Timothy Willem Jones (La Trobe) presented the first ‘First Friday’ seminar on LGBT Conversion therapy: Sex, Religion and Human Rights at Deakin Downtown on 1 March 2019.
LGBT Conversion therapy: Sex, Religion and Human Rights
In a media announcement at the opening of the 2019 Victorian Pride March, the premier of Victoria announced that his government would be the first in Australia to “introduce new legislation to ensure so-called ‘conversion therapy’ is against the law – once and for all”. The announcement was celebrated by LGBT community groups. Conservative Christians, however, were alarmed. The Australian Christian Lobby warned: “This would be seen as a direct attack on the faiths of millions of everyday Australians.”
Religious based LGBT conversion therapy has been practised in Australia for at least the past fifty years. As Australian medical authorities declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973 and ceased attempts to ‘cure’ it, conservative religious organisations in Australia developed their own spiritual and counselling practices directed toward the sexual and gender reorientation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (religious based conversion therapy has not included forced medical interventions on people born with intersex variations, so these interventions are beyond the scope of this paper). Over time, Australian LGBT conversion therapy movements became affiliated with a global network of similar religious conversion therapy organisations. Conversion therapy is grounded in the conviction that all people are born with the potential to develop into heterosexuals, with a gender identity that accords with that assigned to them at birth. It views LGBT people as suffering from ‘sexual brokenness’, which can be cured. Full membership and participation in faith communities can depend on LGBT people of faith committing to celibacy and seeking ‘healing’ for their sexual brokenness (SOCE Survivor Statement, 2018). Health research has demonstrated that LGBT conversion ‘therapies’ do not reorient people’s sexuality or gender identity and may lead to long-lasting harms (What We Know Project, 2017). Despite evidence of their futility and harm, these practices continue in Australia today. Our pilot study estimated that 10% of LGBT Australians are currently vulnerable to LGBT conversion therapy, being members of religious communities that practice and promote conversion therapy (Jones et al., 2018). In 2018, banning LGBT conversion therapy was identified as LGBT Australian’s top priority (Karp, 2018).
This paper will provide a preliminary genealogy of present conflicts over religious freedom and sexual discrimination related to LGBT conversion therapy, and reflect on the implications of a human rights framework on strategic historical and social research.
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