Author Archives: Damien Stevens-Todd

March with us this Midsumma Pride March Sunday 23rd May

Midsumma Pride March 2021 will return to Fitzroy St, St Kilda on Sunday 23 May 2021. NOTE: this is a few weeks outside of Midsumma Festival 2021 dates (19 April – 5 May 2021). Once again marchers will colour Fitzroy St in a parade of solidarity. UNA will march, and we’re allowed up to 20 participants only to ensure COVID-19 safety requirements are upheld.

Please register interest for a spot in our Midsumma Pride March group. A position in the march group is ticketed and allows each person into the after party in the Catani Gardens post march. More info will come in early May from Nicole Mugford (UNA Co-convenor) regarding the march group.

Thank you for your ongoing interest and support.

Submission re: Inquiry into Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020

Pitt Street Uniting Church’s submission can be read here.

Uniting Network NSW/ACT’s submission can be read here.

“The Bill seeks to prohibit any discussion of what it calls “gender fluidity” by teachers, school counsellors or chaplains. It would leave trans and other gender diverse young people even more isolated and at risk than is the case now. Pitt Street proposes that the Bill should be withdrawn or rejected by the NSW Parliament.”

MEDIA RELEASE – Celebrate the passing of the Victorian Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation

5 February 2021

The Uniting Church’s national network for LGBTUQ+ people celebrate with survivors, allies and advocates that the Victorian Change and Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill will become law. It was passed late on Thursday night (4/2/2021) through the Legislative Council without amendments in a vote 27 for vs 9 against.

“Survivors and advocates are pleased that the Victorian Parliament and broader community have rejected the misinformation spread and the myth that the bill was too vague and an overreach and have instead overwhelmingly come out in support of the lives of LGBTIQ+ people”, says Uniting Network executive member Nicole Mugford.

Nicole Mugford is a survivor-advocate who was present in Melbourne in a COVID-safe gathering of survivors and advocates during the debate and passing of legislation.

Ms Mugford said that “This is world leading legislation and has been hard-won by survivors and advocates who have been involved in consultation processes, sharing their personal stories and experiences and campaigning for this life saving legislation.”

The Uniting Church’s LGBTIQ+ Network is confident that the Victorian legislation will lead the way in other parts of Australia to implement similar legislation that will be equally effective in banning conversion practices.

Ms Mugford said that Uniting Network members know that many LGBTIQ+ people have subjected themselves to both formal and informal conversion practices in the past. “They are striving to be accepted by the communities they grew up in. Those same communities reject people and their natural sexual orientation / gender identity which cannot be changed and therefore ultimately reject LGBTIQ+ people. The consequences of this rejection can be devastating”.

“What we know is that God loves all people, as they are. This legislation bans conversion practices in any form and send a strong message to LGBTIQ+ people that they are not broken and don’t need fixing” Ms Mugford said.

The Uniting Church’s LGBTIQ+ Network welcomes the opportunity to engage with the wider Uniting Church congregations and agencies on education, training and pastoral care matters which relate to LGBTIQ+ people and especially to ensure conversion practices no longer occur in any Uniting Church setting. The Network welcomes the chance to consult and develop how we interact with our faith and ministry as it relates to LGBTIQ+ people.

Uniting Network expressed its gratitude to Brave Network and SOGICE Survivors for the immense amount of research, survivor support, work and advocacy they have done, and with the support of other community advocates and LGBTIQ+ organisations, to ensure the safe passage of this legislation.

Media release authorised by the Revd. Leanne Jenski & Jason Masters (Co-Convenors)

For further information, please contact Jason Masters, National Co-Convenor on 0407780110 or jasonmasters@me.com or Nicole Mugford Victorian Representative on 0412 317 075 or nicole.mugford@hotmail.com

Note to Editors

The Uniting Church LGBTIQ+ Network (hereafter ‘Uniting Network’) is the national network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ+) people, our families, friends, and allies within the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA). We are an independent national network in the UCA. We are officially recognised within the UCA and work within the structures and various Councils of the Church, but we do not represent or speak for the UCA.

Our ministry and advocacy for LGBTIQ+ people and communities are based on our Christian faith. This is summarised in a 2006 statement from the UCA’s national assembly, that …the Uniting Church believes that every person is precious and entitled to live with dignity because they are God’s children, and that each person’s life and rights need to be protected or the human community (and its reflection of God) and all people are diminished.

Download PDF here.

Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 support letter

The Hon. Daniel Andrews MP
Premier of Victoria
Parliament House
Spring Street
East Melbourne
Victoria 3002

30 January 2021

Dear Premier,

This letter is written to you by the following groups and organisations:

• Brave Network

• SOGICE Survivors

• Uniting Network, the LGBTQIA+ committee of the Uniting Church in Australia

• Equal Voices

• Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry, Australia


We wish to thank your government for its tremendous, bold, and brave support of the rights, wellbeing, and protection of LGBTQA+ Victorians, particularly LGBTQA+ people of faith and survivors of change and suppression (conversion) practices.

The Change and Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill represents the world’s most significant achievement in legislation curtailing the diabolical influence of the conversion movement.

Since its introduction to parliament in late 2020, the bill has been celebrated by LGBTQA+ advocacy organisations around the world, including Outright Action International, CT Survivors (US/Canada), No Conversion Canada, and Ozanne Foundation (UK).

It has been with great dismay that we have noted conservative opposition has hit the inboxes and phone lines of MPs on what would appear to be a regular basis and in significant numbers. This coordinated response has only served to be a catalyst in strengthening our resolve, highlighting the need for the Change and Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020.

Groups and individuals, such as the signatories of a letter which recently came to our attention written by a group calling itself Interfaith Communities of Victoria, and the Australian Christian Lobby, whose double page advertisement appeared in the Herald Sun recently featuring signatures of a moderate number of conservative individuals claiming to be representative leaders, hold extreme views that do not align with the beliefs of most mainstream faith communities and are not representative of what our society believes to be just or good for the wellbeing of all people. There is evidence to show that a large number of those groups are perpetrators of conversion practices. Precisely why we advocate for this bill to remain as strong as it is and safely passed into law.

In its current form the legislation, which will soon go before the Victorian Legislative Council, is exceedingly important in ameliorating the harm that suppression (conversion) practices, and the false and misleading claims which underpin them, have on LGBTQA+ people. And will appropriately penalise those who wish to continue to inflict these harmful practices.

As you are aware, this legislation is the result of extensive consultation undertaken by the Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) in the lead up to the introduction of this bill, for which we are grateful as we recognise the importance survivor stories have in showing the impacts such practices have. Many survivors have shared these stories in the context of submissions, the media, and with DJCS staff. This has not always been easy, yet survivors share because it is known that putting faces and real living stories before those who have the ability to legislate bans on the harms can have a significant impact on the outcomes.

The aims of survivor peer support and advocacy groups such as the Brave Network and
SOGICE Survivors is to do all within our capabilities to stop the harm which has been, and continues to be, caused to LGBTQA+ people from faith backgrounds by these practices. The false and misleading claims of many conservative groups who suggest that there is something broken or sinful about LGBTQA+ people – or that our relationships are incompatible with the faith we profess – has caused significant harm to our community and so we are looking forward with anticipation to the introduction of the Change and Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill into Victorian law.

At this juncture we would like to respond to some of the concerns raised by Interfaith
Communities of Victoria with these reflections:

We agree that the bill imposes constraints on ‘individual freedom of choice, parental rights and responsibilities, and the ability for religious leaders to offer support, prayer, and resources’ to LGBTQA+ people when such freedoms, rights, and behaviours constitute a ‘change or suppression practice’ as defined in section 5 of the bill and cause the degree of harm laid out in sections 10 to 13 (that is, the degrees of ‘injury’ and ‘serious injury’, which are defined in section 15 of the Crimes Act 1958 and have been tested by the Court over many years and in relation to many different contexts). We affirm that the bill therefore does not constitute an overreach.

In response to the claim that the bill ‘changes the legal definitions of “gender” and “sexuality” and replaces them with contentious ideological constructions’, we observe that the bill’s strong affirmations that ‘a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not broken and in need of fixing’ (s3(2)(b)) and that ‘no sexual orientation or gender identity constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency or shortcoming’ (s3(2)(c)) are not merely ideological constructs, but assertions of fact that align with a contemporary view of human sexuality and gender identity.

These contemporary perspectives are possibly most clearly demonstrated in a medical context. We note, for example, that homosexuality as a mental illness was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1973 (noted by the APA under ‘General trends in mental health care’ on page 2 of this fact sheet), reflecting recognition within psychiatry that the previous classification was inappropriate. We also note that the AMA has adopted the Declaration of Geneva, which expands on the medical Hippocratic oath to do no harm, and includes pledges that medical professionals will not permit considerations of gender or sexual orientation (among other factors) to intervene in their duty to their patients. The Declaration also pledges that medical professionals will not use their ‘medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat’, which we hold aligns with assertions under section 8 of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights. The compatibility of the bill with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights was affirmed by a recent report by the Victorian Parliament Scrutiny of Acts and
Regulations Committee.

Closer to home, we see that in 2017, our society voted for marriage equality, declaring that LGBTQA+ relationships are equal; in 2019, our society decided that trans and gender diverse people have the right to be identified as their true gender identity on birth certificates. Building on these strong and clear affirmations, it is time in 2021 for our society to declare that LGBTQA+ people are psychologically equal – they are not suffering from a disorder and they do not need to be ‘changed’ or ‘healed’. No practice that attempts to change or suppress a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation is acceptable.

To suggest that the bill proposes mere ideological constructs of sexuality and gender identity is to wilfully ignore the years of progress we have made as a global society towards making our world safer for LGBTQA+ people through recognising and upholding their identities, rights, and humanity.

We dispute the claim that the definition of a ‘change or suppression practice’ in the bill is ‘vaguely defined’. In fact, the definition laid out in section 5 is clear: A ‘change or suppression practice’ is a practice or conduct directed at an individual, on the basis of that individual’s sexuality or gender identity, and for the purpose of changing or suppressing that person’s sexuality or gender identity. The fact that the bill does not prescribe an exhaustive list of every possible context or relationship in which the conduct in question may occur, in our view, serves to demonstrate how far-reaching, and therefore devastating, these harmful practices are. From that perspective, it is appropriate that all sectors of life – including families, schools, churches,
workplaces, and medical and psychological services – face scrutiny in the interests of protecting LGBTQA+ people from this specific and clearly-defined harm. The context of the bill is the harm itself – in whatever circumstances that harm may occur.

Moreover, we wonder what behaviours parents, teachers, church leaders, employers, and medical and psychological practitioners are currently engaged in that they fear will be prohibited by the bill? If they are behaviours that are directed at an individual on the basis of the individual’s sexuality or gender identity, and are for the purpose of changing or suppressing that individual’s sexuality or gender identity, then we hold that these particular concerns expressed in the Interfaith letter further demonstrate the bill’s proportionality and appropriateness and, indeed, how vitally needed it is.

In regards to concerns that online activities such as social media interactions, websites, or blogs will be captured by the bill, we again agree, and reassert our earlier observations that any conduct, whether in person or online, that constitutes a ‘change or suppression practice’ as defined in the bill and which causes the degree of harm reflected by the thresholds of ‘injury’ and ‘serious injury’ should be captured, in order to protect LGBTQA+ people and ensure their fundamental rights are upheld.

We note that the single mention of the word ‘prayer’ in the bill occurs in the context of giving examples of direct-action conduct – such as performing exorcisms or ‘deliverance practices’ (s5(3)(b)). The suggestion by leaders in the Victorian community that the bill targets prayer more broadly is misguided or misleading. We further note that statements made during the bill’s second reading affirm that, under the first element of the definition of ‘change or suppression practice’ (s5(1)), conduct not directed at a specific person (such as ‘sermons expressing a general statement of belief’) or the circumstance in which a person seeks counsel from a faith leader and that leader articulates a view that the teachings of their faith consider same-sex
attraction to be sinful, but ‘only to convey their interpretation of those teachings and not to change or suppress’ the person’s sexuality or gender identity are unlikely to be prohibited by this law (Alert Digest No 13 of 2020, relevant bill pages 6 and 7). Furthermore, we make no apologies for our insistence that the most prominent modalities used to deliver – and to disguise – conversion practices, including prayer-based practices and talk therapy, be listed in the bill.

We now address the broader discussion of the protection of religious freedoms (noting that freedom of religion is protected under the Constitution and recognised in the common law). The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee is satisfied that the bill does not impinge on the freedom to engage in the practices of one’s religion inasmuch as all freedoms protected by our Constitution are not absolute freedoms, but are limited by other laws where necessary to protect public order, safety, health, and the fundamental rights and freedoms of other people (Alert Digest No 13 of 2020, relevant bill page 7). Importantly, this view in relation to freedom of religion is consistent with the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee Alert Digest No 10 of 2019, relevant bill pages 3 and 4).

In short, the bill carefully balances the protection of religious freedoms with the protection of the rights and freedoms of LGBTQA+ people. And we are delighted to note that it will have a continued positive impact for future generations as we see its unamended safe passage through the Victorian Legislative Council in the days ahead. Once again we wish to express our gratitude to your government for introducing these tremendous and bold protections for LGBTQA+ Victorians. In the words of the bill itself, ‘no sexual orientation or gender identity constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency or shortcoming’ (s3(2)(c)). Neither do LGBTQA+ people require any sort of change, healing or indeed suppression. It is with these facts in mind that we close this letter with a simple observation: Within our significantly extensive affirming faith communities we are taught that all human beings are ‘fearfully and wonderfully
made’ and LGBTQA+ people are a loved and essential part of God’s intended human diversity.

We encourage your government to continue to resist calls to amend, adjust, or reduce the scope of the bill. We urge you to continue to engage with the results of world-leading Victorian Government funded research performed by La Trobe University, Macquarie University, Brave Network and AGMC into the harms and recovery processes experienced by survivors. Finally, we offer our support, knowledge and experience in the development of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s (VEOHRC) civil scheme as outlined in the bill.

Sincerely,


Brave Network, SOGICE Survivors, Uniting Network, Equal Voices, Rainbow Catholics
InterAgency for Ministry, Australia

PDF here.

Submission to the Tasmania Law Reform Institute (TLRI) – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Practices

Issue Paper 31 – November 2020 (PDF available here)

Introduction and overview
The Uniting Church LGBTIQ+ Network (hereafter ‘Uniting Network’) is the national network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ+) people, our families, friends, and allies within the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA). We are an independent national network in the UCA. We are officially recognised within the UCA and work within the structures and various Councils of the Church, but we do not represent or speak for the UCA.

Our ministry and advocacy for LGBTIQ+ people and communities are based on our Christian faith. This is summarised in a 2006 statement from the UCA’s national assembly, that

The Uniting Church believes that every person is precious and entitled to live with dignity because they are God’s children, and that each person’s life and rights need to be protected or the human community (and its reflection of God) and all people are diminished*.

This submission has been prepared by Nicole Mugford, a member of the Uniting Network national executive. Nicole states that Nicole is “a survivor of conversion practices (in SA) and am currently residing in Melbourne and representing Uniting Network as the Victorian member and am the key point person for conversion practice legislation and consultation work with Uniting Network. I have consulted and advocated in the development of the Victorian legislation over the last two years.” This submission has been approved by the Uniting Network executive after conversation with the executive and various Network members.

* The Uniting Church’s most comprehensive statement on human dignity was made in 2006 in a document titled “Dignity in Humanity: Recognising Christ in Every person”. In Cynthia Coghill and Elenie Poulos, (Eds), For a World Reconciled, Uniting Church in Australia Assembly, Sydney, 2016, pp 127-131.

Response to TLRI questions

  1. After considering the background and working definition (see [1.3.23] on page 13), in your opinion, what are and are not ‘sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices’?

Uniting Network are supporters of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Change Efforts (SOGICE) Survivor Statement^. We support the definition in the TLRI issues paper as also expressed in the SOGICE Survivor Statement. We believe it is necessary to include in the TLRI definition those practices by which people are removed from Tasmania for the purpose of sexual orientation and gender identity change or conversion practices. It is our view that the Bill currently before the Victorian Parliament (Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill, 2020) meets very high standards and thus merits careful consideration by other jurisdictions.

^ https://socesurvivors.com.au/

  1. Should people be allowed to consent to SOGI conversion practices? If so, at what age and under what conditions?

In our assessment it is not possible for anyone to give fully informed consent to conversion practices (CPs). The main reason is that such conversion practices are are based on false and misleading claims about sexual orientation and gender identity. Because of the way prejudiced attitudes are ingrained into individuals from a young age, individuals are made to feel inferior and that ‘conversion’ is the only available option to find freedom and continue in religious faith. Therefore, our view is that any ban on practices should include children and adults whether seemingly consenting or not.

  1. Have you been involved in or offered, or are you aware of, any forms of SOGI conversion practices in Tasmania? If so, what were the effects on you, or the person exposed to them?

While some of the members of the Uniting Network executive have experienced conversion practices and are aware of practices happening in Tasmania, we do not have specific stories to share.

  1. Do you think that Tasmanian law should be changed to address SOGI conversion practices? If so, should this be through comprehensive reform, amendment, or both (a hybrid)?

It is our view that legislation should be introduced banning conversion practices, inducement to undergo conversion practices, advertising conversion practices, and referring a person to conversion practices, and removing a person Tasmania for the purpose of conversion practices. There should be comprehensive legislation to send the strongest possible message that CPs are unacceptable. It is vital that Tasmanian law is changed to address this issue. Strong legislation on banning SOGI conversion practices will save lives. It is necessary to realise that this issue is not primarily an issue of religious freedom but one of human rights and the dignity and value of all people. It is important that any legislation includes banning conversion practices, both formal and informal, that happen in religious contexts. It is our view that amendments to existing crimes or health legislation will not sufficiently address the bulk of conversion practices and therefore a new law is required.

  1. Should some or all forms of SOGI conversion practices be criminalised in Tasmania? If so, which, if any, should be dealt with as serious (indictable) crimes and which, if any, should be dealt with as less serious (summary) offences?

Those who administer conversion practices or who perpetuate conversion ideology in formal or clinical settings as well as information settings should be subject to greater penalties, which may include criminal charges. CPs should be criminal offences and be indictable because of the serious and life-threatening harm they cause. Please refer to the research findings of La Trobe University, in partnership with Macquarie, AGMC and Brave Network, for more information about the harms caused by conversion practices.

  1. Should some or all forms of SOGI conversion practices be made civil wrongs in Tasmania? If so, what sort of practices should people be liable for and how should those subject to such practices be compensated?

Uniting Network’s view is that any practices that are (a) focused on the individual, (b) grounded in the intent to change or suppress, and (c) cause injury or serious injury, should be subject to criminal penalties, regardless of whether those practices occur in religious settings, professional settings, paid or unpaid. Practices that don’t fulfil all three of the criminal criteria but are serious or systemic should be referred to a civil investigation process. Civil penalties, eg. fines with no criminal record, should be implemented for people found to have delivered conversion practices where those practices have not fulfilled the criminal criteria but have been found to be serious or systemic.

  1. Should any existing Tasmanian laws (besides criminal laws or the Civil Liability Act 2002 (Tas)) be amended to cover SOGI conversion practices? If so, which ones and in what way?

As a general approach the Tasmanian Parliament should enact either a Tasmanian Human Rights Act or a Charter of Rights to ensure a framework for protecting the rights and freedoms of all Tasmanians, including LGBTIQ+ Tasmanians. The national assembly of the Uniting church has advocated for a national Bill of Rights~.

There should be considering changes in the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Tasmania) Act 2010 for the deregistration of any health practitioner who refers a person for CP or engages directly or indirectly in CP.

~ See “Dignity in Humanity: Recognising Christ in Every person”. In Cynthia Coghill and Elenie Poulos, (Eds), For a World Reconciled, Uniting Church in Australia Assembly, Sydney, 2016, pp 134 – 136.

  1. Are there any other models or approaches that are preferable to, or should complement, changing the law?

The Uniting Network supports a legislative guiding principle based on the view that survivor advocates be given a priority focus and that survivors should be involved in all aspects of consultation, legislation, and advocacy.

  1. Are there any other matters that you consider relevant to this Inquiry and would like to raise?

A further legislative guiding principle should propose affirmation for the dignity and rights of LGBTIQ+ people. In addition, there also need to be education and research readily available to help religious institutions, among others, to recognise the harm perpetrated by conversion practices and the importance of affirming LGBTIQ+ people in their communities. A redress scheme for the ongoing support for survivors should be considered, along with the ways in which appropriate mental health support programs can be provided to survivors of conversion practices.

Submission approved by the Uniting Church LGBTIQ+ Network executive
27 January 2021

PRESS RELEASE: UNA WELCOMES VICTORIAN CONVERSION PRACTICES PROHIBITION BILL

8 December 2020

Uniting Network, the Uniting Church’s LGBTIQ Network welcomes the proposed legislation in Victoria titled the ‘Change and Suppression (conversion) Practices Prohibition bill’ and urges particularly Victorian Uniting Network members to show their support for this bill by writing to local MPs in support for this legislation.

Jason Masters, Co-Convenor comments, “Uniting Network welcomes this long-awaited bill and as partners of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Change Efforts (SOGICE) Survivors Statement, we know it will make an important difference in the lives of many LGBTQ+(*) people. We call on other states to follow this example so there is national protection for LGBTQ+ people.”

The SOGICE Survivors Network asserts that conversion practices are far more prevalent in Australian faith communities than has previously been understood, particularly when including informal conversion practices that occur in pastoral care contexts.

Uniting Network believes that this bill moves towards the protection of LGBTQ+ individuals from harmful practices which occur in both formal settings but also in informal practices of pastoral care, prayer ministries and small groups. In preparation for this bill, there has been careful work to hear the stories and experiences of both survivors of conversion practices and religious leaders.

Nicole Mugford the Victorian representative on the Uniting Network Executive says “This bill is such a vital piece of legislation for LGBTQ+ people. It acknowledges the harm caused by both formal and informal conversion practices and the underpinning false and misleading claims and causes that are harmful and unscientific. LGBTQ+ people including LGBTQ+ people of faith should be free to practice their faith, live their life and participate in all aspects of society, without being treated as if they are ‘disordered’ or ‘broken’.”

We are very concerned that many conservative Christian groups will campaign against this vital piece of legislation claiming it represents and attack on religious freedom and also adults rights to seek religious counsel. Uniting Network know that many LGBTQ+ people have subject themselves to both formal and informal conversion practices in the past because they are striving to be accepted by the communities they grew up in, when those same communities reject their natural sexual orientation and gender identity which cannot be changed and therefore ultimately reject LGBTIQ+ people. What we know is that God loves all people, as they are. Conversion Practices in any form is abusive and leads at best to long term mental health issues, at worst suicide.

Rev Leanne Jenski & Jason Masters (Co-Convenors)

For further information, please contact Jason Masters, National Co-Convenor on 0407780110 jasonmasters@me.com or Nicole Mugford Victorian Representative on 0412 317 075 Or nicole.mugford@hotmail.com

(*) Please note, that religious LGBTQ+ change and suppression practices have not included forced medical interventions on people born with intersex variations. Hence the focus on “LGBTQ+” but not “I” practices. Although, of course, some intersex people are LGBTQ+ and have been subject to religious LGBTQ+ change and suppression practices.

Download full press release here.