Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 07, 2024


Conversion Practices

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (15:33): I wish to continue the story that I talked about late last year, about a woman who survived queer conversion practices in this state and the ongoing impacts on her life that the conversion practices have had. I talked last November, I think it was, about a person whom I named at the time, Sam, and a life skills program that they did, not knowing that the program was run by a church group, where they were required to pray for forgiveness for the generational curses that were placed upon them.

We understand programs like this as formal conversion practices. We know that formal and informal conversion practices are still being conducted in South Australia today, but informal practices are those being done in places where people are most vulnerable and where people are least likely to complain, like in psychologist or GP offices, places where we are supposed to be able to trust professionals to leave their personal religious beliefs aside and provide effective clinical care to their patients. Sam said to me:

In my teenage years I had body dysmorphia. I said to my mum, I don't think I'm in the right body, and she just said you're not right, I think we need to get prayer for you, there's a spiritual curse over you, a demonic presence.

She took me to a GP and I said I was really unhappy. They didn't ask any questions about my home, nothing. They just said you're depressed and put me on anti-depressants.

The doctor knew my mum. And that's where you go, to the same GP [the family GP]. They knew my family. And I thought that was just normal.

He was Christian as well, and he used to give me scriptures. He just said to me I need to pray more.

I took the antidepressants, and I started to feel numb, I didn't feel anything and I just kept praying more. I felt tortured.

This is a case in which Sam was not able to get the help they needed and deserved. Professional trust was breached, and Sam was left feeling worse as a result of the treatment from that GP. Sam went on to tell me about their experience engaging a psychologist as a way of treating depression and anxiety from years of emotional and spiritual abuse:

I decided to go to therapy. I went to a clinic, and I asked the psychologist, can you please let me know if you're against same-sex and if you're religious? If you're those two things, I will not continue seeing you. She looked at me and said, 'I'm neither of those things.'

I was saying to her some people are trying to change me, I just want to be who I am, and that's when it came out.

It was six sessions in, when she decided to tell me she was Mormon, that my god is not the right god, and that I should consider their religion. I was just so disempowered.

I told my friend who said I should report it, but I didn't think we can, cos that's religious freedom. So, I didn't. I just left it. It scares me to this day [that] that person is still practising.

So there are professionals engaging in conversion practices behind closed doors, peddling their religious views about gender and sexuality in moments of vulnerability in their patients' lives, when they are expected to provide professional and impartial healthcare services. In this instance, the healthcare practitioner lied to Sam, betrayed their trust and then attempted to foist their religion upon them in place of clinical care.

Unfortunately, in this place we have seen attempts to further stoke the flames of a toxic culture war and drag queer people through the mud again with a posited inquiry into gender-affirming care. This politically loaded inquiry would have provided carte blanche to rogue operators to invalidate the genuine health needs of people experiencing gender dysphoria and justify religious interference in queer health care.

Predatory conversion practices must end in our state, and we must hold to account these rogue operators who breach their professional codes of practice to manipulate queer people seemingly with immunity. This is not an issue for the too-hard basket: this is an issue of holding practitioners to account to keep their religion out of health care and put the health outcomes of vulnerable young queer people first. In Sam's words:

You should never impose your personal belief system on people. I don't care what religion it is. Sexuality is not a choice; religion is. They choose to do this to people.