An Open Letter to Jacinda Ardern and The Justice Committee

Dear Jacinda and the Justice Committee,

This week I conducted a survey to examine the views of people I knew and their knowledge and thoughts regarding the LGBT+. First I asked participants if they knew that Gay Conversion Therapy was still legal in New Zealand. 60% of participants said they were not aware and the majority of those who were aware were members of, or family members of, the LGBT+ community.

I then asked participants if they thought Gay Conversion Therapy was effective. 100% of participants said “NO”.
Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, Atheists.
Turkish, Kiwi, Iranian, Russian, American, Colombian, Singaporean, Australian, German, Polish, and many others.
Pastors, Politicians, Teachers, Scientists, Doctors, Nurses, Midwives, Counsellors.
They all agreed.
Gay Conversion Therapy DOES NOT WORK.

Stuff reported in October 2019 that the Justice Select Committee acknowledge that this practice was harmful to the LGBT+ but did not recommend a ban because they needed to clearly define the practice and ensure that rights relating to freedom of expression and religion were maintained.

Photo by Brielle French on Unsplash

On the 8th of August 1986 New Zealand decriminalized homosexual relations between consenting adults. On August the 19th 2013 we became the first country in Oceania, the thirteenth globally to allow same sex marriage. As a conservative Christian you can not tell me that there was no religious outcry, as I am very aware of the stance of Family First and of the Church.

Religious people will always find a way to discriminate the LGBT+ community, as will non-religious conservatives. There is nothing we can do to stop this. Discrimination is something that helps us prove that sexuality is not a choice — for many of the LGBT+ people I know would choose to be straight if it meant avoiding the discrimination they face daily.

We pride ourselves on being a forward country that fights for the rights of all and maintains ethical standards above all else and yet we are being beaten to the mark by countries such as Albania, a country that does not allow LGBT+ couples to get married. Medical professionals understood that the harm done by this practice was so severe that it needed to be dealt with even before allowing the right of marriage equality.

Many researchers agree that the big question should not be whether being homosexual is a choice but it should be, rather, is it ethical to question this when we should be fighting prejudice and giving all people the same legal rights. Would we ever consider legalizing a practice that tried to force straight people to become gay? Of course not, that would be ludicrous! Why then do we still allow the opposite?

So my dearest Prime Minister I am going to help you break down the issues the Justice Select Committee seemed to have.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

1) Clearly defining the practice.
Outlife UK defines the practice in this way;
“Conversion therapy, or so-called “gay-cure therapy” is any form of talk therapy or similar activity that seeks to remove a person’s feelings of same-sex attraction or change their gender identity. Attempts may also be made to force an attraction to the opposite sex, or identification with recorded birth sex.”

For the sake of the Justice Select Committee conversion therapy can be clearly defined as “any form of practice that uses behavioural reconditioning techniques, physical stimuli, emotional or mental control or manipulation or personal shaming in order to achieve the goal of changing or attempting to change a person’s sexual identity or orientation.”

2) Ensuring freedom of expression for religious groups.
The act of criminalizing any form of conversion therapy does not limit the freedoms of speech religious communities have, rather, it limits the ability to practice a harmful act that diminishes the reputation of the Church within the community.

It is a shame that Christ did not clearly discuss homosexuality but we are told that all are saved through grace and the sacrifice of Christ. In my survey 77% of Christians agreed that it should be the responsibility of the Church as a whole to fight for the legal rights of the LGBT+ as the Church should do with refugees, widows and orphans. Indeed, Isaiah 1:17 (NIV) tells us;
“Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow”.

Religious communities who wish too will still be able to speak out about their distaste for the LGBT+. Making this practice illegal means that young Christians won’t be told potentially damaging things about their worth as human beings and that they can-not be referred on to programmes that maintain dangerous practices and damage their long-term health. It is not easy to say no to your parents, your family, your pastor, your entire community. This is especially important when we remember that for many people who attend religious groups, these groups tend to form the basis of their community and exclusion can mean losing everyone you love. We would be lying if we thought people were not shunned for refusing to attend Gay
Conversion Therapy.

I would also like to take this opportunity to define ‘freedom of expression’. The Bill of Rights Act (1990) explains that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form”. Need I point out, Prime Minister, that the act does not say “the freedom to force people into undertaking a process designed to change who they are”.

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

3) Ensuring freedom of expression for the LGBT+.
I personally would like to rephrase this to ‘ensuring LGBT+ people have the basic human right of acceptance’ but as I am following the words of the Justice Select Committee I will keep their wording. I want to ask you if you would agree with me that the routine act of being told that you are bad person, that you are going to Hell, that you deserve to die, that you are not good enough and that you need to be changed in order to see your family or be a part of your community…that this would amount to cruel and degrading treatment?

Would you agree with me that the act of being ‘outed’ to your entire community, without your permission, after confiding in your pastor or parent would amount to cruel and degrading treatment?

Would you agree that being shunned due to your sexual identity or orientation would amount to cruel or degrading treatment?

Finally Jacinda, would you agree that being told that the only way you can change is through some form of physical harm such as electrotherapy or self-harm of the anus, would amount to cruel and degrading treatment?

If you agreed to any of those, all practices happening within our country, then let me remind you of section 9 of The Bill of Rights Act (1990) which states “everyone has the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, degrading, or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment.”

This right is a part of freedom of expression. The ability to express yourself without fear of these things happening to you is part of freedom of expression.

I do not think the Justice Select Committee needs to revise freedom of expression. I do think that if anything we need to revise The Human Rights Act (1993) section 28.3 “Where a religious or ethical belief requires its adherents to follow a particular practice, an employer must accommodate the practice so long as any adjustment of the employer’s activities required to accommodate the practice does not unreasonably disrupt the employer’s activities”. We need to ensure this does not apply to special interest groups or self-employment but the act of ‘normal’ or ‘regular’ employment. I have heard it argued by a practitioner (I refuse to call them a counsellor) of Gay Conversion Therapy that this protects them and allows them to practice their craft as it gives protection to religious people and the Bible tells them that LGBT+ are abominations and therefore their religious belief means they must practice this in order to save people’s souls.

4) Treating the issue as a health issue and not a social one.
This practice kills people. It leads to depression, anxiety and suicide. We need to stop treating this practice as a social issue and treat it as a health issue, especially when we consider that many who offer this practice call themselves ‘counsellors’ when they are not on the record. Minors are often made to undergo the practice, a practice that has no scientific basis and leaves life-long scars on the child. This is unethical at best and causes permanant damage to their emotional and mental health, often also their physical health.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

5) Protecting and creating clarification around the term ‘counsellor’.
We also need to look at who is participating in this practice. Many young LGBT+ people are being sent to Christian ‘counsellors’. The fact that these people are labelling themselves as ‘counsellors’ is ludicrous. Just as someone who is not trained in medicine or does not have a Doctorate degree can not name themselves ‘doctor’, we should protect the name of the professional body of counsellors. The only people in New Zealand who should be legally allowed to call themselves a counsellor are those with a Bachelor of Counselling who have registered with the NZCA or the NZCCA and hold an Annual Practising Certificate.

Counsellors who meet this critera and still practice Gay Conversion Therapy either within their workplace or in their private time should lose their APC. This is because, in the view of public opinion, they are dishonouring several sections of the NZCA Code of Ethics including;
* The NZAC Code of Ethics section 3.1 — respect for human dignity.
* The NZAC Code of Ethics section 3.5 — personal integrity.
* The NZAC Code of Ethics section 3.6 — social justice.
* The NZAC Code of Ethics section 4.2 — avoid doing harm in all their professional work.
* The NZAC Code of Ethics section 5.2d — shall avoid discriminating against clients on the basis of their (…) gender, sexual orientation.
* The NZAC Code of Ethics section 5.2f — counsellors shall support their clients to challenge the injustices they experience.
* The NZAC Code of Ethics section 5.2h — counsellors shall promote social justice through advocacy and empowerment.
* The NZAC Code of Ethics section 5.12a — counsellors shall not exploit clients for purposes of personal, professional, political, or financial gain.
* The NZAC Code of Ethics section 7.3a — counsellors shall uphold and foster the values, integrity and ethics of the profession.

The protection of the term ‘counsellor’ will not only give the profession more respect and protection but it will also allow the LGBT+ to have transparency regarding the form of ‘therapy’ they are receiving. Gay Conversion Therapy is not therapy, but a form of pseudoscientific practice. This something we need to clearly define.

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

Now do you see?

Jacinda, we need you to make a stand. It will be ugly but the fight is vital. We need to fight to criminalise this act. We have a desire to lower our suicide rates and remain a pragmatic country that prides itself on being inclusive and ethical but this is letting us down… so let us deal with this sensibly, realistically, ethically and legally, once and for all.

I want to leave you with the words of Maurice Williamson, taken from his iconic speech to Parliament when addressing the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Act (2013):
“I give you a water-tight guarantee promise. The sun will still rise tomorrow. Your teenage daughter will still argue back with you as if she knows everything. Your mortgage will not grow. You will not have skin diseases or rashes or toads in your bed Sir, the world will just carry on. So don’t make this into a big deal, this is fantastic for the people it effects but for the rest of us life will go on.”

If we criminalise Gay Conversion Therapy, you will find our dear Prime Minister, that many LGBT+ people will finally find the strength to realize that life CAN go on.

Blessings.

Lyn has worked in journalism in several countries in Central Asia and Europe, with a focus on written format and radio. Her focus is politics and LGBT+ rights.