Q&A with Fr Flader: Free to do what we tell you to do

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People should have the freedom to receive support from prayers or counselling if they wish, writes Fr Flader. PHOTO: Shutterstock

Dear Father, With legislation in several Australian states prohibiting therapy to help people who wish to change their sexual orientation, is this not a violation of a fundamental human right? I am disturbed by this development.

The development is indeed disturbing. It reeks of the Marxist program where the state decides what is best for the individual and the family. It is totalitarianism at its best. But let me explain.

Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria have all passed legislation banning so-called “conversion therapy”, defined in the Queensland legislation as “a treatment or other practice that attempts to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” Proponents of the legislation argued, rightly, that extreme practices to get someone to change their gender identity like torture, electroshock or forced medication should be prohibited.

“It is an ominous sign when such a basic religious practice as prayer is now the target of hostile legislation in a democratic country”

We would all agree with that. But the new legislation goes well beyond that. Under it, if a person wishes to get help to change their gender or express their same-sex attraction, this is acceptable, but if they wish to be counselled to overcome unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, it would be an offence in law.

Thus, if a child in primary school had gender dysphoria and wanted to live and dress as someone of the opposite sex to that of their birth, and their parents wanted to get counselling for the child, they could not do so. Nor could an adult with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria get help. We should remember that gender dysphoria is recognised as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association. When someone suffers from a mental disorder they should be free to seek help to overcome it. Their basic human right to get this help is denied by the new legislation.

In effect, the state is telling us that it is perfectly acceptable to be gay, lesbian or transgender, etc., but it is a crime to want to change these unwanted orientations or tendencies. The legislation is a blatant attack on patient autonomy, the professional independence and judgment of general practitioners, psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and pastors, and on the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children.

The most extreme legislation is that of Victoria, which prohibits not only health practitioners but also family members and religious counsellors from attempting to help someone overcome gender dysphoria.

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson AO said of this legislation, which was then under discussion: “A law before the Victorian parliament seeking to outlaw parental, therapeutic or religious discussions on issues of sexuality and gender is the biggest threat to our democratic freedoms in Australia’s entire legislative history” (Twitter, 14 December 2020).

In Victoria it would even be an offence to pray for someone to overcome their gender dysphoria. In an article titled ‘Prohibiting prayer in Australia’, Carl R. Trueman wrote: “It is an ominous sign when such a basic religious practice as prayer is now the target of hostile legislation in a democratic country. We may not yet be at the point where thought is a crime, but we seem to be at the point where the expression of certain thoughts, even in prayer, could be considered criminal behaviour” (First Things, 8 February 2021).

A few days before Victoria’s legislation was passed, Leah Gray, a former lesbian who is now married with a young son, testified: “Ten years ago I voluntarily sought counsel from Christian psychologists, ministries, support networks and people who had walked before me. It was difficult, but I found relief and happiness. Every step of my journey will become illegal under the Victorian government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill.

“For the record, none of these avenues of support were ever harmful or coercive. In fact, the counselling I received saved my life. Ex-LGBT people like me are living proof that real and lasting change is possible, that suicides have been prevented, and that it is good for people to have the freedom to choose the type of help and support they want – including (shock horror) the religious kind” (MercatorNet, 2 February 2021).

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