Vic conversion bill gets its science wrong, say experts

The Victorian Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 is “based to a very large extent on erroneous and unscientific beliefs insofar as it concerns issues of gender identity,” according to Law Professor Patrick Parkinson and Dr Philip Morris, President of the National Association of Practising Psychiatrists.

They have written a joint letter to Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes seeking major changes to the Bill, which comes before the Upper House this week. The letter presents scientific argument rather than the religiously-based arguments that constitute much of the lobbying against the Bill.

“The Bill is premised on the idea that gender identity is fixed and unchangeable, making attempts to change or suppress it futile,” Parkinson and Morris write. “The press release accompanying the legislation put out by the Department of Justice and Community makes this explicit. It says: ‘there is no evidence that … gender identity can be changed.’

“This is an extraordinary proposition and is contradicted by a large body of medical and scientific evidence.”

The letter points to “overwhelming evidence [being] that the great majority of children who attend gender clinics because they experience serious discordance between natal sex and gender identity tend to resolve these issues when they go through puberty – as long as a cautious therapeutic approach is adopted.”

The Bill seeks to prevent “change or suppression efforts” to either sexual orientation or gender identity – except for efforts when someone seeks to adopt a transgender identity. Counselling and religious activity such as prayer directed at an individual would be banned, with criminal penalties where harm can be shown.

The letter draws attention to different harms. “The serious risk, if the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 is passed in its present form, is that many very troubled young people will be deprived of the help and care they need from mental health professionals, and will embark upon irreversible medical transitions that they later deeply regret. This risk arises because such laws have a chilling effect, driving professionals away from offering services that might be prohibited, however carefully drafted the laws may be.”

The letter also draws attention to the Bill’s criminalising treatment by mental health professionals and providing then with inadequate defences.

“There is no medical justification for Parliament to stipulate that a therapeutic program supporting a person to transition is lawful while an intervention which aims to help a patient explore other explanations for their gender identity concerns risks a jail term. It is not for Parliament to dictate practices in the clinician’s room or to try to resolve controversies in the medical and scientific communities by force. It is for the medical and scientific communities to resolve the enormous controversies now surrounding the proper support and treatment of those who present with gender incongruence issues. Parliament should recognise the limits of its competence to make informed judgments about such matters.”

Changing the Bill

Parkinson and Morris want to see the gender identity material stricken from the Bill. “Our primary recommendation is that all references to gender identity should be deleted from the Bill. If gender is fluid, it is fluid in more than one direction; and the growing number of those who are now detransitioning, having made irreversible changes to their bodies such as loss of fertility or the removal of healthy breast tissue, indicates how changeable gender identity can be.”

“If the Government is unpersuaded that it has got the science wrong on this, we propose that it set up an expert medical and scientific commission, led by eminent people who do not have a stake in this field that might affect their dispassionate assessment of the evidence. That commission could examine the relevant medical and scientific evidence and make recommendations to the Government accordingly.”

Will the Bill pass?

The Victorian Government will need the support of four crossbenchers to pass this Bill in the Upper House (Legislative Council) of the Victorian Parliament.

Of the 40 members, 17 are Labor (Government) and 11 Liberals/National (the Opposition). It is not clear at present whether the Opposition will formally oppose this Bill.

Eternity understands that on the crossbench, a Green member, a Reason Party (ex Sex Party) member and an Animal Justice member will provide three of the four votes needed to pass the Bill.

The Bill will pass.


Some prayer points to help

Please pray for this week’s debate and vote in the Victorian Legislative Council