Conversion Therapy

In late 2020, the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Bill was introduced into the Victorian parliament and passed into law in early 2021.  While the Victorian Women's Guild supports the banning of harmful conversion practices, we raised several concerns related to the proposed legislation and brought these to the attention of politicans.  Our concerns centered around the fact that the Bill was poorly drafted with vague language that conflates sexual orientation and gender identity and will ultimately harm vulnerable members of society rather than help them. 

Three inquiries into change and suppression practices in Victoria found evidence of these practices were aimed at same-sex attracted people only; and that the most harmful of these were historic. They found no evidence of change or suppression practices based on a person’s gender identity, but recommended a prohibition regardless. 

What follows are the concerns of the Guild that were sent to all politicains leading up to the parliametary debate in early 2021

Don’t change the definition of sexual orientation or gender identity:

The Guild supports banning harmful conversion or suppression practices on the basis of sexual orientation. It is the way this bill has changed the definition of sexual orientation in the Equal Opportunity Act that we object to. The current definition of sexual orientation: “homosexuality (including lesbianism), bisexuality or heterosexuality” is a clear and workable definition.

Meanwhile, the suggested new definition: “a person’s emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to or intimate or sexual relations with, persons of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender,” is unintelligible because 1) sexual orientation is experienced on the basis of a person’s sex, not gender; and 2) the Bill does not define gender and poorly defines gender identity.

The Bill proposes redefining gender identity as “a person's gender-related identity…” and then proceeds to suggest a person would express this gender identity by performing stereotypes of this “gender” through mannerisms, style of dress, etc.

This is a poor definition because:

Revise politicised language and provide clearer definitions

The Bill’s Objects include ensuring that “all people feel welcome and valued in Victoria and are able to live authentically and with pride.” The Purposes and Objects of an Act should assist a court or tribunal to interpret the Act, where such questions arise. How would this object help a court or tribunal? These are some common scenarios we see taking place that would be hard to adjudicate:

The bill aims ‘to denounce’: this is highly unusual language for Victorian law and points at the politicised nature of the bill’s development. As A/Prof Neil Foster notes, we only see Victorian law refer to denunciation as one of the purposes of sentencing of convicted offenders, whereby judges are allowed to order sentences which denounces the type of conduct in which the offender engaged. 

Explain this: What does it mean to suppress gender identity? What does change or suppression conduct mean? 

There is a common understanding in the community of what changing someone’s sexual orientation means. However:

We note that in Victorian law, a person can change their legally recorded sex on their birth certificates as often as once a year. If a person supports a person to change their legally recorded sex (which some would say is the same as a gender identity), is this person in breach of the law? Or are they only in breach if they’re helping the person go from being transgender to their sex?

Change how the Bill handles matters of consent:

The bill even bans practices done with a person’s consent. It seems to fly in the face of established legal principles that even practices done without coercion should be criminalised and subject to sanctions of up to ten years imprisonment. 

If a young person who has transitioned would like the assistance of a health service provider to detransition, and wants the support of their teachers to manage this in the school community, the professionals should be able to do so without fear that they’re breaching the law. 

Decrease the powers of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC):

The Bill requires VEOHRC to engage in public information campaigns. The bill also gives VEOHRC extraordinary powers to accept reports of change or suppression practices and facilitate mediations; and to investigate complaints. This puts VEOHRC in the position where it has a vested interest in finding change or suppression practices in Victoria, even though the three inquiries leading to the bill did not identify harmful conversion practices in Australia on the basis of gender identity. So what will VEOHRC find and who will they subject to investigation and ‘re-education’?