New Zealand has introduced legislation to ban conversion practices, saying the practice is harmful and “has no place in modern New Zealand.”
Conversion therapy refers to the practice, often by religious groups, of trying to “cure” people of their sexuality, gender expression, or LGBTQI identity.
“Those who have experienced conversion practices speak out about mental health issues, depression, shame and stigma, and even suicidal thoughts,” Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said when introducing the legislation on Friday. “Conversion practices have no place in modern New Zealand. They are based on the false belief that anyone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is broken and needs to be fixed. “
The legislation makes it a crime to carry out conversion practices to any person under 18 years of age or with reduced decision-making capacity, with a penalty of up to three years in prison. It also criminalizes conversion practices that cause “serious harm”, regardless of age. That carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.
Conversion therapy is legal in many parts of the world, including the UK and many US states. A report by the United Nations Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity found that conversion practices caused “significant loss of self-esteem, anxiety, depressive syndrome, social isolation, difficulty in intimacy, self-hatred, shame and guilt, sexual dysfunction, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, and symptoms of stress disorder post-traumatic “.
They found that the practices violated UN conventions against torture and recommended a global ban. Health organs, including the American Psychological Association have concluded that there is no evidence that conversion practices are successful in changing sexuality or gender identity.
Activist Shaneel Lal, a survivor who has campaigned against conversion practices in New Zealand, said they widely welcomed the bill and it showed “potential for real change.” Conversion practices, Lal said, have “pushed and led so many queer people into a life of pain, misery and death and [thinking that] God will never forgive them for it. Every story I’ve heard about conversion therapy, victims have wondered if it’s worth living, and I was one of those people. “
“Religious leaders have built the relationship that queer people have with God and have manipulated them into thinking that God will hate them if they don’t change … We are told that we are broken, that we have no future, that we will lose our family. and friends, ”they said.
But Lal also expressed concern about the wording of the bill and some of its provisions.
They said the wording of “serious harm” “implies that it is okay to cause harm, if not serious harm” and expressed concern that survivors may have difficulty gathering the evidence necessary to show that they have been harmed emotionally. and serious psychological. .
Faafoi said that the definition of conversion practices under the law required that they be “carried out with the intention of changing or suppressing your sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” Lal said proving intent was difficult from a legal perspective and could leave survivors scrambling to clear the bar for prosecution. They also argued that the first offense should not have age limits, as queer people can be harmed at any age.
Faafoi said the bill had been “carefully designed” to ensure that legitimate health services, counseling and “general expressions of religious beliefs or principles about sexuality and gender” are not captured.
“Health professionals, religious leaders and human rights defenders here and abroad have spoken out against these practices as harmful and that they have the potential to perpetuate prejudice, discrimination and abuse towards members. of rainbow communities, ”Faafoi said.
New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the OECD, and that rate is highest among LGBTQI + youth. Local 2019 research found that 79% of trans and non-binary New Zealanders had seriously contemplated suicide and two-fifths had self-harmed in the past 12 months.
With a majority Labor government in power, the bill is likely to pass.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism