Calls for Tasmania conversion therapy ban

Ethan James |

Glen Worrell, who is Christian and gay, says conversion therapy left him in a cycle of guilt.
Glen Worrell, who is Christian and gay, says conversion therapy left him in a cycle of guilt.

Glen Worrell underwent more than two decades of conversion practices aimed at changing his sexual orientation which, he says, left him in a cycle of guilt and shame.

The 54-year-old is among those calling for Tasmania to join Victoria, Queensland and the ACT in banning the “therapy”.

The Tasmania Law Reform Institute on Tuesday released a report with 16 recommendations for legislative change, essentially amounting to a ban on the practice.

Conversion practices involve conduct including counselling aiming to change, suppress or eradicate the sexual orientation or gender of another person.

Mr Worrell, a Christian who grew up in the Bible-belt territory of northwest NSW, realised he was gay during his school years.

He “confessed” to a local pastor who told him “things can be done”.

He then followed a program which taught him an underlying reason for same-sex attraction was a dysfunctional family upbringing.

It also involved a nine-hour prayer session with an exorcism.

“The psychology always says, “You are flawed, you are sinful, you are broken and you need to be fixed’. It is a never-ending cycle of guilt and shame,” he said.

“You must be celibate. And that means an interminable loneliness. All those aspects … just about killed me.”

The report received 46 submissions from people who have been offered or undergone conversion practices.

One transgender person was told by a pastor they were spiritually broken. Their girlfriend was taken for faith counselling and told to break up with them.

Equality Tasmania president Rodney Croome, who has met with members of the state Liberal government, Labor and Greens, is optimistic conversion practices can be banned.

“It would send a very negative message if we baulked at this issue, particularly when other states have already acted,” he said.

“There is also a danger if we dilly-dally that Tasmania would become the place where young people, in particular, are sent to undergo gay conversion practices.”

The report proposes changing laws to stop unregistered and unqualified people from purporting to assess, diagnose or treat the sexual orientation of others.

“We do suggest (conversion practices) be banned …. but (not that breaking the law) simply means you’ll go to prison,” co-author Martin Clark said.

“What we’re recommending is a much more nuanced set of statutory reforms.”

The institution says the reforms would not impact expressions of faith or philosophical or personal views about sexual orientation or gender identity.

A submission to the institute from Christian legal think tank Freedom for Faith says the laws would “prohibit adults from exercising the freedom to seek the help they consider they want and need”.

“Is there anything wrong with a person seeking help, including, for example, prayer, to address a same-sex attraction when their beliefs, values and aspirations greatly dispose them to want to form a stable and happy marriage with a person of the opposite sex?,” it reads.

Mr Worrell said law reform would save lives.

“There are far too many people who are no longer here because of the pressure to tick boxes, because somebody says ‘that’s the way you have to live’,” he said.

The Greens want the reforms to become law as soon as possible. 

Deputy Premier Michael Ferguson said the attorney-general would consider the report.