Photo: Daniel Gonzalez

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There are growing calls for organisations offering so-called reparative therapy for gays and lesbians to be held accountable for the harm they cause.

Up to ten organisations offer the treatment across Australia with the aim of changing someone’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual, viewing a person’s sexuality as a mental disorder.

“This therapy is based on the premise that homosexuality is a disorder and that homosexuals need to be healed,” said State Greens MP Jamie Parker. “This assertion is abhorrent and homophobic and must be rejected.

“I am advised that at least ten organisations practise reparative therapy in Australia. I believe they should be held to account for the damage they cause to both individuals and our community.

Earlier this month, the NSW Parliament supported a motion highlighting the fact that such practices are harmful and unscientific, and that medical and psychological treatment cannot change a person’s sexual orientation.

Damien Riggs, Convenor of the Australian Psychological Society’s Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Interest Group, said that people who sought out such therapies were already burdened by shame because of their religious beliefs.

“I think that people who go for reparative therapy are already living with a lot of shame around their homosexuality and that the message that it can and should be ‘cured’ adds to that shame,” he said.

“We know from the research that it doesn’t work and so what someone is left with is both the shame their sexual identity perhaps doesn’t accord with what their religion expects of them and also the shame of having failed at doing something about that,” he said.

In a statement, the Australian Psychological Society (APS) advised against such treatments and highlighted the fact that these practices are carried out to counteract society’s increasing acceptance of homosexuality.

“Claiming homosexuality is a mental disorder stems from efforts to discredit the growing social acceptance of homosexuality as a normal variant of human sexuality,” said the APS.

“‘Reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, APS recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation.”

Mr Riggs acknowledged that some people of a religious belief might need counselling to help them come to terms with their sexuality.

“I think there is a difference between reparative therapy which aims to claim it can cure someone’s homosexuality as though it’s a disease and acknowledging that sometimes we do need to work with people who perhaps through their faith or their cultural background are really struggling with their sexual orientation,” he said.

“Of course they are not going to help cure anything, but people sometimes need time and they need support and they might need mental health resources to come to terms with their sexuality.”

Mr Parker said that the treatments were harmful and offensive.

“These services send the message to homosexuals and the wider community that there is something wrong or immoral about being homosexual, which is both harmful and offensive,” he said.

“We should be celebrating diversity within our society, not judging and condemning people for their personal preferences.”

Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi described reparative therapy as “a dangerous and damaging process”.

“The practice perpetuates a reprehensible social view of homosexuality as an illness and a sin,” she said. “While we may not think such perspectives are widespread or engrained in Australia any more, what remains of this backwardness is only kept alive and relevant by the on going acceptance of practices like reparative therapy.

“Given the serious damage this therapy can do, we should completely abolish this misguided, outdated and dangerous practice. Those involved have to be held to account and where appropriate criminal charges or civil penalties could be considered as part a number of options.”