A new law in Victoria, Australia, has parents fearful they will face prosecution if they don’t affirm their children’s preferred gender identity.
The Change of Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021 was enacted on Feb. 17, 2022, and bans parents from engaging in any practice that does not encourage gender transition. Parents cannot deny their child puberty blockers, hormone treatments or gender transition surgeries. Parents also cannot seek out non-affirming counseling for their child in Victoria—or anywhere else in Australia.
The law also prevents counselors from providing talk therapy to children experiencing gender dysphoria.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has been tasked with policing the act. Anyone found guilty of breaking the law could be fined up to $10,000 or face up to 10 years in prison.
According to the Victorian government’s website about the law, “[Conversion] practices have no basis in medicine. There is no evidence that sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed.” But a professor of law at the University of Queensland, Patrick Parkinson, argues it’s the legislation that has no medical basis.
“The law is highly damaging to the wellbeing of some children, particularly because it discourages clinicians from engaging with children suffering from gender dysphoria or gender incongruence and could deprive them of the help they most need,” he said. “It has no scientific basis because there is no evidence for harm for therapy which helps children become more comfortable with their natal sex.”
One parent shared that her daughter suffers from anxiety and gender dysphoria. When she and her husband sought counseling for their daughter, no one wanted to take her on as a patient.
“One experienced mental health professional told us candidly that no one would see our child because it is too politicized,” Sarah said. “So, my child is just a political football for vote-chasing politicians. … It feels like the government is interfering in families and personal relationships. It is very enraging to think that.”
Dianna Kenny, a former professor of psychology at the University of Sydney, had been treating children with gender dysphoria for about four years and has noticed an uptick in Victorian parents seeking her help since the law took effect.
“Psychologists in Victoria are terrified of practicing non-affirming psychotherapy for children with gender dysphoria,” she said.
Kenny also noted that about 40% of children presenting with gender dysphoria have also been diagnosed with other mental health issues, such as autism.
“The majority of clinicians won’t go anywhere near it unless they agree with the gender affirming model because they fear running foul of the legislation, so they’re not treating children.”
Photo: Roman Lacheev/Alamy