Earlier this year, NSW Parliament’s Committee on the Health Care Complaints Commission called for submissions to an inquiry into the promotion of false or misleading health-related information or practices.
I wrote the following submission, looking at two practices in particular which negatively affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community: the practice of so-called ‘ex-gay therapy’ or conversion therapy, as well as the involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people.
At this stage, while the Committee has chosen to publish 63 of the submissions it has received, it has not published mine, so I am reproducing it here. As always, I would be interested in your thoughts/feedback on the below.
Committee on the Health Care Complaints Commission
SYDNEY NSW 2000
Friday 7 February 2014
SUBMISSION TO INQUIRY INTO THE PROMOTION OF FALSE OR MISLEADING HEALTH-RELATED INFORMATION OR PRACTICES
In this submission, I would like to address two areas of ‘health-related practices’ which negatively affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and intersex (LGBTI) communities.
Specifically, with respect to term of reference (c) “the promotion of health-related activities and/or provision of treatment that departs from accepted medical practice which may be harmful to individual or public health”, I believe the Committee should examine:
i) ‘ex-gay’ or ‘reparative’ therapy, and
ii) the involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people.
Ex-gay or reparative therapy
I can think of few ‘health-related practices’ which so clearly fall within term of reference (c) of this inquiry than so-called ‘ex-gay’ or ‘reparative’ therapy.
This practice, which although more common in the United States is nevertheless still practiced in New South Wales, involves organisations, usually religious, offering ‘counselling’ to help transform people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual into being heterosexual, and in some cases to attempt to transform people who are trans* into being cisgender.
In short, ex-gay or reparative therapy involves attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, based on the belief that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans* is somehow ‘wrong’ or ‘unnatural’.
There are three main problems with ex-gay or reparative therapy.
First, there is absolutely nothing wrong or unnatural with being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans*. Differences in sexual orientations and gender identities are entirely natural, and this diversity should be accepted and celebrated. Any attempts to prevent people from being LGBT simply demonstrate the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia of the people running ex-gay organisations.
Second, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these practices. Sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be ‘changed’ through these interventions. Indeed, the Australian Psychological Society, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and Pan American Health Organisation all note that reparative therapy does not work, and recommend against its practice.
Third, and most importantly, not only is ex-gay therapy based on homophobia, and discredited ‘pseudo-science’, but it is also fundamentally dangerous. Reparative therapy takes people who are already vulnerable, tells them that they are inherently wrong, and asks them to change something about themselves that cannot be changed. Inevitably, it leads to significant mental health problems, including self-hatred, depression and tragically, in some cases, suicide. The people that run ex-gay organisations are guilty of inflicting psychological and sometimes physical damage on others.
Given the level of harm that is perpetrated by these people, I believe it is incumbent on the NSW Parliament to introduce a legislative ban on ex-gay or reparative therapy. This should include the creation of a criminal offence for running ex-gay therapy, with an aggravated offence for running ex-gay therapy for people under the age of 18. This is necessary to send a signal that these homophobic, biphobic and transphobic practices are no longer tolerated in contemporary society, particularly in the case of minors.
Finally, while at this stage there is no evidence linking registered medical practitioners with these discredited practices in New South Wales, there is evidence overseas that some counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists or other registered medical practitioners either practice ex-gay therapy themselves, or will refer patients to ex-gay organisations. The Committee should consider additional appropriate sanctions for any practitioners caught doing so in NSW, including potential de-registration and civil penalties.
Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people
In contrast to ex-gay therapy, which is largely performed by people who are not registered medical practitioners, some abuses perpetrated against intersex people in Australia are undertaken by the medical profession themselves.
As outlined by Organisation Intersex International Australia (OII Australia), in their submission to last year’s Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs Inquiry into Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of People with Disabilities in Australia (dated 15 February 2013, pages 3-4):
“Every individual member of OII Australia has experienced some form of non-consensual medical intervention, including the following:
- Pressure to conform to gender norms and to be a “real man” or “real woman”.
- Involuntary gonadectomy (sterilisation) and clitorectomy (clitoris removal or reduction) as an infant, child or adolescent.
- Medical and familial pressure to take hormone treatment.
- Medical and familial pressure to undertake genital “normalisation” surgery.
- Surgical intervention that went outside the terms of consent, including surgery that was normalising without consent.
- Disclosure of non-relevant medical data to third parties without consent.”
While I understand that the terms of reference state that “[t]he inquiry will focus on individuals who are not recognised health practitioners, and organisations that are not registered health service providers”, given the significant levels of harm involved in these practices against intersex people, I would encourage the Committee to nevertheless examine this subject.
I would therefore recommend the Committee take into consideration the 2nd Report of the Senate Standing Committee on this topic, as well as OII Australia’s submissions to that Inquiry. I have also attached my own submission from that inquiry with this submission (link here: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/01/submission-to-involuntary-and-coerced-sterilisation-senate-inquiry/ ).
Thank you for considering my submission on these important topics.