Here is a scene which is becoming familiar in Australia.

The Premier fronts the media. He smiles. He adjusts the lapels of his jacket. He coughs, confidently. His minders flank him. “Today,” he announces, “is an historic moment. Pushing back against religious conservatism, reversing decades of prejudice and hate, this government has tabled legislation to ban unicorn hunts.

Unicorns are a protected species; they are an essential element in our biodiversity strategy. Let churches deny the existence of unicorns if they like. The consensus of scientists and medical professional bodies is that unicorns are crucial for the mental health of adolescents and young adults.

Hatred of unicorns has no placed in a tolerant, loving society. A ban on this abhorrent practice is what our community demands; it is what our community needs; and it is what this government will boldly deliver.”

Any questions?

This is more or less what Queensland’s recent ban on gender conversion therapy amounted to, and what the legislature of the Australian Capital Territory will probably pass next week. The governments of Victoria and South Australia are studying similar legislation.

According the ACT’s Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, who is also Australia’s first openly gay government leader, “Conversion practices are based in an ideology that LGBTQI people are ‘broken’ or ‘unnatural’ and encompass a wide range of activities that seek to ‘fix’ people, so that they become or express a heterosexual or cisgender identity.”

Admittedly, in the past some homosexuals have been abused in an attempt to change their sexuality. But now? When was the last time that it happened? Twenty years ago? Thirty years ago? How often did it happen? Does anyone know?

The explanatory memorandum for the ACT’s Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill 2020 speaks as if “conversion practices” are a clear and present danger. In a footnote it cites a 2018 report from La Trobe University and the Human Rights Law Centre, Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT conversion therapy in Australia.

Has anyone in the ACT actually read this report? They should — it is the main evidence supporting the ACT’s legislation.

They might be surprised. In the best tradition of mediaeval tapestries with unicorns darting hither and thither, the authors weave their colourful conclusions from a surfeit of imagination and a dearth of data.

The 80+ pages of the report are based on the tribulations of 15 people who experienced “religious conversion therapy” between 1986 and 2016. All of these 15 were recruited “through social media, LGBTI media reportage of the project, and through various LGBTI, queer and ex-gay survivor networks”. In other words, this was a self-selected and biased sample. No information is given about the participants. For all we know, all but one of their stories dates back to 1986 – some 35 years ago.  

It’s more science fiction than science. If it were scientific, the authors would have studied both people who suffered from “conversion therapy” and people who benefitted from it. So it’s possible that it’s more like highlighting the 15 people who experience serious side effects from a Covid-19 vaccine, ignoring the 15 million who have been immunised, and banning the vaccine.

In short, based upon rigorous unicorn scholarship, the ACT is about to make illegal a practice which does not exist.

If that’s the case, why the fuss? As one Canberra writer — who supports the new law — put it: “what is the point of enshrining in legislation a principle that won’t have any practical impact as the issue at its core may not be present in Canberra?”

There’s a very clear point: it is to terrify parents, doctors, pastors, counsellors, and teachers. The law tells them that no LGBT practice “constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency, disability or shortcoming”.

The scope of the forbidden actions is wide enough to drive a truck through:

“sexuality or gender identity conversion practice means a treatment or other practice the purpose, or purported purpose, of which is to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity.”

Anyone consulted by a young person about sexual or gender confusion will fear being denounced, fined $24,000 and even jailed for 12 months for offering advice which disparages homosexuality or gender fluidity in any way. How many teachers will risk their career? How many doctors or psychologists will risk deregistration?

But there is an exemption from the ban on “chang[ing] a person’s sexuality or gender identity”. Astonishingly, it has been completely ignored in the media. Here is the exemption: “assist[ing] a person who is undergoing a gender transition”. The upshot of this is that counselling a healthy young woman for gender dysphoria is a crime, while performing a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy on her is permitted.

This is not science. This is unicornology.

Before making up their minds on this important issue, the members of the ACT Legislative Assembly ought to read an impressive testimony from a young woman who struggled with same-sex attraction about 10 years ago. It was published today in RiotACT, a local online magazine.

“I was fearful of being rejected, of people being scared to touch me,” Michelle (a pseudonym) says.

“But it was nothing like that at all. I had great shame but it was met with acceptance and love. I came to see that these desires were not going away. My friends shared the same belief as me – that same-sex attractions are not good to pursue …

“Lots of people believe sexuality is core to our identity. I don’t believe that. I have found deep, deep joy in my life without sexuality being fundamental to who I am as a person …

“The point is I’m not enslaved to my sexual desires whatever they are. I felt like I could live a deeply joyful flourishing life without being consumed by these attractions. I am secure in who I am now.”

This legislation would have destroyed Michelle’s life. Is that really what the people of the ACT want?

Michael Cook

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet