector’, in November 2019.

‘I strongly oppose any suggestion that being LGBTIQ is a disorder that requires medical treatment,’ he said at the time. 

‘This is an appalling practice that has no place in modern society, let alone Queensland’s health system.

‘It does nothing but cause harm and devastation to vulnerable members of the community who need and deserve our support and respect.’

Queensland Council LGBTI Health president Peter Black said the ban sent a clear message to Queenslanders that conversion therapy was ‘harmful in all contexts’.

‘People should be nurtured and protected so they can live and love without fear of abuse, ridicule or exclusion,’ he said in November.

He said having ‘penalties for this dangerous and discredited practice’ was important.

‘There continues to be a need for education and further research on the harms of conversion therapies, as well as support for survivors of conversion therapies,’ he said.  

But Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Change Efforts (SOGICE) Survivors and Brave Network, two advocacy groups led by conversion survivor self-advocates, said they were ‘extremely concerned’ about the ability of the Queensland government’s legislation ‘to prevent the harm currently seen among recent survivors’.

‘Overwhelmingly, the bulk of harm occurs over time in informal settings (such as pastoral care in faith communities), and not in therapeutic contexts,’ the statement read.

‘This harm is driven by false and misleading claims made to people over a long period of time. Because of this, legislation aimed solely at health service providers using ‘therapy’ is not going to solve the problem.

‘Health professionals are only very rarely involved in conversion practices in 2020, and therefore must not be the sole focus of any legislation or response.’ 

The La Trobe University and the Human Rights Law Centre found conversion therapy ‘pervasive’ in Australian faith communities in a report in 2018.

It included at least ten Australian and New Zealand organisations offering the practice. 

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