An Australian archbishop has pushed back against a report that calls for a ban on conversion therapy in Tasmania, which is causing a disagreement between the archdiocese and human rights experts.
In May, the The Tasmanian Law Reform Institute (TLRI) published a 300-page report which suggested a ban on conversion therapy in the Australian island state of Tasmania. Advocates argued that if the practice is not banned, Tasmania will become a magnet for those who use these discredited techniques, reported ABC.
Equality Tasmania president Rodney Croome asserted that the ban should take effect this year:
“If we let this issue drag on into 2023 then we could find ourselves the dumping ground for a whole lot of people who are sent here from interstate to undertake conversion practices and we don’t want that.”
The Archdiocese of Hobart, which covers both parts of mainland Australia and the island of Tasmania, disputed the conclusions of the report. Archbishop Julian Porteous argued that banning conversion therapy would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech in the country, saying:
“‘This could lead to legislative changes making it unlawful to express beliefs such as that there is a normative, archetypal sexual orientation and gender identity for each human biological sex.'”
In addition, the Star Observer reported that the archbishop expressed concern the recommendations would limit medical freedom, as he commented:
“‘Under the proposed changes, medical professionals and psychologists would be forced to affirm gender dysphoria as normal and healthy, increasing the likelihood that a patient would pursue irreversible procedures to “transition” to the opposite sex.'”
Porteous argued against gender-affirming care for transgender Tasmanians, and highlighted his LGBTQ-negative position while addressing gender dysmorphia. He stated:
“‘The Christian understanding of the human person, created male and female in the image and likeness of God, corresponds with biological reality, and therefore is necessary for the flourishing and proper care of individuals, and of society as a whole.'”
TLRI debunked the major claims made by the archdiocese, noting that the report does not mention the curtailment of freedom of speech and that no doctor would be forced to provide gender-affirming care:
“The Institute does not specify the clinical guidelines or standards that health professionals should apply; nor recommend forcing health professionals to apply them…Under the Institute’s recommendations, health professionals who disagree with the prescribed standard of care set by the Chief Civil Psychiatrist would be able to conscientiously object and would not be ‘forced’ to apply the regulated standard of care.”
LGBTQ Tasmanians are speaking out about their own experiences with conversion therapy as the dialogue surrounding the report continues. Glen Worrall described feeling lonely and isolated while attending several conversion programs, and was in a state of spiritual despair as a result of mistreatment by those offering conversion programs. After two decades of participating in conversion practices, Worrall began to see his faith through a more empowering lens:
“‘It was a moment where I had to take stock and reassess the last 21 years of beating myself up, and pouring myself out to God, and say (to God) you haven’t changed me, this is how you made me.'”
Tasmania’s premier, Jeremy Rockliff, has pledged that his government will outlaw conversion therapy, and has underscored the importance of queer mental health, saying:
“‘I understand how much it has affected individuals to the detriment of their wellbeing, to put it mildly…It is clear to me as the minister for mental health and wellbeing that there needs to be change. I do take this very seriously.'”
While it is unfortunate that Archbishop Porteous does not seem to extend the radical inclusivity of Christ to his understanding of LGBTQ+ people, it is hopeful that the Tasmanian government is pushing forward with reforms which will ensure the safety of the most vulnerable queer young people. As the dialogue between the institutional church and the government in Tasmania continues, queer Catholics will have the opportunity to advocate for a church which emulates Jesus’ love for the marginalized.
—Andru Zodrow (he/him), New Ways Ministry, July 21, 2022