The Devil is in the detail in Government Bill
Voting on the controversial Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill introduced earlier this month is scheduled to occur in the ACT Legislative Assembly on Thursday.
However, the proposed legislation has faced increasing criticism in recent days as the wider community has become aware of the details of the draft bill. While the ostensible purpose of the legislation is to prohibit coercive and harmful conversion practices aimed at children and vulnerable individuals experiencing same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria, the bill’s consequences will be considerably more far-reaching.
By providing only a broad and vague definition of what exactly constitutes coercive conversion treatments and practices in clause 7(1), the draft bill has the potential to criminalise a much wider range of actions than merely outdated therapeutic practices, which are the express target of the legislation.
Indeed, if the draft bill were to pass through the legislative assembly without amendment, friends, family members, teachers, counsellors or religious leaders who seek to provide moral advice, formation, or care for children are at risk of financial penalty and/or imprisonment. In the words of a prominent Canberra lawyer, proposed criminal sanctions would ‘apply to any “treatment” or “practice”, which on its plain meaning, will include virtually any activity, not just professional or therapeutic services of a coercive nature.’
Accordingly, archdiocesan Vicar General Fr Tony Percy has stated that ‘practices’ as simple as a parent expressing sentiments of hesitation and caution to a young child experiencing gender confusion could become criminal offences if the proposed bill is passed. This legislation conflicts with Christian beliefs regarding the right and responsibility of parents to educate their children. The ideology behind the proposed changes is fundamentally at odds with so many of our social and legal customs.
“There are so many instances in society where we say that children are not mature enough to make these decisions. They can’t have alcohol, they’ve got to go to school, they can’t drive a car until they’re 16, they can’t have elective surgery unless their parents give permission,” noted Fr Percy.
“The whole thing contravenes a whole lot of laws and customs that are part of Western civilization.”
The flawed assumption that children are best equipped to navigate the complexities of personal identity crises and gender confusion without the interference of benighted parents is not the only issue with the proposed legislation. Consider, for a moment, the examples of various individuals who have regretted transitional gender treatments. Under the proposed legislation, people who have experienced adverse consequences due to hormonal treatments or transitional surgeries would be prohibited in the ACT from discouraging others who may be contemplating making the same decisions. It is unclear how silencing these voices can be considered best practice for caring for young, vulnerable, or distressed members of our society.
The proposed legislation seeks to ensure that once a child is diagnosed with gender dysphoria, there is no external resistance to counselling, hormonal treatments, and surgical procedures, encouraging the process of gender transitioning. Any practice intended to help children again feel comfortable with the gender they were born with is prohibited. Considering this intention, what social structures will be left to prevent excessive gender dysphoria diagnoses and transitional gender treatments? While the draft bill purports to only outlaw attempts to change a child’s gender identity, it seems destined to have a broader range of practical consequences.
Is a ten-year-old boy teased by his male peers for disliking team sports experiencing gender dysphoria? Or is he commencing the long journey of adolescence through which he will understand his masculine identity as a gift that can be expressed in countless different ways? Suppose he were to communicate his struggles with sadness to a school counsellor. Would the norm be to reassure him that there is nothing deficient in his masculinity and to affirm his male identity, or to interpret this anxiety as a symptom of underlying gender dysphoria?
Questions such as this abound with the hastily drafted Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill. The territory’s politicians would be wise to deeply consider the full scope of the bill and amend it carefully before enshrining it.
- Jacob Fulop has worked in various ministry roles within the Church. He currently lives in Murrumbateman with his wife and children.
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