Gay conversion therapy goes unregulated

Star Observer, Australia/October 24, 2012

The NSW government has no plans to regulate gay conversion therapies in the state despite two recent Australian cases where GPs offered hormones and chemical castration as gay cures.

Last week, a student at the University of Canberra complained after allegedly being offered hormonal treatment to try and change his sexuality by a Catholic GP on campus.

This followed a case last month where a GP from the Exclusive Brethren religious sect was struck off from medical practice after he was found guilty of offering chemical castration as treatment for a gay teenager.

It is estimated there are around 10 different gay conversion therapies being offered by mostly religious groups, however it is unknown how many individual GPs, therapists and psychologists may be offering such treatments in Australia.

Last month, California became the first US state to ban gay conversion therapies for minors, banning therapists and psychologists from offering the treatment to anyone under the age of 18.

A spokeswoman for the NSW attorney general said there were had no plans to assess if there was a need for regulation of gay conversion therapies in NSW.

The psychological and medical professions have long disavowed the practice as dangerous, arguing you can't cure being gay, as it is not a mental or physical disease.

Psychologist and public interest manager at the Australia Psychological Society (APS) Heather Gridley said attempting to change someone's sexuality is both unethical and also very harmful.

"Certainly there is evidence it is harmful and we say it is unethical to try and change someone's sexuality," she told the Star Observer.

"Partly because it is biologically determined but also because it's like trying to make someone left-handed right-handed; you can imagine what happens when you try and change someone's identity."

Gridley says the practice is not endorsed by the APS.

"We are horrified by the idea that you might try to change someone's identity," she said.

"[Conversion therapies] don't work… some of the methods are really destructive."

The doctor involved in the Canberra University incident was employed by the on-campus Health and Counselling Centre and allegedly told a gay student his sexuality was caused by a hormonal imbalance.

In a statement, the university said the GP was employed by the Health and Counselling Centre and not by the university.

"The medical practitioners provide services on the university's premises under the terms of a licence agreement," the statement said.

"The University takes these complaints very seriously and has a number of processes in place to facilitate the handling of grievances or other issues."

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