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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4257


Senator RICE (Victoria) (19:50): I'm honoured tonight to be sharing some of the story of Chris—a person whose pathway in life has not been easy. Looking back, Chris can now say that he knew he was gay when he was around 10 years old. Some years later, he came out to a church leader who wanted him to be cured. Chris began sessions with a counsellor aimed at changing his sexuality. He was only 16 when his conversion therapy began. The reason I'm telling Chris's story is because it's not unique. Gay conversion therapy is not as rare as you might think. Chris's story highlights how destructive, how damaging, this so-called therapy is, and why we need to stamp out this harmful practice once and for all.

At 17, Chris's church introduced him to the leader of a program designed to turn him straight, and eventually, believing he needed to be cured of his sexuality, he was desperate enough to try it. The program was run by Living Waters Australia, one of the longest-running gay conversion therapy programs in Australia. Chris recalls that, every week, members spoke about their sins and they learned about the spiritual and experiential reasons that had led them to turn gay. He speaks of being so ashamed and guilt-ridden that he remained completely celibate for years. In his words: 'It was a pretty lonely way to live, really—but that's what I felt I had to do.' He believed there were demons inside him and was desperate to be healed. Can you imagine the fear he must have felt? He prayed to God, asking him to either heal him or kill him. Heal him or kill him. As you can imagine, the trauma associated with attempted gay conversion still affects Chris today. How could it not?

Thanks to research by Dr Timothy Jones and others at La Trobe University, we know that conversion therapy, far from going away, is actually expanding in Australia; it's just going further underground. Organisations are changing their names and their public profiles, but they're still doing the same insidious and harmful work. Dr Jones says: 'There is no evidence that gay conversion therapy works. We really want religious groups to recognise that these practices, that they're doing in a well-meaning way, are actually harming their own people.' It's devastating to think that, around Australia, young people are trying to 'pray the gay away', and feel immense shame about who they are.

Chris's story breaks my heart. To think that his church, which is supposed to stand for love and acceptance, could put him through such harmful processes just sickens me. I'm so glad that he has come through the trauma that he endured from conversion therapy. He is now flourishing and is comfortable with who he is. But what about the other kids who are not so lucky, who don't come out the other side? We know that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer young people suffer much worse mental health than heterosexual young people. The fact that gay conversion therapy is still happening in 2018 is absolutely unacceptable. LGBTIQ people should be receiving support, education and understanding, not being funnelled into vicious programs that use shame and fear as 'conversion' tactics in the name of religion.

We need to eradicate all reparative sexual orientation and gender identity conversion therapies. The Greens are calling on the federal government to take action now. This is a national issue, and people are being hurt. Prime Minister Turnbull and the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, urgently need to lead the conversation, to work with the states and territories, to engage with experts, to hear survivors and to stamp out this harmful practice once and for all. I thank Chris for sharing his story with me and allowing me to share it here in this place. I hope that it resonates with members in this chamber so that we can work together to right this wrong. These harmful practices must be stamped out, not pushed further underground. No-one else should have to feel the fear and shame that Chris felt for so many years.