The Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill, introduced into the ACT Assembly a couple of weeks ago, has become embroiled in controversy. It arises out of lobbying by members of the LGBT community to ban “conversion therapy”, in the context of past practices seeking to change people’s sexual orientation. However, the main controversy about the bill concerns its prohibition of what it describes as “gender identity conversion practices”.
Penalties for engaging in a “conversion practice” are severe. Practitioners are liable to 12 months’ imprisonment; but so too are parents who take their children out of the ACT for the purpose of such a conversion practice being performed on a child.
The only forms of treatment specifically declared in the bill to be free from being labelled as a “conversion practice” are medical interventions supporting the application of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and gender reassignment surgery, which are all designed to transition the gender of the child.
A cloud of suspicion must therefore hang over any therapeutic intervention that has the purpose or effect of helping a child or young person to become comfortable in their natal sex. Therapists, wanting to avoid any risk of prosecution for practising “conversion therapy” are likely to avoid offering any treatment at all that does not take a child’s presenting gender identity as a fixed and immutable trait. This is despite the very clear evidence from decades of research that children’s gender identity can be very fluid.
Parents ought also to be concerned. If expert practitioners have no idea what forms of therapy the ACT Assembly wants to criminalise, how can parents know? Yet if they take the child to Sydney, unable to find a practitioner to help their child in Canberra, they risk 12 months in jail.