Speak Up For Women raised concerns with the presentation of petition number 2017/204 at the last sitting of the Justice Select Committee on 13 June. The petition received 15448 signatories. It read as follows:
The Petition of Max Tweedie for Young Labour and the Young Greens: Ban Gay Conversion Therapy
The Petition requested that:
the House of Representatives ban gay conversion therapy, being any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change, eliminate, or suppress same-sex attraction, or to cure a lack of opposite-sex attraction.
The petition reason was given as
Gay conversion therapy is incredibly dangerous. It does not work, and is harmful to those who are subjected to it. It can cause anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases suicide as it invalidates the identities of our rainbow community. We believe in their right to be free from such ‘treatment.’
This is in some senses a theoretical matter at this stage but the point Speak Up For Women made is we believe an important one. In their presentation Max Tweedie and his companion said on a number of occasions that the petition was intended to prevent conversion therapy against gay people (which if successful would mean someone remained heterosexual) but also to prevent gender identity conversion therapy. But as described above this was not the intent of the petition. He also mentioned multiple times that the petition was aimed at the Rainbow community which is broadly understood to be the lesbian, gay and transgender community. This false interpretation of the intent of the petition has also been promulgated in the media.
(A further petition to which Max referred was presented to Parliament and received by Labour MP Marja Lubek. In that petition the title and wording say gay conversion therapy but the final paragraph said “We need to make all types of conversion therapy (“gay, Trans* etc”) either banned or illegal to perform in New Zealand” effectively contradicting the title and the rest of the text. It gained only 5143 signatures.
We believe that many people would not have signed the Parliamentary petition had it proposed to prevent counselling being available to trans children and young people. While gay conversion therapy aims to discourage homosexuality (and is problematic for many reasons) preventing counsellors and medical staff from properly supporting people who present with gender identity concerns would be disastrous. The stakes are much higher because, as recently published research by Lisa Littman has shown, there is a strong evidence of social contagion in the dramatic increase of young people presenting themselves for transition. Other researchers have shown, as UK Professor Michele Moore attests, that among the sequellae to a self-diagnosis of being transgender is a high likelihood of associated and untreated serious mental health conditions, including possibly caused by prior abuse. About a third of young people seeking to transition are on the autistic spectrum and for many young people a temporary belief that they are the other sex is a developmental phase as part of the journey to becoming lesbian or gay as adults. Professor Moore is an expert in Inclusive Education and Disability Studies and is the Co-Editor of the ground-breaking book Transgender Children and Young People, Born in Your Own Body. Recent research by Associate Professor Michael Biggs, a NZ sociologist at Oxford University, found that young people on puberty blockers suffered increased distress and thoughts of suicide as a result of the treatment they had received.
There are also increasing signs that the decision to transition is being followed in numerous young people by the drastic realisation that they had made the wrong choice (and here and a NZ case of a woman who destransitioned). Traumatically this is often not until the young people have faced life altering hormones and surgery.
The impact of a legal sanction preventing medical staff and counsellors from working with someone who thinks they may be transgender in order to rule out mental health issues, prior sexual abuse and homophobia is to mandate many young people to lives that are fundamentally diminished. These are outcomes that they would generally not face with counselling and time to mature in their own unmedicated bodies.
The medical impacts of transition include puberty blockers which can lead to malformed sexual organs and infertility, life long joint problems and the unknown mental and physical health impacts of failing to go through puberty. Blockers are already being used in NZ in the Public Health System on children of 10 and over. Sex hormones make life long changes to secondary sexual characteristics and of course surgery is completely irreversible. But NZ teenagers and young people are being prescribed sex hormones and even surgery well before they have any real understanding of the decision they are making.
We asked the members of the committee to recognise and understand the difference between conversion therapy for gay and lesbian people and advice and counselling for transgender presenting children and adolescents. It will be relevant in the proposed changes to the Human Rights Act or if a Private Members Bill outlawing conversions therapy is presented to the house.