This is part two of a three part series looking at how Tasmania’s proposed anti-Conversion laws have lessons for all of us…Scotland, the UK and the US be warned!
Part 1 is here
This article was originally published in Australian Presbyterian here
The Emperor Has No Clothes
Tasmanian Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Practices- A Response – Part 2
In part 1 we noted that the TLRI report expresses concern about pseudo-science whilst being based upon pseudo-science. We asked whether there is any need for the proposed legislation; and we looked at how the report exaggerates some harms, whilst ignoring others. Now we look at language, consent and conversion, as mentioned in the report. Those who control the language, have the power. To illustrate this, I have given a number of extensive quotations which show how language is being used and abused.
4) Confused Language and Logic.
The report states: “Indirect practices, involving disinformation designed to convince others that certain sexual orientations or gender identities are faulty or dysfunctional and can and should be changed, suppressed, or eradicated [see 7.3]. Recommendation 8 states “A person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity are not pathological conditions, faults or dysfunctions.”
This language is too vague, universal, and open to subjective interpretation, and is not helpful in a legal report. The trouble is that when the language is vague or coded it allows those in power to interpret it as they wish.
If the criteria used above were to be taken at face value, then a person whose sexual orientation is as a minor attracted person (MAP) (see https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/103509) , or if a person identified as a dog, practitioners and others could be prosecuted for stating that this is faulty or dysfunctional! Or does this only apply to certain expressions of sexuality and sexual practices?
“The accounts quoted and cited above are the total of personal accounts of positive effects of SOGI conversion practices received in the submissions to this Inquiry. Importantly, no medical practitioner submitted any account of patients or clients who had positive experiences with SOGI conversion practices. That is significant because, even in reporting anecdotal experiences, expertise in clinical efficacy and harm would be important for accepting the possibility of either effectiveness or positive benefits”(4.6.9). It is interesting that the report did not require this same standard for anecdotal stories from those who said they had been harmed by conversion therapies.
It should also not be difficult to understand why medical practitioners would not be prepared to testify that someone had been helped. They would be struck off if they dared to go against the prevailing ideology! Take for example the case of David Bell, the psychiatrist, who wrote the 2018 report which was ultimately responsible for Tavistock’s closing. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/may/02/tavistock-trust-whistleblower-david-bell-transgender-children-gids Or take the case of Dr James Caspian whose research into detransitioning was blocked by the University of Bath. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41384473
Under the proposed new legislation would researchers like Dr Caspian be able to operate in Tasmania?
“That sexual orientation or gender identity may change over time, or adopting a ‘desires-based’ account of the nature of sexual orientation or gender identity, does not mean that external human interventions can influence those desires. Nor does it mean that attempting to do so is not likely to cause harm” (4.4.10). This is another example of the ideological and non-scientific approach taken by the report. Given that human interventions influence many of our desires, it is somewhat illogical to suggest that only on issues of sexuality and gender this could not be the case. Of course, those interventions could be harmful but to predetermine that they MUST be harmful is a product of ideology, not science.
Consent is the buzzword of our culture. We assume that adults who have mental capacity are able to give consent on a variety of issues. We are pro-choice on every issue – except this one. Again – without any evidence – the report assumes that genuine consent is impossible.
“Second, engagement may be ‘voluntary’, even though genuine consent is impossible, and the subject may genuinely believe that engaging in the practices are in their best interests” 7.1.18).
I wonder how the Tasmanian parliament would react if a report was put before it stating that it would be impossible for a woman to genuinely consent to an abortion?!
Of particular concern is the consent of parents. It is an axiom of good parenting that parents tell their children they are never to trust anyone who says ‘Let’s keep this our little secret…don’t tell your parents’. However, there is an increasing trend in some Western educational systems to encourage teachers and others to affirm a ‘trans-identifying’ child, without telling the parents.
The report speaks of acting in ‘the best interests of the child’. But who determines that?
“Parents and guardians have the right to express views on sexuality or gender identity issues to their children and family and to guide their moral and spiritual development. The Institute reiterates that expressing views about sexuality and gender identity, or disapproving of certain sexualities or gender identities, is not, of itself, a conversion practice [see 2.5.3 and 3.6.2].”
That statement is to be welcomed. However, what the right hand gives, the left hand takes away.
“Further, the Institute is not convinced that there are any compelling reasons why SOGI conversion practices warrant a special exemption from the law where they occur in a familial setting” (5.2.12).
Given the broad and open to interpretation definition of ‘conversion practices’ this means that parents could be in trouble for refusing to affirm the gender identity of their confused teenager – and could risk prosecution for even seeking psychological help.
The rights of parents are not something to be reluctantly acknowledged as part of a box ticking exercise. Unless there are extremely good reasons not to grant them – they are paramount. The proposed Tasmanian legislation limits parental rights in order to absolutise the transgender ideology.
Definition of Conversion.
The vagueness of the language around the definition of conversion is also disturbing. For example, recommendation 9: “a public act promoting conversion practices amounts to incitement of hatred towards, serious contempt for or severe ridicule of another person or group of persons on the grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.” Without a precise definition of conversion practices, we could end up with the ridiculous position of a pastor who agrees to pray for someone, being prosecuted for ‘incitement to hatred’!
“While it is reassuring that educational providers do not undertake ‘forceful’ practices, that is not the only form of conduct which is used to convert someone’s sexual identity or gender identity. Harmful conduct may be physical and non-physical, direct, or indirect, immediate or prolonged. Conversion practices may occur through a range of non-coercive means, such as improper pressure, persuasion, coercion, inducement or by convincing a person or group to uncritically accept a set of beliefs about themselves or others” (3.4.22). This is so broad as to be meaningless or tyrannical. Applied in other situations it would be ridiculous – one would not be allowed to seek to persuade or induce someone to accept that their racist political beliefs were wrong, or that their church was confused, or that their belief in Green ideology should be challenged. Why apply such a broad category only in the instances of sexuality and gender identity? This is an attempt to silence any dissenters from the prevailing ideology.
“The word ‘conversion’ means to ‘change in character, form, or function’. In the context of the present subject the word is commonly used to describe conduct that seeks to bring sexual or gender divergence into conformity with perceived and assumed normativity” (2.5.1). Apart from the problem noted above that this is too broad and would allow MAPs or those who would claim sexual identification with animals to assert they were being persecuted if they were criticised. This definition also ignores the conversion therapy that goes the other way. We can give anecdotal evidence of those who have been counselled that perhaps their depression was caused by being ‘trapped in the wrong body’. To a vulnerable teenager that is indeed inappropriate and harmful counselling – yet the report in its one-sidedness mentions nothing about this kind of conversion therapy.
“In that case a conversion might involve convincing a person not to act on their feelings, forinstance to be celibate or gender conforming” (2.5.2).
Again, this is a dangerous definition to put into a legal, psychological or community setting. It is sometimes an excellent idea to convince someone NOT to act on their feelings. I am quite happy to advise someone not to act on their feelings if I know that such action will result in their harm. The notion that sexual feelings or feelings of identity are to be given absolute status is itself irrational, unscientific, and potentially harmful. Furthermore, the notion that encouraging a person to be celibate could be illegal is not only ridiculous but an abuse of political power.
From the Christian perspective – we are all about change. We want all people, including ourselves, to be radically changed for the better.
“Freedom of expression (including freedom of religious expression) does not authorise dangerous medical or pseudo-medical conduct, whether in the guise of counselling, pastoral care, scriptural study or anything else. To the extent that any person seeks to convince another that they can and should change or suppress their personal attributes, the conduct stops being religious expression and becomes harmful conduct. That is because it amounts to a false claim about the ability of a person to change their mental and/or physical state. That is the province of evidence-based medicine, not religion, politics or philosophy, regardless of which person is saying it or the platform they use to promote those beliefs” (5.5.28).This section is absolutely vital. Many of the criticisms above concerning generalisations, irrationality and authoritarianism apply to it also. In this one paragraph the TLRI have ordered that no Christian church should ever seek to change anyone. Jesus’ stating that people should go and sin no more, or that they need to be born again, would be prosecuted in Tasmania!
How can it be harmful conduct, for example, to suggest that those who have a genetic predisposition to drinking too much alcohol, should not be encouraged to change their drinking habits?! The irony is that the conclusions of this report are not based on ‘evidenced based medicine’ but rather politics, ideology and philosophy. Many of the major institutions in the Western world have been taken over by this ideology – an ideology which does not allow any critique of its position, no matter how evidence based. The fact that it is medical bodies who are making political and ideological statements, does not give the political and ideological statements any more gravitas!
The report works on the assumption that it is self-evident that the ideology behind the report is true. We are all told to believe that on matters of sexuality and gender all feelings are fixed and cannot be changed, that every expression of sexuality is good, and that anyone who seeks to help those who do not want to act on their feelings is somehow a hateful, harmful bigot. The truth is that this emperor has no clothes. Once we begin to examine the claims made in the report they fall apart. This is not about ‘evidence-based medicine’. It is about the dogmas of an ideological group who have somehow convinced the elites of our culture that they alone have the truth.
In part three we will look at why this is happening, and what is likely to occur if the Tasmanian parliament pass this draconian, ill-informed and ill-thought-out legislation.