FAQ - recent changes to make the ACT a more inclusive place for everyone

In recent days, a number of Canberrans received robocalls from an organisation known as Binary Australia.

The calls misrepresented recent legislation in the ACT Legislative Assembly.

The ACT Government is clear that this much-needed legislation supports some of the most vulnerable in our community.

The ACT Government understands that these calls have caused significant distress in our community.

Here are the facts.

Let’s start at the beginning. What is ‘conversion therapy’, and why am I getting calls about this?

Conversion therapy’ is based on a wholly unscientific belief that involves direct attempts to change a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation through any number of harmful practices, including physical and verbal abuse, pseudo-medical procedures, electro-shock therapy or spiritual interventions. 

Despite being described as ‘therapy’, these practices are deeply damaging, and may also include psychological abuse, often over an extended period of time.

These degrading practices inflict ongoing pain and suffering, and cause lifelong damage for individuals, their families, and our community.

Survivors of this kind of abuse have revealed the extent and long-term impact of this harm, including depression, higher levels of suicidality, anxiety, poor self-esteem, social isolation, and decreased capacity for intimacy and connection.

There is no evidence to suggest that these practices have any medical value, and they have been wholly discredited by leading health agencies both in Australia and overseas. These practices are not evidence-based and have been formally opposed and discredited by the medical community, including the Australian Psychological Association, Australian Medical Association, and World Health Organisation.

What about religious beliefs or professional psychological support?

This bill has been developed in close consultation with the ACT Human Rights Commission, to ensure that it does not infringe on a person’s right to religious belief.

These changes do not interfere with religious teachings more broadly. The Bill does not impose criminal charges on medical professionals or psychiatrists providing legitimate services which, in their reasonable professional judgment, are safe and appropriate or comply with their legal or professional obligations. It also does not include practices that provide acceptance, support or understanding of a person’s struggles with their sexuality or gender identity. Nor does it prevent parents from discussing sexuality or gender identity issues with their children.

The Explanatory Statement to the Bill expressly recognises the freedom of religion - and an individual’s right to teach the tenets of their faith, which may include a belief that same sex attraction or gender transition is wrong. Faith leaders and others will not be affected by these laws unless they actively try to perform a conversion practice on another person.

What will happen if someone conducts ‘conversion practices’ in the ACT?

If these practices are undertaken against a person with full mental capacity, it will be up to the ACT Human Rights Commission and/or the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) - bodies independent of Government - to investigate, conciliate or mediate and determine reparation, depending on an individual's circumstances. 

If this conversion practice is conducted against a child, or a person with impaired decision-making ability, a potential prison sentence of up to 12 months may apply.  This decision would be reached by the Courts.

What changes has the ACT Government recently brought into place?

In recent weeks, the ACT Government has introduced legislation - the Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill 2020to ban conversion practices in the ACT. Similarly, Queensland has also banned this practice, as have other places around the world, including in some parts of the United States and Ireland.

Legislation to give young transgender, intersex and gender diverse Canberrans more accessible pathways to change their given names and sex details on their birth certificates was recently passed by the Legislative Assembly. (The Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2020).

The ‘robocall’ I received last night suggested that children as young as 12 can change the gender on their birth certificates without parental awareness or consent?  Is this true?

No.

The Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2020 that was passed recently allows a young person aged 12 years or older to make an application to the Registrar-General, via the ACAT, without parental consent, to apply to change their name and/or sex on their birth certificate.

It will be up to the ACAT to assess, on an individual basis, whether the young person has sufficient maturity and understanding to make the decision to change their registered sex or given name. That young person may take the second step of applying to change their registered sex or given name only after the ACAT is satisfied that they have the sufficient maturity and understanding.

In this instance, the young person’s parents and guardians must be informed of the application, so they have an opportunity to voice their views on the child’s capacity to make a decision.  This would be the case unless the ACAT determined that notifying the parents or guardians posed a risk to the child (for example in instances of family violence).

In exceptional circumstances, a person under the age of 12 may also apply to the ACAT, but only with the consent of a parent or guardian.

All individuals, regardless of age, who apply for a change of registered sex in the ACT will have to present a certificate by a doctor or psychologist certifying that the person has received appropriate psychological counselling to assess their understanding of the proposal to alter their gender identity.

Changing gender identity on a birth certificate does not need to involve physical changes or surgery, and these details can be reversed later if a person chose to do so.

It is expected that these changes would generally impact a small number of Canberrans each year, however, for those affected, this validates and supports them to be their authentic selves.

The robocall I received also said the ACT Assembly will attempt to change laws that will make it illegal for parents to say or do anything less than agreeing and supporting a child’s wish to change gender. The child can be as young as 5 years old. Is this true?

No.

‘Conversion therapy’ involves direct interventions to alter someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, in an attempt to ‘cure’ them. Those who attempt to ‘cure’ a child of their sexual orientation or gender diversity may face criminal penalties, as determined by the courts, which are independent of the Government.

This is a complex area. ‘Conversion therapy’ - that by definition, purports to be ‘curative’ - is not the same as working with counsellors and others to support a child or a young person to work through any feelings of gender dysphoria or feelings of being attracted to the same sex. The legislation is not preventing parents from supporting their child or having conversations about the issues. Nor does it prevent parents from having a say about their child's capacity to make their own decisions as they will be informed that an application to change name or sex has been registered with the ACAT, and given an opportunity to put forward their views, unless it is not safe for the child (ie. in cases of family violence).

The ACT is an inclusive city. Why should we care about this issue?

All communities should be measured by how they treat their most vulnerable. 

Sadly, ‘conversion practices’ have taken place right here in Canberra - and a number of conversion practice survivors live here in the ACT.

As a response to identified gaps in ACT legislation from these survivors and the sector, the ACT Government has consulted with survivors and other stakeholders in the development of this legislation.

What should I do if I am a person affected by these calls, or know someone who is?

Please know that the ACT Government supports you to be your authentic self.

The ACT Government stands with the community against bigotry, hatred transphobia and homophobia in all its forms.

If these calls  or subsequent media coverage have brought up feelings you'd like to discuss, please reach out to one of the following organisations:

• Lifeline - 13 11 14

• Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800

• QLife - a national service that aims to keep LGBTQI communities supported and connected - Phone: 1800 184 527 (3pm–midnight AEST)

• For ACT-based support, Westlund Counselling (business hours) 0412 882 855

• A Gender Agenda (business hours) 6162 1924.

What should I do if I have further questions?

Please contact jacsmedia@act.gov.au.