"They tried to cure me" Photo: Anthony Venn-Brown, BuzzFeed & ABBI

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BY MICHAEL HITCH

Gay conversion therapy (GCT) could soon be a punishment of the past, with Labor promising to outlaw the practice in the lead-up to next month’s election.

As the federal election looms near, Bill Shorten has vowed to put an end to the “dangerous and discredited” practice, as well as to introduce funding and changes to legislation to help the queer community.

Mr Shorten will also announce a dedicated LGBTIQ human rights commissioner, the cancellation of discriminatory legislation which fails to protect Trans and Intersex people, and $10 million in annual HIV funding.

Ex-Pentecostal preacher, founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International (ABBI), and the oldest living survivor of gay conversion therapy Anthony Venn-Brown, welcomed the promise with open arms. Mr Venn-Brown said that while people still harbour the unhealthy idea that same sex attractions are “evil,” changing legislation sends the strongest argument against these beliefs.

Prejudice no longer acceptable

“There was a time when prejudice towards sexual orientation and gender identity was common. Legislation sends a very clear message that this is no longer acceptable and will not be tolerated in Australia in the 21st century,” he said.

“When you are a Christian living with a belief that your attraction to the same gender means something is wrong with you, or you’re evil, you will do anything to change that or deliver yourself from it. And so, the harm begins. It’s the fundamental belief that is the source of the problem.

“I’d say that if you’ve been through conversion therapy and don’t have some level or trauma or PTSD it would be a miracle.

There is a huge backlog of people who’ve been harmed and are only now speaking out. I call it the ex-ex-gay closet. Some will never tell their stories because they are too painful. The harm must cease.”

“Gay conversion therapy” is the term used for the attempt to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity. Normally carried about by religious groups, these “therapies” can vary and include counselling, prayer, hydro-therapy and even exorcisms.

This major commitment from Labor to end GCT is the first of its kind in Australia and would involve working with survivor groups, as well as states and territories to develop strategies to end conversion therapy practices. Labor has admitted that criminalising such practices is unrealistic, citing the need for a balance between enforcement and education.

Christian lobby backlash

Unsurprisingly, the move to ban GCT does not sit well with everyone. Backlash from major religious organisations such as the Australian Christian Lobby are already predicted and members of the public and the press have already criticised Labor’s promise as a political ploy.

Founder of SheQu and advocate for queer migrant women, Kamalika Dasgupta, believes that while a political ploy may be in play, the banning of conversion therapy falls in line with Australia’s global reputation as a “progressive” nation.

“Australia as a progressive county should waive this medieval law that hinders human rights, just like what happened with marriage equality. And Federal governments should not just roll the ball onto state government courts. They should make an informed decision. Period.”