26 November 2022

Faith groups sign up to understand ‘world’s toughest’ conversion therapy law

A number of churches have asked for guidance about their approach to LGBTQIA+ people. Picture: iStock.

Jenan Taylor

4 July 2022

Faith-based organisations are among groups that have begun seeking guidance about the lawfulness of their approach to LGBTQIA+ people.

Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission says it has run workshops and courses for faith-based and professional organisations to educate them about their activities under the state’s new conversion therapy law.

The Victorian government’s conversion therapy ban started in February.

Outlawing conversion practices in all settings, the law has been described as the toughest of its kind in the world by advocates and critics.

Under the law, the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission can introduce criminal offences which would be overseen by Victoria Police.

But it also has a non-criminal response function that enables the commission to investigate reports of activities and educate individuals and organisations, among other operations.

Strategic communications head Aram Hosie said the commission had run education function workshops for an assortment of religious and professional bodies since the ban started.

But so far there had been no need for investigations, Mr Hosie said.

Read more: Calls to train clergy to repair faith-based conversion harms

He said conducting investigations were the most serious aspect of the function and enabled the commission to compel information and give directives that were enforceable, but were a last resort.

“The threshold for us to conduct the investigations are quite high, so we would do it if there was evidence of multiple instances of practices occurring or if very serious harm has been done. So, there has been nothing yet and we don’t have any evidence currently for anything that would trigger the need for them,” Mr Hosie said.

He said the groups had approached the commission because they wanted a full understanding of what the law meant in the context of their work.

Some had asked for tailored courses or had signed up to attend workshops.

“Prevention is always better than cure so it’s fantastic that there is interest, and that people are aware the law has come into effect and are actively willing to understand how it operates,” Mr Hosie said.

La Trobe university historian and social researcher Dr Tim Jones said he was aware that several churches or church organisations had been in touch with the Commission for direction.

Read more: Future of same-sex marriages may be left to individual dioceses: Melbourne leaders 

Dr Jones was a co-researcher on a recent study about the effects of faith-based conversion therapy on LGBTQIA+ people.

It had recommended that pastoral workers be better trained to support survivors of such activity.

He said the commission’s civil response function was a unique feature that didn’t exist in other jurisdictions.

It could inform people about what practices were concerning or might fall foul of the law and why they were harmful, Dr Jones said.

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