As the Victorian Legislative Council debates the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Bill this week, I would like you to know that far from being aberrant, Queerness is beautiful. We do not need to be prayed for. In fact, we as Queer people, demand that the public see us as complex and multi-faceted human beings that we are, instead of the one-dimensional, sub-human people which is the way opponents of the Bill characterise us.
I was baptised Roman Catholic, I went to church most Sundays as a child, made my communion, my confessional and attended Catholic high school. When I started to come to terms with my Queerness as a young boy, I prayed and prayed that it would go away. But, try as I might, guess what? – it didn’t go away, and neither did my sense of shame, guilt and resentment of who I am – until I left that toxic environment.
Whenever there is a debate which includes advancing the rights of Queer people, there are voices who oppose. This is to be expected, but I invite you to consider that opposition to our very existence dehumanises and degrades the LGBTQ+ community.
I’d also like to point out an important issue of nomenclature. For anyone this doesn’t affect personally, it can seem trivial, but words do matter. Survivors do not use the term ‘conversion therapy’, as what they have endured is not evidence based and is in no way therapeutic.
Now onto the the substance of the Bill: The Australian Christain Lobby describes the legislation as a ‘bigoted quackery’ and wrongly claims that this Bill would infringe religious freedom. But this is nothing but a scare tactic. This Bill does not infringe on the Religious Freedoms or beliefs but rather it ensures LGBTQ+ people never feel the pain endured by survivors of this practice.
This Bill, which is world-leading, has been developed in consultation with many religious and faith groups. The idea that this Bill is an infringement of religious freedom is itself a load of bigoted quackery.
This point is nothing but an excuse for those to do harm to vulnerable Queer people. People like me, who by being born into a church who denies their value as humans, end up wrestling with a lifetime of programming which says our very existence is wrong.
The goal of these practices are to create an exclusively heterosexual and cisgender person through whatever means are available such as ‘support groups [and] prayer ministries’.
That is why this Bill is so important. Conversion practices are mainly unpaid and occur in religious communities through various pastoral care guises like ‘support’, ‘purity’ and ‘accountability’ one-on-one or group meetings. They are often disguised as religious or spiritual practices and may involve prayer. The Bill sees right through these tactics, and as a result there is significant opposition from conservative religious voices because the Bill will stop them disguising conversion practices as spiritual or religious practice, which it is not. The conversion movement is deep rooted in an ideology which others LGBTQ+ people and removes our humanity and dignity.
Members of Parliament have written back to us at Amnesty and told us that they don’t support the bill because it means queer Victorians won’t be able to ‘seek advice or counselling’. Queer Victorians don’t need advice or counselling. People saying that they do need this is based on the assumption that Queer people are broken and need to be fixed. We are not broken. We don’t need to be fixed.
In fact the United Nations Human Rights Council uncovered at least ‘10 organisations in Australia and New Zealand’ which openly promoted these practices. It is also important to note that conversion practices are in direct contradiction to international law which is guided by the rules of ‘universality, equality and non-discrimination’ and therefore these practices are an infringment on the human rights of Queer people.
Also, the Bill has been deemed compatible with human rights by the Victorian Parliament’s Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee. This means that other rights that some are concerned will be affected by the Bill – such as the right to freedom of religion, and the right to freedom of expression – are adequately balanced with rights to health, right to non-discrimination and other rights that this Bill protects.
This issue is not exclusive to the United States, it is happening in the shadows of Australian society. But while this debate continues throughout the next week, it is vital that every Queer person whether they are in the closet, a student in a religious high school or a survior of these diablocle practices, that we remember we are worthy of love, self acceptance and dignity.
If you are angry at this Bill, ask yourself why? If you truly love thy neighbour, you will allow this Bill to pass in its current form. Because after all, we were born this way, baby.
Fin Spalding is an Amnesty International Australia activist.