Religious organisations and “local crackpots” forcing kids into gay conversion therapy have been put on notice by the Victorian Government, which has armed the state’s health watchdog with sweeping new powers to investigate and prosecute rogue providers.
The state’s Health Complaints Commissioner today launched an inquiry into the fringe practice, which the Government has called “insidious”.
“It’s illegal, it’s bullying, it’s traumatic on people and it needs to stop,” Mental Health Minister Martin Foley said.
“The Health Complaints Commissioner is encouraging people who have been subject to it to come forward and share their experiences — whether they’re in private organisations, religious organisations or from local crackpots, we need to put an end to this.
“You don’t convert someone from being who they are.”
The commissioner now has the power to financially cripple and criminally prosecute organisations and individuals engaging in the so-called “pray away the gay” practices.
Mr Foley said rogue providers often conducted conversion therapy in private. He described the practice as dangerous.
“People have a right to their sexual identity and we are making sure that this process of gay conversion, wherever it is conducted, needs to come to an end,” Mr Foley said.
It comes as new research reveals many young gay and lesbian people continue to hold serious reservations about reporting hate crimes to Victoria Police, because they’re worried about the prospect of more discrimination.
Gay youth struggle to trust police
The report, which was commissioned by Victoria Police, found young queer people were worried their complaints would not be taken seriously, that their sexuality would be “outed”, or that reporting their abuse would not achieve anything.
“Their levels of trust were still only about 50 per cent, many of them either because they had bad past experiences or because they had just had absorbed that suspicion that a lot of LGBTI people have of police historically,” said the report’s lead author, Liam Leonard.
Researchers from La Trobe University also surveyed hundreds of police officers, and found they wanted more training on LGBTI issues.
- Close to 95 per cent of those surveyed had been victims of hate crimes
- Just over 10 per cent of hate crimes were reported to police
- Only 42 per cent said they trusted police
- Close to 60 per cent believed police couldn’t appreciate their difficulties
- Only half would report hate crimes, and a third would report sexual assault
The mistrust between the two groups caused major problems in the underreporting of hate crimes, according to one of the force’s LGBTI liaison officers, leading senior constable Gabby Tyacke.
“Currently where being gender diverse is much more common, people are finding it a bit harder to approach police because they’re just concerned about being misgendered,” she said.
“A lot of the time it happens because of a mistake, people who are speaking to young people are looking at them and identifying them as one gender, where that young person might identify as a different gender.
“If you misgender someone, they immediately shut down and don’t want to talk to you and don’t want your help anymore.”
The study’s results have already moved Victoria Police to action, with the force now vowing to change its culture and overhaul the way it works with young gay people.
Anonymous online reporting an option
An exhaustive set of recommendations has been relayed to the force’s top brass.
It includes diversity training for new recruits and existing staff, a stronger police presence at LGBTI events and an urgent review of Victoria Police’s policies and programs.
Same-sex marriage is legal in Australia after a hard-fought campaign and a voluntary national postal survey. But elsewhere in the world gay people can struggle to simply stay out of jail.
And, in an acknowledgement that young gay people may not be comfortable speaking up about hate crimes, police have also been asked to consider new avenues such as anonymous online reporting.
But Mr Leonard has warned that for real cultural change to occur, changes have to happen from the top down.
“Without really senior leadership, whether it’s the local station or it’s the central office, LGBTI issues really won’t be taken up, and that’s true of any organisation,” he said.
“Police have had historically a very bad relationship with the LGBTI community, they’ve been seen as one of the institutions that perhaps have actually enacted discriminatory practices.
“That’s been changing for 10, 15, 20 years and I say this report is part of an ongoing change in making Victoria Police much more open.”
Victoria Police Commander Stuart Bateson said the force supports all the recommendations and that some are already in place.
“The next piece of work for us will be to explore ways we can implement the remaining recommendations,” he said.
“This includes further expanding our LGBTI awareness training … boosting community engagement, as well as encouraging senior officers of the organisation to lead by example.”