Defining conversion practices
From “Model Law – Prohibiting Conversion Practices” by Florence Ashley (2020):
1. (1) Conversion practices are any treatment, practice, or sustained effort that aims to repress, discourage or change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender modality, gender expression, or any behaviours associated with a gender other than the person’s sex assigned at birth or that aims to alter an intersex trait without adequate justification.
(2) Conversion practices include:
a. Treatments, practices, and sustained efforts that proceed from the assumption that certain sexual orientations, gender identities, gender modalities, and gender expressions are pathological or less desirable than others;
b. Treatments, practices, and sustained efforts that seek to reduce cross-gender identification;
c. Treatments, practices, and sustained efforts that have for primary aim the identification of factors which may have led to the person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender modality, gender expression or behaviours associated with a gender other than the person’s sex assigned at birth, unless in the context of research which has been approved by an institutional review board;
d. Treatments, practices, and sustained efforts that direct parents or tutors to set limits on their dependents’ gender non-conforming behaviour, impose peers of the same sex assigned at birth, or otherwise intervene in the naturalistic environment with the aim of repressing, discouraging, or changing the dependent’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender modality, gender expression or any behaviours associated with a gender other than the person’s sex assigned at birth;
e. Treatments, practices, and sustained efforts that proceed from the assumption that social or medical transition are undesirable;
f. Treatments, practices, and sustained efforts that delay or impede a person’s desired social or medical transition without reasonable and non-judgemental clinical justification;
g. Surgical or hormonal interventions relating to an intersex trait unless:
i) the person requests it and provides free and informed consent or assent, or
ii) it is necessary and urgent to protect the life or physical health of the person, excluding from consideration social factors such as psychosocial development, atypical appearance, capacity for future penetrative sexual or procreative activity, or ability to urinate standing up;
h. Treatments, practices, and sustained efforts that knowingly use names, pronouns, gendered terms, and sexual orientation terms other than those chosen or accepted by the person, except as required by law.
UN Human Rights Council (2020)
Practices of so-called “conversion therapy”: Report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (United Nations Human Rights Council, 2020):
17. “Conversion therapy” is used as an umbrella term to describe interventions of a wide-ranging nature, all of which are premised on the belief that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity, including gender expression, can and should be changed or suppressed when they do not fall under what other actors in a given setting and time perceive as the desirable norm, in particular when the person is lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or gender diverse. Such practices are therefore consistently aimed at effecting a change from non-heterosexual to heterosexual and from trans or gender diverse to cisgender. Depending on the context, the term is used for a multitude of practices and methods, some of which are clandestine and therefore poorly documented.
Tasmanian Law Reform Institute (2022)
From “TLRI Final Report 32: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Practices” (Tasmanian Law Reform Institute, 2022):
Belief 1: Human SOGI is fixed to an archetype
2.6.6. The core, foundational, conversion practice belief is the view that human sexuality and gender identity are fixed and normative. Most commonly, conversion practitioners believe that human beings are dimorphically heterosexual and cisgender. As such any sexuality or gender identity that differs from that archetype is abnormal, broken, diseased, disordered or deficient in a medical, moral or spiritual sense.
2.6.7. In practice, this belief is manifested by assertions about the underlying ‘causes’ (‘aetiology’) of LGBTQA+ sexual orientation and gender identity. In respect of this Inquiry, such claims were predominantly made by respondents who are not recognised disciplinary (psychological, psychiatric, scientific or medical) experts or organisations. This belief may also be evident in assertions or other forms of speech conduct directed to LGBTQA+ people that they need to ‘fix’, ‘cure’, ‘get help for’, or similar language suggesting that that their feelings towards themselves or others are the result of a fault or dysfunction. Such pressure often comes from loved ones, close friends, trusted professionals, or religious leaders.
Belief 2: SOGI can be consciously changed, suppressed, eradicated
2.6.8. The second, related belief is that people whose sexual orientation or gender identity does not conform to the assumed normative archetype (in foundational belief 1) can be changed, suppressed, or eradicated by intervention. The elements of consciousness and intervention are important. Behavioural scientists have highlighted the fluid and diverse nature of sexuality and gender identity in populations and individuals. That is, some people’s sexual orientation and gender identity may naturally change over their lives. However, conversion practitioners adopt the position that such change may be coerced through external means.
2.6.9. In practice, this belief is manifested by assertions and representations that changes to a person’s feelings are possible and probable through a proposed course of conduct. Such interventions or programs may be externally conducted or self-directed.
Belief 3: Certain SOGIs should be changed, suppressed, eradicated
2.6.10. Finally, conversion practitioners believe that people who do not experience or express SOGI attributes which conform with the assumed normative archetype (in belief 1) should necessarily change those divergent attributes through intervention (pursuant to belief 2).
2.6.11. In practice, this belief is manifested by conduct that encourages, pressures or coerces LGBTQA+ people to change, suppress or eradicate their expressed or experienced sexuality or gender identity. It may also be directed to the community around the LGBTQA+ person, with the aim of convincing that community that conversion is necessary for the health and wellbeing of such people. The result is to generate community pressure on LGBTQA+ people to change, suppress or eradicate their SOGI attributes, or foment discrimination against people who ostensibly choose not to do so. [see 3.4.2–3.4.4]
Convincing others of beliefs is an indirect conversion practice
2.6.12. Whilst the above three beliefs are drivers of the course of conduct which constitutes a SOGI conversion practice, they may also be integrated into the practice itself. That is, part of the process of converting another person often involves convincing that person to accept the beliefs above in order to voluntarily submit to a program aimed at changing or suppressing their sexuality or gender identity. This Final Report refers to this type of conduct as an indirect conversion practice.
2.6.13. Indirect conversion practices are discussed in detail [see below 3.6.7–3.6.9]. In summary, they involve a course of conduct which promotes false or misleading information about SOGI. That information is promoted to communities or the public at large with the intention of convincing people of conversion practice beliefs. That is, to convince:
- LGBTQA+ people that their experienced or expressed SOGI is the result of a fault or dysfunction and that it can and should be changed, suppressed or eradicated; or
- Others that LGBTQA+ people have a fault or dysfunction that can and should be changed, suppressed or eradicated. This may create social pressure from people who have power or influence over an LGBTQA+ person to convince that person to seek, accept or commit to harmful conversion practices.
An indirect conversion practice is typically conducted over an extended period of time. Children may be exposed to indirect conversion practices and the beliefs set out above, with the result that they are more likely to ostensibly voluntarily subject themselves to direct conversion practice later in life.
The beliefs are interlinked
2.6.14. As noted, it is the TLRI’s view that each belief is integrally linked with the other beliefs in driving conversion practice conduct. This is fundamental to maintaining the distinction between harmful behaviour and freedom of conscience, religion and expression. The first belief must be accompanied by the second and third belief and expressed or acted upon in a course of conduct.
2.6.15. For example a person may:
- Believe and preach that sexual divergence from heterosexuality is ‘sinful’. That is not part of a conversion practice unless it is accompanied by assertions that a sexually divergent person can and should subject themselves to intervention to remove the ‘sin’.
- Assert that gender identity is an ideological construct. That is not a conversion practice, unless it is made as part of a purported clinical assessment of a person’s mental health and accompanied by the recommendation that the person undertake treatment to become gender conforming that would not otherwise be supported by contemporary medical professional evidence-based practice standards.