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Reparative Therapy

(12.38pm 24 October 2013, Motion, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I move that this House:

        (1) Notes that the Australian Psychological Society has referred to so called "reparative therapy" treatment as harmful.
        (2) Notes that there is no scientific research to substantiate the claims that medical and psychological treatment can change a person's sexual orientation.

Reparative therapy seeks to use counseling, psychotherapy, prayer and group sessions to attempt to turn a gay or lesbian person straight, or to help them manage their homosexuality so they can live a straight or celibate life. In the past electroconvulsive therapy has been used. Embedded in this theory is the notion that homosexuality is a disorder that can be changed and an immorality that must be healed. Like most Australians, I strongly disagree with this premise. I understand that at least 10 organisations practice reparative therapy in Australia, all of which claim to be Christian based. Stories from people who have undergone reparative therapy refer to counsellors delving into their past in a neo-Freudian attempt to uncover an absent or distant father, an overbearing mother or child sex abuse and being told that these are the reasons they are homosexual. People undergoing reparative therapy are not referred to as gay or lesbian; they are told that they suffer from same-sex attraction or unwanted homosexual desires.

I understand that none of the programs offered in Australia are run by accredited psychologists or psychiatrists. Reparative therapy has absolutely no scientific merit whatsoever and no peer-reviewed study has shown that it works or that sexuality can be changed. In fact, psychology experts condemn the therapy as not only futile but also inherently damaging to mental health. The Australian Psychological Society holds the position that homosexuality is not a diagnosable mental disorder and recommends against practitioners attempting to change someone's sexual orientation. The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973 and the World Health Organization removed it from its International Classification of Diseases in 1990. In May, the Pan American Health Organization released a statement referring to reparative therapy as a "serious threat to the health and wellbeing of affected people".

Some people who have undergone reparative therapy have developed obsessive addictive behaviours, depression, suicidal ideation and suicides. Brisbane psychologist Paul Martin, who underwent two years of ex-gay therapy in the early 1990s, refers to the former reparative therapy participants he now treats as "some of the most psychologically damaged people" he has seen in his life. He says that it has the potential to psychologically damage innocent people and contribute to suicidal behaviour. Participants are pressured to reject who they are and their natural orientation. They often experience feelings of failure, hopelessness and shame, and of being condemned by God. Vulnerable people who have been told that their sexuality is a sin are given false hope through reparative therapy because it will ultimately fail.

When former Assemblies of God minister Anthony Venn-Brown released his autobiography, which described his experience with ex-gay therapy, he was contacted by thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Christians, whom he says revealed enormous suffering. Anthony Venn-Brown co-established a support group for gay and lesbian Christians called Freedom2b and established the organisation Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International, which has been monitoring ex-gay therapies in Australia. Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International says that reparative therapy attempts to do the impossible and highlights the damage it does not only to participants but also to the families they attempt to create. It reports that often ex-gay therapy heterosexual marriages fail in the long term, leaving the husband or wife feeling betrayed or inadequate because they failed to convert their spouse. Children are also hurt by broken families and when a parent comes out in an environment where homosexuality has been stigmatised.

Defenders of reparative therapy say that they are helping people who want to change and who do not want to be homosexual. This denies the fact that participants have been raised within a community that tells them that homosexuality is a sin and that they cannot be Christian and gay. In such an environment, gay men and lesbians can be tormented by their sexuality and will latch on to any hope of change. However, that is impossible: We cannot pray the gay away! Disturbingly, on Saturday Canberra Times journalist Lisa Cox reported that students from a Christian school were required to undergo counselling for their homosexuality, during which they were told they were not actually gay and could change.

When I introduced my Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Private Educational Authorities) Bill 2013 I shared with the House stories from students who attended Christian schools and were made to undergo counselling to deal with their sexuality. According to Anthony Venn-Brown, reparative therapy is on the decline, but it is still happening. In the United States the leading ex-gay therapy organisation recently denounced its practices, and in July the Californian Government passed a bill co-sponsored by Senator Ricardo Lara banning reparative therapy on anyone under 18 years of age. I believe we should move to protect vulnerable people coming to terms with their sexuality, promote real support and acceptance within faith communities and schools, and outlaw this futile and damaging practice. I commend the motion to the House.


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