GP expert applauds Labor’s vow to ban gay conversion therapy

Evelyn Lewin

23/04/2019 3:22:12 PM

The Federal Opposition said it will implement a nationwide ban on the ‘insidious practice’ if elected.

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Studies have found conversion attempts to be associated with depression, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, less educational attainment and less weekly income. (Image: James Ross)

Gay conversion therapy is an overarching term given to any attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender and sexual expression.
Labor’s announcement marks the first time a federal party vying for government has made such a pledge.
‘Practitioners of [conversion therapy] insist that LGBTIQ people can be “cured”,’ Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said. ‘There is no valid scientific evidence to support this and the practice has been widely condemned by health professionals and by the Australian Medical Association.’
GP Dr Fiona Bisshop, who has a special interest in LGBTQI health, welcomes the move. She told newsGP she has witnessed firsthand how damaging conversion therapy can be to a patient’s life.
‘Some of the stories that they’ve told have been quite horrific in terms of the long-term cost to their mental health, to their relationships with their family, to their ability to have relationships, to their self-esteem,’ she said.
‘People have been told that they’ve got a mental illness. They’ve been told that they can be cured, which is a lie, and is extremely damaging to them.
‘I’ve had a patient who was given some form of shock therapy by a psychiatrist. I’ve had patients who’ve had exorcisms performed on them, shunning, all sorts of horrific things.
‘The list of appalling things that have happened to people [under what is known as] “conversion therapy” is really quite awful.’
Dr Bisshop believes most GPs are aware of conversion therapy, but is unsure whether the knowledge of its damaging effects is adequately widespread.
‘I would imagine most GPs would have a feeling that it wasn’t a good thing, and that it’s being pretty much thrown in the bin as an acceptable therapy,’ she said.
‘But I think what [GPs] do need to know is that it’s an extremely harmful practice that causes devastating long-term emotional problems for people.
‘It basically destroys you as a person.’

‘It’s an extremely harmful practice,’ GP Dr Fiona Bisshop, who has a special interest in LGBTQI health, said of gay conversion therapy.

Research supports Dr Bisshop’s beliefs about the damage caused.
One cross-sectional study of 245 LGBTQI people aged 21–25 was published in the Journal of Homosexuality in 2018.
It found that conversion attempts by parents or caregivers to convert, as well as being sent to therapists and religious leaders for conversion interventions, were associated with depression, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, less educational attainment and less weekly income.
Dr Bisshop applauds Labor’s vow to ban gay conversion therapy.
‘I think it’s the way forward, that it should be totally unacceptable to try and force people to change something that’s unchangeable about themselves,’ she said.
Shadow Attorney-General Dreyfus agrees.
‘Labor believes that no one should be subjected to painful, unnecessary and harmful pseudoscientific practices,’ he said.
While Dr Bisshop does not think conversion therapy is as rife as once may have been, she does believes it still occurs.
‘You don’t find people advertising that they do conversion therapy anymore because they know it’s not acceptable to call it that, so I think it’s just become a little bit more underground in how it’s conducted,’ she said.
However, a report by the Human Rights Law Centre, Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria and La Trobe University found that conversion therapy is still being advertised in at least 10 organisations in Australia and New Zealand.
Banning gay conversion would require parliament to pass legislation, and approval from the Council of Australian Governments. Victoria recently became the first state to announce plans for a legislated ban against the practice.
Sexual health GP Dr George Forgan-Smith told newsGP he is also a proponent of Labor’s plan.
‘I absolutely support the banning of conversion therapy,’ he said. ‘[It] is a process that causes more harm than good, and I look forward to it no longer being a stick used to “punish” young GLBTI people from being their essential selves.’ 
Note: The interchangeable use of ‘LGBTQI’, ‘LGBTIQ’ and ‘GLBTI’ in this article reflects people’s own terminology.

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