Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation introduced to Parliament

  • Hon Kris Faafoi

Legislation has been introduced to Parliament to protect against practices intended to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Introducing the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill, Minister of Justice, Kris Faafoi, said the measures proposed were aimed at ending conversion practices which don’t work, are widely discredited, and cause harm to rainbow communities and the wider community.

“Those who have experienced conversion practices talk about ongoing mental health distress, depression, shame and stigma, and even suicidal thoughts,” Kris Faafoi said.

“Conversion practices have no place in modern New Zealand. They are based on the false belief that any person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is broken and in need of fixing.

“Health professionals, religious leaders and human rights advocates here and overseas have spoken out against these practices as harmful and having the potential to perpetuate prejudice, discrimination and abuse towards members of rainbow communities,” Kris Faafoi said.

The Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill creates two new criminal offences for either the most serious cases of harm or where there is heightened risk of harm. The Bill also creates a pathway for civil redress.

Under the Bill, it will be an offence to perform conversion practices on a child or young person aged under 18, or on someone with impaired decision-making capacity. Such offences would be subject to up to 3 years imprisonment.

It would also be an offence to perform conversion practices on anyone – irrespective of age – where the practices have caused serious harm, and would carry up to 5 years imprisonment.

Civil redress will also be an option where complaints about conversion practices could be made to the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

To be considered a conversion practice under the Bill, a practice must meet ALL of the following elements, which state that a practice is:

  • directed towards someone because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, AND
  • performed with the intention of changing or suppressing their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

“The Bill’s definition of conversion practice has been carefully designed to ensure health practitioners providing health services will not be captured; nor will people providing legitimate counselling, support and advice.

“General expressions of religious beliefs or principles about sexuality and gender will also not be captured.

“Delivering on our 2020 election manifesto commitment to prohibit conversion practices will prevent the harm they cause, provide an avenue for redress, and uphold the human rights of all New Zealanders to live free from discrimination and harm.

“What we are doing is in line with prohibitions put in place or being considered in other countries, including the US, Canada, Germany, the UK, and the Australian states of Queensland, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.

“I propose that once the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill has had its first reading it goes to the Justice Select Committee for public submissions.

“I would encourage people to take the opportunity, through the select committee process, to share their input,” Kris Faafoi said.

The Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill can be found here:

https://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2021/0056/latest/LMS487197.html

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. How does the Bill define conversion practices?

To be considered a conversion practice under the Bill, a practice must meet ALL the elements of the definition and be:

  • directed towards a person because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, AND
  • performed with the intention of changing or suppressing the person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

The definition explicitly excludes practices by health practitioners acting within their scope of practice, and other practices such as assisting a person who is undergoing a gender transition, or facilitating a person’s coping skills, development, or identity exploration.

The definition clarifies that it does not capture the expression of a religious principle or belief that is not intended to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

  1. How does the Bill propose to prohibit conversion practices?

The Bill uses both the criminal and civil law to prohibit and deter the performance of conversion practices.

Criminal offences

The Bill creates two new criminal offences where there is either a heightened risk of harm – as in the case of conversion practices performed on people under the age of 18 or people with impaired decision-making capacity – or where it can be demonstrated that a person has suffered serious harm as a result of conversion practices.

These criminal offences are intended to capture particularly serious cases and to send a clear message that conversion practices are unacceptable and should not be occurring in New Zealand.

To trigger a criminal offence, a conversion practice has to cause intended harm AND meet ALL the elements listed in Question 1 above.

Civil redress scheme

The Bill also creates a civil pathway for redress. The Human Rights Commission will be able to receive complaints about conversion practices and provide services to facilitate a resolution. Where a complaint cannot be resolved using the Commission’s services, a claim can be taken to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. The Tribunal will be able to grant a range of remedies, such as a declaration that a wrong has occurred, an order restraining a person or organisation from continuing to perform conversion practices, or an award of damages.

  1. What other support will be available?

The Human Rights Commission will also play an important role in providing education about conversion practices and the prohibition, and in making survivors aware of how to access the support that they may need.

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