All but National vote against conversion therapy

By Marena Mane

Legislation banning gay conversion therapy passed its first hurdle in Parliament yesterday. 

Conversion Therapy, also known as 'reparative therapy', is primarily used within religious sectors and targets LGBTQ youth, to change their sexual or gender identities, using dangerous techniques. 

All parties except National supported the legislation at its first reading.

Dr Elizabeth Kerekere of the Green Party, who spearheaded a petition to outlaw gay conversion therapy, is pleased that it was passed on the first reading and was the largest to be addressed in Parliament.

“This is long overdue. And I'm very excited,” she says.

National leader Judith Collins expressed her party's support for a ban on conversion therapy earlier this year, but National was the sole party to vote against the legislation this week. Despite its decision not to endorse the bill,  Kerekere says they contacted her for more information.

“I'm really happy to go and talk to them and try to help them understand some of the core issues, especially the cultural issues for takatāpui and the real meaning of what this bill represents,” she says

Jail terms

Under the bill anyone performing conversion therapy on youth under the age of eighteen or anyone with impaired decision-making could receive up three years in prison and if it’s caused serious harm, up to five years' imprisonment.

Kerekere says conversion therapy is a crime and is defined by the United Nations as torture. She says, “Anybody who's engaging in that kind of physical or mental harm of a person should be held accountable, and sometimes it's going to be jail when it's serious enough.”

Kerekere sees conversion therapy in religious settings as an opportunity to help people understand that they're actually causing harm themselves and that these kinds of practices don't work.

“You cannot change somebody’s sexuality, gender, or this or that. I don’t identify as Christian but very much the teachings of Jesus are to love people for who they are and that’s all we ask,” she says.

Those who oppose?

“There will be resistance, people will say that they're allowed to cause this kind of harm, under the guise of freedom of religion,” she says.

As a result of religious views on the issue many people have been suicidal, taken their own lives, and others have taken years to recover," she says.

“No one should be able to get away with anymore, with causing that harm, and if it means sending them to jail, so be it.”

Kerekere says she wants Aotearoa to be a place where people are accepted for who they are, regardless of their sexuality or gender. “When people are struggling for whatever reason, we wrap around them with love and support.”