Queensland doctors have launched a survey in a bid to uncover the extent of dangerous “gay conversion” therapies still going in the state.
Dr Fiona Bisshop from Fortitude Valley’s Holdsworth House and and Gold Coast sexual health specialist Dr Stuart Aitken set up their Gender & Sexuality Conversion Therapy Survey to gather people’s current experiences with the practices, which have been widely condemned as unethical and dangerous by numerous bodies around the world.
Dr Bisshop, who is a QNews Magazine contributor, said they wanted to hear from Queenslanders following a state government-led roundtable discussion on the issue.
“At this point the state government is wanting to know if it’s a problem in Queensland and they want to be able to do something about it,” she told the City North News.
“It not about saying it’s bad; we know it’s harmful and bad and doesn’t work.
“What we hope the survey will do is help us understand how many people are experiencing this now.”
Dr Bisshop said a legislative ban was only one piece of the puzzle but “going forward, it’s really important to have that to back up how damaging, how harmful the practices are.”
She said in recent years practitioners had moved underground and the practices were often presented as therapies, counselling or assistance and trans and gender diverse people were increasingly being targeted.
“There are also some mental health professionals, often affiliated with churches, who are offering therapy that seeks to dissuade people (especially young people) from following their true identity,” she said.
In April, Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said he would write to the state’s Health Ombudsman to ask if they had sufficient powers to deal with the practices and ask advice on what further powers were needed.
“The idea that anyone should be running around saying that [gay people] need some kind of therapy to get converted is just disgusting,” he said at the time.
‘Insidious and unrelenting ex-gay messaging’
In October, a report from La Trobe University documented the experiences of more than a dozen LGBT survivors of harmful “gay conversion” or “ex-gay” therapies over the decades, with the report claiming the practices remain a “real problem” in Australia’s religious communities.
One participant underwent extreme “aversion” therapy in the 1980s that involved ice baths and electroshock therapy.
According to another survivor’s account in the report, it was the “insidious and unrelenting ex-gay messaging” they were subjected to over a long period of time that “ate away” at their wellbeing and self-worth.
In September, a coalition of survivors, LGBTIQ advocates and churches urged federal MPs to address the issue, delivering a 43,000-signature petition calling for an inquiry into the issue, greater powers for health and consumer watchdogs, tougher regulations for counsellors, and a public health and awareness campaign.
Campaign spokesperson Asha Brodel said more research into the practices was necessary and the focus was on educating religious organisations about the negative mental health impacts of the “therapies,” which have led people to the brink of suicide.
“We welcome legislation protecting people in formalised therapeutic settings, broader advocacy, mental health training and a national Government led scheme to investigate these practices in religious environments,” Brodel said.
If this has brought up issues for you, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.