The outspoken leader of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton, who gets far too much media attention, is a master of conflation who is determined to convince the Australian public that allowing gay folk to marry will lead to the downfall of modern civilization.  His latest stunt is to call for parents of gay and trans children to send their kids to “conversion therapy”.  He makes it sound like sexuality and gender identity are just fads that can be prayed away or forced out of young people’s heads.

In fact there is a lot of evidence to show that reparative anti-gay therapies cause much harm, and are tantamount to abuse.  Victims of these programs all over the world can attest to the fact that they didn’t work, produced intense mental torment, and caused them to waste huge chunks of their lives being inauthentic. An Australian documentary on the effects of conversion therapy on adults shows the harm that can be done.

How much worse could it be for children to endure this process?

When I was a child in primary school at St Ignatius, the nuns used to hand out a little magazine called The Catholic Messenger.  It was a collection of stories from Catholic missions all over the world, and often contained letters from missionaries in rural India or remote islands about miraculous cures of lepers and “the sick”, as they were known, often accompanied by black and white photographs of said missionaries holding the hands of terribly thin children who were always smiling.  MTmissionIt may have been one of these stories that first got me interested in becoming a doctor (that and some frequent hints from my mother!) but that’s another story!  But the overwhelming message was that these “unfortunate” people were being saved from their miserable existence by converting to Catholicism and Jesus.  The nuns were very pleased with the whole thing, and it did hold a certain charm for impressionable 7 year olds, I must admit.


Later in my teens I met some young adults who had been “born again” and had converted to a special brand of Christianity that involved singing, clapping and playing guitar whilst smiling a lot, but not ever having sex until they were married. I didn’t fancy it.  I thought it a strange choice, but nonetheless theirs to make.

I guess you could say that I converted to atheism as an adult, or perhaps really I simply unconverted from religion.  In a way, the issue was forced for me when I worked out that being gay didn’t fit in to the god club life plan.  I embraced science and reason, and realized that I could live by a decent moral code without a judgy deity standing over me.

But the point of all these stories is that they are about changing a belief system.

Same sex attraction is not a belief system or a choice.  It’s an innate part of an individual’s makeup.  You can’t change it with therapy or prayers.  You might as well try to change your eye colour through praying.  It’s who you are.  People aren’t born believing in Christianity or Islam, it’s something that is handed to them by their immediate environment after birth, but there is a huge pile of convincing evidence that sexual orientation and gender identity are innate genetically coded elements of the individual, not learnt or chosen.

Calling for conversion therapy for children does two evil things.  First it causes psychological harm to children by trying to force them to change something they simply cannot change, and second it tells these children and the world that they are abnormal and need fixing.

Gay conversion therapy has been condemned by the UN, the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Psychological Association. Read the APA position statement.

Promoting this should not only be frowned upon, it should be shouted down in the strongest possible terms by those who have the public’s interest at heart, (isn’t that meant to be our government?).  And the mainstream press who give this lobby such a large platform ought to be ashamed.



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