Conversion Therapy: Don’t Give Me the Harm Argument

Under the guise of preventing harm from what is commonly known as ‘conversion therapy’, the Victorian Labor government has tabled the ‘Suppression Practises Prohibition Bill 2020’.  

The harm argument is central to the bill, so assessing what the Bill defines as ‘harm’ should be top of mind for members of Victoria’s parliament who have been entrusted with the task of voting for or against it.

Just this week the same sort of ban in three US states was struck down by the federal appellate court which concluded that such laws violate the free speech guarantees of the US Constitution. But for those with unwanted sexual feelings or confusion causing them anxiety and depression, banning therapies that support and help them in their life journey is more than just a free speech violation.

It violates the very principle of ‘do no harm’ we expect governments and clinicians to uphold. It violates the notion that people can change. It coerces public acceptance of sexual fluidity, but only and eternally fixed in one direction- away from heterosexuality and acceptance of the sex-chromosomes they were born with.

Under these types of Bills, conversion therapy is defined as a ‘treatment or other practice that attempts to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.’ 

When we hear ‘conversion therapy’ it usually conjures up images of medieval torture but that’s not even happening in Australia. Professor Patrick Parkinson, University of Queensland, has confirmed that in Victoria there is no such ‘conversion therapy’ harm to address, and that such therapies have been banned or dis-endorsed and out of practice for over 35 years! Furthermore, the government has produced no actual evidence to the contrary.

The harm argument used to justify this Bill not only fails to match up with the reality in Australia, it also fails the ‘pub test’.

Of course, nobody should be forced to do anything against their will, but you have to ask where that leaves those who want to change, and those parents who want the very best and safest treatments for their gender dysphoric children.

Remember we’re talking about helping those who are not happy how they are and are actually asking for help to change, and helping children through what is for the vast majority a transitory phase of gender confusion.

 According to Dr John Whitehall, a disproportionate number of children with gender dysphoria also suffer with other mental health issues; 30% are on the autism spectrum and prone to self-harm and 70% are more prone to depression. In a recent symposium Parkinson referenced a Finnish study which found that 25% of these children were on the autism spectrum, there were histories of sexual abuse, anorexia nervosa, and many other issues that could lead them to suicide. Rather than harming troubled children, the standard therapeutic ‘watchful waiting’ approach has a success rate of over 85%, wherein gender anxiety issues are naturally resolved without resorting to irreversible hormonal or surgical interventions.

Ironically, the very thing we’re seeking to ban in Victoria, Finland’s Councils for Choices in Healthcare is recommending; that children should receive broad based psychological and psychiatric support and that this must be done at the school level.  

Victoria’s politicians should closely consider the harm argument before casting their vote in support of the Suppression Practises Prohibition Bill, which will have an enourmous impact on troubled children and adults wishing to deal with the emotional pain of childhood traumas.

As Whitehall points out, when you have authority figures, teachers etc only affirming, accepting and encouraging a new identity, how can a child step back from that? He says that affirmation is the gateway to puberty blockers which are designed to retard normal development at puberty. If the adult male brain treated with oestrogen shrinks at a rate 10 times greater than natural aging after only 4 months, in what moral universe can this be administered to physically healthy children? 

These ‘puberty blockers’ impact the limbic system and may result in cognitive impairment. In simple terms hormone blockers interrupt development and impact thinking, feeling, emotion, memory, sexuality and the inner sense of identity.

Commenting on the importance of the limbic system, University of QLD presents it as our survival kit:

‘The limbic system is the part of the brain involved in our behavioural and emotional responses, especially when it comes to behaviours we need for survival … two of the major structures are the hippocampus and the amygdala…The hippocampus … is essentially the memory centre of our brains.

Here, our episodic memories are formed and catalogued to be filed away in long-term storage across other parts of the cerebral cortex. It is also important for spatial orientation and our ability to navigate the world. The hippocampus is … a key brain structure for learning new things.’…The left and right amygdalae play a central role in our emotional responses, including feelings like pleasure, fear, anxiety and anger. The amygdala also attaches emotional content to our memories, and so plays an important role in determining how robustly those memories are stored…Memories that have strong emotional meaning tend to stick… it also plays a key role in forming new memories specifically related to fear. Fearful memories are able to be formed after only a few repetitions. Suppressing or stimulating activity in the amygdala can influence the body’s automatic fear response, which kicks in when something unpleasant happens, such as a startling noise.’ 

Given the impact on the brain functions that enable children to learn and equip them for life, isn’t it reckless to administer hormone blockers to children? How is it logically and morally acceptable to administer these hormones to children with the aim of ‘pausing puberty’ to give them time to consider their identity when that very treatment retards their ability to make a mature considered decision? The centers that make such decisions are being blocked! This will inevitably cement gender confusion and funnel children towards irreversible and unnecessary surgery they will very likely come to regret. That’s the real harm of banning therapies to support children.

In its submission to the Queensland government The National Association of Practising Psychiatrists (NAPP) noted that psychotherapy and psychoanalysis were included in the Queensland Government definitions of conversion therapy. ‘There are different types of psychotherapy and these include supportive, cognitive behaviour therapy, psychodynamic, psychoanalytic, and brief psychotherapy. Psychotherapy as practised by psychiatrists as a treatment modality is not conversion therapy.’

NAPP acknowledge change is possible when underlying issues are addressed: ‘The focus of both sexual orientation and/or gender identity can change over the course of psychiatric treatment. This is not conversion therapy. A patient may experience a change in the object of their sexual attraction during a course of psychiatric treatment. For example, a patient with a psychotic disorder, who has delusions and hallucinations about men, may lose these symptoms as a result of psychiatric treatment. …During the treatment and recovery from an episode of depressive illness or anxiety disorder a patient may experience a change in sexual attraction or gender identity … Children and adolescents may temporarily have thoughts of being of a different gender to their gender assigned at birth due to the influences of social contagion, multiple psychosocial factors (including a history of sexual abuse), and the presence of psychiatric illness. …People who have undergone medical and surgical transgender treatment and subsequently regret this treatment should be acknowledged and not be banned from stating their experience on public media. Discussion of these concerns and fears with their physicians is not conversion therapy and must not be mislabelled as conversion therapy.’

The harm argument supporting a ban is no argument at all. This bill would do harm to fundamental freedoms, to adults with unwanted sexual attraction, to those with complex underlying mental health issues, and to community relationships between parents and teachers, between governments and health professionals. But most importantly it will set vulnerable kids on a harmful pathway of treatment that retards their ability to think straight, make decisions and navigate life ultimately ending in castrations, mastectomies and a whole host of other health issues.  

Please don’t give me the harm argument for supporting this bill.


  • Dear Vickie,
    Thank you so much for sharing this with me. Shocked is perhaps too pale a word to describe my state when reading this, even now as I read this in Malaysia.

    To exist with a fellow human person in this world is to be in the state of seeking to serve. To want to help another, that is foremost the basic intrinsic nature of human consciousness. Hence, to impose criminality (up to 10 years!) on well-intended parents/family members/community leaders/friends who are merely seeking to serve, to want to help someone navigate through their confusions on issues of sexual identity is harmful, to say the least.

    Why is gender relationality and gender complementarity subjected to such unbearable assaults these days?

    You are so right, of course, Vickie. The harm argument posited is flawed. To consider that the human intellect is ipso facto sovereign and supreme in its singularity and unilateral decision-making – for children and very young persons, people with illnesses and disorders, traumatised persons to unilaterally decide on their sexuality, where an entire lifespan and identity narrative will be based on, is rather flawed. Ask anyone who has ever found herself waking up in despair at 2am, all alone, shuddering in the thick hold of moral guilt and existential angst – can she rationalise this fear and angst on the basis of intellectualisation and rationalisation alone? That ‘this is okay because I choose to say it’s okay’?
    Tell that to the people who have tried it and failed each time. With irreversible and tragic consequences.

    We have values, we have family ties, community ties. Prof Jordan Peterson described this as the “distributive cognitive marketplace of sanity” – because sanity is not singular, sanity is actually communal. And when the community has lost its communal distributive sanity, the effects cascade to individuals.

    Now, that is harmful. I will take that harmful argument.
    But to hold back on this distribution of cognitive support and sanity by criminalising service for a broken Other – that, that is Harmful with a capital H.

    We no longer contemplate the divine purpose in the Other, no longer have any reverence for the mystery of the opposite gender- everything is reduced and denigrated to ‘it is what it is’, or just the ‘genes and hormones doing its thing’. Such turbulence on the issue of sexual orientation and sexual preference.

    I think Believers can help by calling upon people to redirect their gaze – redirecting their gaze on seeing the magnificence of womanhood; beauty, new life, nurturing, devotion. These are divine qualities.

    And masculinity; the protection, chivalry, fighting qualities, the traditional role of the male – this is not ego, not aggressiveness, but a recognition of God’s divine purpose, of seeing what a human being is called to be – because He created man and woman in His image.

    God bless you, Vickie, and other fellow believers there in Victoria for relentlessly working to ensure that the divinity of the human consciousness, the beauty of God’s gender complementarity and gender dimorphism is kept intact. And the Divine is Good. All else is Dangerous.

  • Hi Vickie. There is some excellent material here to try and include in another letter to our parliamentarians. I received a very disappointing response from the leader of the opposition, in that he seemed to be relying on the same sources for his understanding as the government—boutique studies with statistically insignificant populations, selection bias and lack of longitudinal perspective. It brings to mind lecture I heard on “plausibility structures” – what people rely on for their understanding – the majority, it seems, rely on peer opinion, few on objective evidence.
    Thanks for your good work

    Alec Witham
  • Vickie,
    a good plug from Bill Muehlenberg

    A Harry Truman
  • Thank you so much for your summary of much of what we heard at the Conversion Therapy bill symposium last Saturday. You have put it together so succinctly. I made some notes but you’ve got it all there and I like your theme “ no harm “ being their excuse. So glad we could be hearing more from you in the days ahead as we see what doors God opens for you. Bless ÿou Vickie

    Beth Seaton
  • Vickie
    Thank you for this illuminating message, I will certainly comment to as many state politicians as I can, there is so much content in the message and my comments will be brief, I would like to think that the complete message can be given them in some other way.

    A Harry Truman

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