Petition to ban gay conversion therapy 'once and for all' draws thousands of signatures

A petition to ban gay conversion therapy in New Zealand has generated thousands of signatures in a week.

1 NEWS spoke to various groups who are pushing the Government to outlaw the practise. Source: 1 NEWS

As of 10am today, 11733 people had signed the Young Greens and Young Labour petition to "ban gay conversion therapy, being any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change, eliminate, or suppress same-sex attraction, or to cure a lack of opposite-sex attraction".

Source: 1 NEWS

It comes after TVNZ1's Sunday story that investigated therapy offered to "cure" people who find themselves attracted to the same sex.

Three gay men spoke about the conversion therapy they’ve been through, and Sunday goes undercover to find people offering it. Source: Sunday

Ending conversion therapy "once and for all"

Young Greens Co-Convenor Max Tweedie told 1 NEWS the aim of the petition was to end "once and for all" all forms of sexual orientation and for gender conversion therapy in New Zealand.

Mr Tweedie said banning conversion therapy was "hugely important" and "resonates really personally".

Of his own experience, Mr Tweedie told Sunday, "as a gay kid in this country has been relatively good, I got essentially kicked out of a youth group at 14 when I came out".

"That gave me a small window into the experiences of some people that have gone through the church and who had conversion therapy must have felt.

"There's a lot of feelings of rejection from society and just feeling like you don't belong and this conversion therapy defiantly exacerbates that."

He said events such as the passing of the Marriage Equality bill was a huge milestone for the rights of the Rainbow Community in New Zealand.

"But to me it was also a wakeup call. It was a wakeup call that for us to be treated equally we actually have to fight for it.

"This is another one of those cases where we're having to fight for our equal rights, because everyone in this country should be free from going through psychotherapy to change who they love or who they identify with."

Implementing a ban

New Zealand Association of Counsellors president Bev Weber said in a statement she was shocked and disappointed that conversion therapy still happened and encouraged the Government to "outlaw such detrimental 'therapy' practices".

"New Zealand is an understanding and accepting community, but we can do more for our LBGTQI Kiwis," Ms Weber said.

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers called the conversion therapy "exploitative, disempowering and discriminatory to its core, particularly so when imposed on children or young people; it is utterly antithetical to the principles of self-determination and dignity that define ethical social work processes".

It said in a statement it was "perplexing" the therapy could operate unchallenged and believed an outright ban could be of public interest.

"At the very least we would like lawmakers to consider whether there should be a ban on the promotion and marketing of this practice to our population."

Impact of conversion therapy 

RainbowYOUTH Executive Director Frances Arns said they knew conversion therapy still exists "because there are people who are part of our community and our whanau that have been through that therapy, but prior to the [SUNDAY] story, we didn't realise how widespread it was across Aotearoa.

"Then on the flip-side there is so much homophobic, transphobia, biphobia, intersex discrimination that exists, everywhere in our society, still."

She said the therapy was about "supressing your attraction... and the overarching message is that you can be straight, again, and it's a burden God has given you but it's something that you need to overcome".

Ms Arns said she hoped a ban, alongside ending the practise, would send a "really strong message of what our country believes in and the values that we have".

InsideOut (an organisation that supports young people of minority genders and sexualities) National Coordinator Tabby Besley said many people who would be exposed to conversion therapy would be highly vulnerable and "already struggling with coming to terms with their identity".

"To be having a professional telling you there is something wrong and you can change, and then internally not actually being able to change or overcome those feelings, attractions, or feelings about your identity, I can't imagine what that would feel like."

She said a ban would make a statement that sexuality and gender identity is not "something that people choose or can just change".

On TVNZ1's Breakfast in June, Jim Marjoram, who went through gay conversion therapy himself, called it "incredibly damaging".

Mr Marjoram said for him it "induced a sense of shame and guilt, all the time because I knew deep down it wasn't working".

Where to from here

Max Tweedie hoped about 25,000 signatures would provide a "pretty solid mandate" to change the law. "We think that'll give a mandate to the Government that says you can't really ignore this". 

He expected broad cross party support, if it gets to the House in the form of legislation "then it will go through quite easily, that's my hope". 

Rodney Area Rainbow LGBTQ+ began a petition to ban all types of conversion therapy about a month ago that has generated 4,601 signatures at 10am today, which will be presented to Parliament by Labour MP Marja Lubeck. 

Founder Amanda Ashley said the practice "simply can not continue" and hoped all types of conversion therapy including gay and Trans* would be banned or illegal to perform.

She asked the Human Rights Commission about a ban and was told there was no specific legislative provisions prohibiting conversion therapy, "but in our view it is difficult to see how any health care provider could offer it in a manner that complies with legal, ethical or professional standards". 

It supported moves to prohibit conversion therapy. 

Issues with banning conversion therapy

Health Minister David Clark told Radio New Zealand on July 10 conversion therapy was "abhorrent", however the Government were not intending to pursue a ban. 

A ban would likely need to go through the justice sector, as the NZ Association of Counsellors (NZAC) are self-regulated from the Health Practitioners Act.

The Minister of Justice has been contacted for comment. 

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