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Media Release: 28 January 2021
Change Or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020


Catholic organisation welcomes Bill to ban harmful sex and gender
suppression practices.

Acceptance Melbourne Inc., is an organisation of LGBTIQ+ Catholics with a mission to
protect and support the LGBTIQ+ community of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne

When State Parliament resumes in February, Victoria gets a chance to lead the
world in protecting LGBTIQ+ people from injury inflicted by so-called ‘conversion
therapy’ and other harmful practices intended to change or suppress a person’s
sexual orientation or gender identity. Already passed by the Legislative Assembly in
December 2020, Acceptance Melbourne Inc now calls upon the Legislative Council
to pass the Change Or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020,
when Parliament resumes in February.¹

Change and suppression practices are at best ineffective and at worst deeply
traumatic. As a community organisation providing over 20 years of engagement and
support within the LGBTIQ Catholic community, we know people who are the
victims and survivors of conversion practices. We know their ongoing struggles with
anxiety and depression, with hurt and anger, with suicidality. Because of the abuse
suffered in their trusted faith communities, some lost their faith or became too afraid
to participate in their faith communities. We know gay or lesbian people who – acting
on Conversion Therapy advice – entered into heterosexual marriages. Some kept
their sexual orientation secret only to find this an unbearable burden years later.
Many such marriages ended in divorce, others in self harm and suicide. Their ex-spouses then can also be considered victims and survivors of conversion practices.

We welcome both the civil response and the criminal offences which the bill creates.
We think that the civil response is more important. Its purpose is to educate the
community about the harms which conversion practices cause. We hope that this
community education will change minds and hearts so that more people will know
and understand that conversion practices are deeply harmful and must never be
permitted. We also hope that all people will accept that those of us who are
LGBTIQ+ are not broken, and do not need to be changed. What we need instead
from our faith leaders and communities is acceptance, respect and inclusion as
equals – the main purpose of this Bill.
At the same time, we recognise the necessity for criminal offences. These offences
send a powerful signal about the harmfulness of conversion practices. They should
act as a deterrent. There is a high bar for criminal penalties. Except for the offence of
advertising conversion practices, it must be proven beyond reasonable doubt that
conversion practices have caused either injury or serious injury.

Some faith leaders fear that this bill threatens religious freedom. That message
already has been proclaimed in some Catholic churches around Melbourne. We
believe that the bill has got the balance right between prohibiting conversion
practices and respecting freedom of religion. The bill does not prevent sermons or
religious instruction to groups about what a faith tradition holds about homosexuality
and gender identity. It does not even prevent a religious leader giving this
information to an individual, provided only that this is not intended to change or
suppress that individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Nor does it prevent
anyone praying for careful and gentle discernment in that individual.

We recognise that difficult decisions must sometimes be made about the timing and
choice of appropriate treatments for minors who self-identify with a gender other than
that assigned to them at birth. Supportive parenting, careful discernment and prayer
in the family guided by a suitably qualified health professional is needed, rather than
targeted suppression or change practices that can threaten the wellbeing of the child
or adolescent.

Finally we point out that religious freedom comes with limits. Many Legislative
Assembly Members recognised these limits in in debate on the Bill. EG Opposition
Leader Michael O’Brien stated that “religious freedom is not the freedom to abuse.”
The Catholic Church says the same in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the
Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom. In fact, Section 7 of the
Declaration states that “society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses
committed on the pretext of freedom of religion.” It adds that “it is the special duty of
government to provide this protection.” That is what this Bill does: it does not
threaten genuine religious freedom, but seeks to prevent abuse in the exercise of
religious freedom.

We hope and pray that all Victorian faith communities will come to recognise the
serious harms caused by change and suppression practices, take determined efforts
to help victims and survivors and to prevent further abuse.

Conversion practices must end. That is why Acceptance Melbourne supports this bill.


Media Contact: Dr Vinith Menezes