New South Wales Bans Conversion Therapy

At last. Sanity has prevailed. After a marathon debate on Thursday night that concluded with a vote at 6.30am, conversion “therapy” is banned in New South Wales.

Considering that homosexuality was removed from the list of mental illnesses half a century ago, this legislation signifies that, as a state, we are firmly rooted in the 21st century and also sends a powerful message that, telling LGBTQ individuals that they are inherently flawed and in need of change, belongs to a bygone era. The contemporary conversion “therapy” movement has been wreaking havoc and destruction in LGBTQ lives since the mid 1970s.

The prohibition on LGBTQ conversion practices also serves as a sobering warning to those who’ve promoted those messages that there will be consequences of the harm they have inflicted, no matter how well-intentioned it is.

Will people ever be held accountable?

To be honest, I often wondered if we’d ever get to this stage. Legislating against/banning conversion “therapy” is a relatively new concept that was introduced in the early 2010s. It certainly wasn’t on my or any of my US friends’ radar when we began opposing the “ex-gay”/change is possible movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Before the internet

Before the internet, during the 70s 80s and 90s, where did the 1,000’s of gay men and women who’d “failed” and left “ex-gay” programs and anti-gay churches go?

Some found love and realised that their homosexuality was an orientation, not a sin, which created the most beautiful human experiences of love, intimacy, affection and finding a partner for life.

Others left the “ex-gay” programs with a sense of failure and shame. Years of conditioned internalised homophobia continued to play out in self-destructive behaviours. Many had been traumatised and developed mental health issues like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To go back to these experiences reminded them of the pain of some of the darkest days of their lives, so they just kept quiet. Some just wanted to move on and forget about it.

For others, it all became too much. They’d failed to become straight, rejected by family and friends, disillusioned by their experiences; they choose suicide. As Matt, a survivor, tells me, “I made a lot of friends in my years of conversion therapy. Out of forty, only six are still alive (one died naturally, the rest suicide.)”

From behind-the-scenes, survivors emerged

The ex-gay/conversion “therapy” survivor movement grew in the underground cyberworld of online forums in the late 90s. I began Australia’s only “ex-gay” survivor group in 2000, which quickly grew to 400 people. It was here, listening to tragic story after tragic story, that my passion to see change ignited.

The next surge of survivors came after my autobiography, A Life of Unlearning, came out in 2004. I received 1,000s of emails saying, “your story is my story”.

Since the founding of Freedom2b in 2004 and Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International (ABBI) in 2013, we have continued to raise awareness and harm of the movement within the LGBTQ community and mainstream society. That has had its enormous challenges over the years. Believe me. One of those challenges was getting other survivors to tell their stories. I salute all the survivors who stepped up to the plate and shared their stories with the NSW government inquiry.

One of my first goals was to see all conversion “therapy” organisations in Australia closed down. That happened. And yet even now there are US based rebranded conversion “therapy” groups attempting to create a presence in Australia.

Is it the end?

The passing of this NSW Labor Government ban on LGBT conversion “therapy” practices ends a 23-year journey for me of raising awareness of the devastating impacts and lives lost as well as supporting thousands of survivors of the variety of practices disguised as Christian “support”.

Writing submissions, doing TV, radio and print interviews, researching, writing articles, deconstructing the myths, encouraging other survivors to tell their stories, webinars, documentaries have been just some of the activities I’ve been involved in the stop the harm. Sometimes you’ve just got to keep chipping away and not quit.

Over the last weeks and months, many important ingredients came together to create the win.

  1. Growing awareness in the LGBTQ community.
  2. Other states passed similar legislation (Qld, ACT, Victoria).
  3. Many more survivors have come out publicly with their stories.
  4. We had a government who did their own inquiry and believed this legislation was necessary.
  5. We had a gay rights organisation, Equality Australia, that made the issue a priority and was willing to facilitate the legal, political, social media campaign in co-operation with survivors.

Will this legislation change people’s outdated beliefs about sexuality and gender identity? For some, it might. It will certainly be a huge wake up call for many. It will definitely stop some of the harm.

We will know we have turned the corner when we see churches and denominations before completely affirming of LGBTQ people. Still much to do.

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