The NZ Skeptics’ Submission
on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill
The NZ Skeptics are a New Zealand/Aotearoa charity dedicated to education and the promotion of evidence-based practices, both in government policy and elsewhere in New Zealand public life. Healthcare decisions are an important part of this ideal, and we strongly support any measures that seek to follow best evidence and help protect consumers from harm.
In line with our sister organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom, it is the position of the NZ Skeptics that we support the banning of conversion therapies as outlined in Section 5 of the proposed Act.
‘Conversion’ or ‘reparative’ practices incorporate a wide range of activities that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. In both the past and present, such therapies have included so-called clinical treatments such aslike ice-pick lobotomies, electro-convulsive therapies, and aversion programmes that include pharmaceutical regimens that induce vomiting while church-based organisations utilise exorcisms, and intensive praying sessions (either in groups or one-on-one).
To date, no evidence has been produced in New Zealand or internationally to support the effectiveness of conversion therapies. Instead, the only consistent outcome of the practices listed above is harm and life-long trauma to those who have endured them. Reputable organisations worldwide such as the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, Royal Australian College of Physicians, the NHS, and the United Nations have acknowledged and published similar findings.
The absence of support from these and major regulatory and professional bodies and employers has consequently driven such practices underground. The treatments and their providers are unregulated; neither undergo rigorous and ongoing continuing education programmes or annual auditing, as required of any other professional charged with the care of the minds and bodies of New Zealand citizens.
Religious freedom is not violated when banning conversion therapy. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief stated to British Members of Parliament that the banning of conversion therapy in no way violates freedom of religion under international law because of the state’s obligation to protect the life and dignity of LGBT+ persons.
As part of our mission to promote evidence-based policy-making and healthcare, the NZ Skeptics continually seek the advice of experts and findings of contemporary research with which to inform our positions on a variety of topics. The evidence is clear that conversion therapy is worse than ineffective, indeed it appears to be outright dangerous; provision of such therapies should be seen by New Zealanders as akin to fraud.
However, the banning of conversion therapy is not simply a health issue, but one that encompasses personal, religious, political, and societal beliefs and practices about gender diversity and identity; Elements which cannot be appreciated with statistics alone. Ongoing persecution of LGBTQIATakatāpui+ communities internationally is an ongoing concern for our organisation, and we see the presence of conversion therapy in New Zealand as a terrible proof of the insidiousness and persistence of bigotry both within our country and outside our borders. To this end, NZ Skeptics finds it vital to consider the voices and recommendations of persons who are either experienced in matters of conversion therapy, or who have been the targets of such unethical treatments, and place our support behind them.
In general we support the wording of this Bill. Here are our thoughts on the parts of the Bill that we feel need changing to ensure it adequately protects people from harmful conversion practices:
We do not think that health practitioners should be exempt from this Bill. We consider that the caveats in 5 (2) are sufficient to protect health practitioners who are “offering legitimate support or therapy”, and we are concerned that health practitioners could conceivably claim to be offering conversion therapy within their “scope of practice”. As such, this appears to be a loophole that we would like to see closed. We recommend the removal of 5 (2) (a) from the Bill.
We do not believe there should be an exemption for religious people or groups in the Bill, and we hope that MPs will resist any pressure from religious groups for any kind of religious exemption to be added. Similarly, we do not think that it would be appropriate for an exemption for parents to be added to the Bill. We recommend that no further exemptions are added to the Bill.
Clauses 8 and 9
We believe that organisations (companies, charities, societies, churches) are often involved in offering, organising and promoting harmful conversion therapy, and would like to see the inclusion of the ability for charges to be brought against organisations as well as individuals. We recommend the inclusion of organisations as well as people as parties to an offence.
We believe that the inclusion of only imprisonment is inadequate to allow for effective sentencing. We would also like to see a fine added, to give judges more options for choosing an appropriate sentence for the offending, and for organisations we would like to see the inclusion of appropriate sentencing options, such as the removal of charitable status. We recommend the addition of more sentencing options, such as fines.
We think that clause 10 is important, and that consent should not be considered a defence in this piece of legislation. We recommend that clause 10 is kept in its current state.
We believe that the requirement of clause 12 for consent from the Attorney-General before prosecution can occur is an unnecessarily high bar. Our understanding is that Attorney-General consent is usually required for laws where there is a significant risk of misuse of the legislation. This does not appear to be likely to be the case for a conversion therapy law, which is designed to protect minority groups who are at risk. We recommend the removal of clause 12 from the Bill.
We believe that monitoring and feedback are important, and that for new legislation to be effective, it should include a review process. For example, it would be good to see this law, when enacted, go through a review of the process and its effectiveness within its first five years, and to allow for amendments as necessary as a result of the review’s recommendations.
Finally, we would like to gratefully acknowledge the efforts of Shaneel Lal and InsideOut in their campaign, and support the important work they have done in this area.
Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on this important piece of new legislation.