I am an ex-lesbian, as well as someone who experienced gender dysphoria as a child. Now I am married to a patient and gracious man and have a young son.

Ten years ago I voluntarily sought counsel from Christian psychologists, ministries, support networks and people who had walked before me. It was difficult, but I found relief and happiness. Every step of my journey will become illegal under the Victorian government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill.

For the record, none of these avenues of support were ever harmful or coercive. In fact, the counselling I received saved my life. Ex-LGBT people like me are living proof that real and lasting change is possible, that suicides have been prevented, and that it is good for people to have the freedom to choose the type of help and support they want– including (shock horror) the religious kind.

Leah Gray tells her own story.

The reasoning behind this unsound Bill is based on a 2018 research paper from the Human Rights Law Centre and La Trobe University, “Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice(PHPJ). It was based on the experiences of a mere 15 participants.

I’m not surprised that so few people stepped forward. Shame-based counselling is unequivocally not the common teaching or practice of Biblically-grounded churches and  secular, clinician-based physical abuses were criminalised decades ago.

I represent an organisation called Free To Change. I know from personal experience that there are many ex-LGBT voices like mine which testify to the life-saving benefits of counselling for unwanted homosexual or transgender feelings. We have documented this in a 116-page survey written by experts in their disciplines.

But our experience and our research are being ignored by the Victorian government and by the media. When we attempt to speak up, we are dismissed as ignorant bigots by LGBT activists. This is a hurtful canard. Obviously, having once identified as homosexual or transgender, most of us still have friends who remained LGBT. Blackmail, manipulation and bullying are just some of the tactics used over the past 12 months to deny us a voice in the public square.  

You might think that ignoring us might be justifiable because only a handful of us exist. Indeed, it appears that way from media reports. But the reality is very different. In fact, there are five times as many ex-LGBTs cited in our report who have been helped by counselling than LGBTs who claimed to have been harmed in the PHPJ report.

Fundamentally, the evidence which the Victorian government is using to sell this legislation to the public is seriously flawed. Scientists test a hypothesis by examining a range of possible explanations. However, the authors of the PHPJ paper interviewed only participants who claimed to have been harmed by “conversion therapies”. They made no attempt to interview former LGBT people who sought out, consented to and benefited from the counselling and support. They were seeking to prove a preconceived conclusion, not to collect objective data. This is not science; it is activism.

As the Free to Change report states, “All that is necessary to counter-act their claims that ‘conversion therapy’ is universally damaging and harmful to the extent that it demands criminal legal penalties, is evidence that just one person who experienced unwanted same-sex attraction or just one person who experienced gender dysphoria, has found lasting change and/or relief through counselling. This report presents the collated experiences of 78 such people.”

Our research shows that the support and counsel that participants voluntarily sought was helpful for their mental and physical health, with significant improvements in anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, self-image, and relationships. In addition, their unwanted same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria was significantly reduced.

And I know that there are many more people like us. Many ex-LGBT people declined to participate because they feared personal and professional blowback from LGBT activists.

The government also claims to have completed a wide community consultation process using the Engage Victoria survey. However, the wording of that survey made it functionally impossible to register disagreement. Despite many written submissions entered by those in my community testifying to the positive experiences of ex-LGBT people, we were never acknowledged or quoted in the Consultation Outcomes Report. Had they listened to people like us, their conclusion that “change in sexual orientation is impossible” and that “all conversion therapy practices are harmful” simply could not be sustained.

To recap, the “research” that has directly informed draconian legislation that is now set to restrict the freedoms of six million Victorians is based on only 15 participants who represent only one particular community. 

The Bill is the most extreme in the world in terms of how broad its definition of a “suppression practice” is and also in introducing extreme punishments of up to 10 years’ jail and $10,000 in fines.

We’ve been told that the LGBT community is an oppressed and powerless minority. Yet it is clear to me that it holds and wields great power to suppress and change voices which do not promote its narrative. The hypocrisy is truly ugly.

A SUMMARY OF THE RESEARCH BY ‘FREE TO CHANGE’
Leah Gray

Leah Gray lives in Melbourne.