A proposed law to ban conversion practices has passed its third and final reading in Parliament on Tuesday evening.
While the bill is a step in the right direction, members of New Zealand’s rainbow communities say the bill doesn’t go far enough.
The bill, which now needs to pass Royal Assent and be signed by the Sovereign or the Governor-General in order for it to be passed into law, could see someone imprisoned for up to three years in jail for performing conversion therapy on someone under 18 and up to five years where it has caused serious harm, irrespective of age.
The Attorney-General needs to give consent for those prosecutions.
Conversion therapy is the practice of forcibly trying to change or “cure” rainbow sexualities or identities.
Organiser of End Conversion Therapy NZ Shaneel Lal says it is disheartening to support a bill that does not protect all people in the queer community.
Shaneel says: “I would have liked to have seen a bill that protects people in our community, regardless of what age they are and one that ensures that survivors and victims of conversion therapy get redress."
“Currently, the present bill does not achieve that.”
More than 18,000 people have signed Shaneel’s petition calling for three major amendments to the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill.
Currently in the bill, any person who performs conversion practices on a person under 18 is liable on conviction - meaning under 18 year olds do not have to prove serious harm. But victims 18 years or older will need to prove “significant harm”, Shaneel says.
“The criminal law does not recognise diagnosable mental health problems and suicidal ideation as serious harm or grievous bodily harm. These two things, depression and suicidal ideation, are the most common results or consequences of conversion therapy,” Shaneel says.
Shaneel would like people of all ages to not have to prove they meet the requirements for serious harm.
Other changes they wanted to see is the removal of a section which says there can be no prosecution without the Attorney-General’s consent and the inclusion of ACC coverage for mental harm suffered as a result of conversion therapy.
“I am mindful that we did not achieve the homosexual law reform in the marriage equality bill on the same day. So this bill establishes the foundation for change.”
For conversion therapy survivor, Trinity Thompson Browne, not having ACC-covered therapy for people who have gone through conversion therapy is a “massive, gaping hole in the bill”, they say.
“As someone who's been through conversion therapy, I don't care for punitive punishment being the only thing that happens.
“If there's no ACC-funded support, then you just have all of this unprocessed trauma. And what are you supposed to do with it?”
Trinity says if they hadn't had also been through sexual harm, they would not have been eligible for ACC-funded therapy.
“It’s like you need trauma on top of trauma to be able to access meaningful, healing, transformative support,” they say.
“A bill that is not inclusive of more than just bottom of the cliff measures, is not an effective bill.”
In the 1970s, Joan Bellingham was forcibly drugged and subjected to electroconvulsive therapy for more than 12 years because she is lesbian.
“In my day, we had nothing. There was absolutely no support, so it is a step up. But I still wouldn’t be feeling completely safe,” she says.
“Our fear is that this bill is being passed now, it is going to take a long time before anything else is done on the matter. People will think ‘okay, done’ and push it to the side.”
But Joan says even if the bill is incomplete, at least it has brought the discussion of conversion therapy and queerphobia to light in New Zealand.
“I think bringing it out in the open is a big step in itself. I just hope and pray that it's enough. Enough to cut out the suicides and things that are happening to young ones nowadays,” Joan says.
“For goodness sake, people should feel safe.”
There were 107,000 public submissions on the proposed law - which is the highest ever received in New Zealand’s history. The select committee received 38,900 unique submissions (not a copied template).
Top image: Photo by Becki Moss
Where to get help:
- 1737: The nationwide, 24/7 mental health support line. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
- Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. Nationwide 24/7 support line operated by experienced counsellors with advanced suicide prevention training.
- Youthline: Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234. Nationwide service focused on supporting young people.
- OUTLine NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service that helps LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders access support, information and a sense of community.