Participants in the Auckland Pride Parade in New Zealand (Pic: Susan Blick)
MPs in New Zealand have passed legislation banning LGBTQ conversion therapy, joining a growing number of nations that have outlawed the dangerous practice.
The Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill was overwhelmingly approved in parliament on Tuesday, with 112 votes in favour and just eight against.
The law defines conversion therapy as “any practice, sustained effort, or treatment” that “is done with the intention of changing or suppressing [an] individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”
It makes it an offence to perform conversion therapy on a person under the age of 18 years or a person lacking decision-making capacity, with a penalty of up to three years in prison. Anyone who performs the practice and “causes serious harm” faces up to five years in jail.
Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi said that “this is a great day for New Zealand’s rainbow communities,” adding that “conversion practices have no place in modern New Zealand.”
Ahead of the vote on the bill, MP Kiri Allan wrote on Facebook about undergoing conversion therapy as a 16-year-old through her church.
“I desperately tried to ‘pray the gay’ away – to be accepted by my family, community and church. It took a long time to shake that shame and trauma,” she said.
South African LGBTIQ group Iranti commended New Zealand’s parliament “for banning the harmful practice of conversion therapy”. It further urged “governments in Africa and beyond to do the same and ensure dignity, equality and freedom for all.”
Conversion therapy, usually in respect of minors, is banned in a handful of countries and regions, including Canada, France, Germany, Brazil and Malta, but is not expressly outlawed in South Africa.
The Psychological Society of South Africa has asserted that conversion therapy is “dangerous and in conflict with medical ethics.” The SA Society of Psychiatrists also stated in 2015 that “there is no scientific evidence that conversion therapy is effective in changing a person’s sexual orientation” and that there is “evidence that this type of therapy can be destructive.”
In July 2021, the DA’s Shadow Minister of Health, Siviwe Gwarube said she planned to submit a Private Members Bill to Parliament to prohibit conversion therapy for minors in South Africa but there have been no further development since.
A 2020 report by the UN’s Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, called on states to ban practices of conversion therapy which has been linked to depression and higher rates of suicide.