Advisory: This column mentions suicide
With the storm clouds of protest in Aotearoa and abroad, the threat of war in Ukraine and the unrelenting overheating of the planet, news New Zealand had banned conversion therapy was like a cool summer morning following a solid week of steam bath humidity.
It's about time.
Legislation banning the practice passed its final reading at Parliament earlier this week. Nearly all MPs supported the bill. Only eight National MPs opposed it, including Tauranga's Simon Bridges and Rotorua's Todd McClay.
Conversion therapy attempts to change a person's sexual orientation or gender. There's no scientific evidence of effectiveness, but there is evidence it harms the recipient.
The legislation bans the practice of trying to change or suppress a person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Under the legislation, anyone who performs conversion therapy on someone younger than 18 could be jailed for up to three years. They could face up to five years if they've caused serious harm, regardless of the victim's age.
The legislation also lays out what is not conversion practice. It protects the right to express opinion, belief, religious belief or principle which is not intended to change or suppress a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
The Government said it had received nearly 107,000 public submissions on the bill, the highest number ever received on any legislation.
Labour MP Kieran McAnulty said you can't change what isn't broken.
"There is nothing wrong with being gay. There is nothing wrong with being trans. What is there to change? What is there to convert? This whole concept that there is this process that could change someone from being gay to being straight is a falsehood."
Laws against conversion therapy have been gaining momentum worldwide. Canada's parliament voted unanimously last year to ban LGBT+ conversion therapy.
The United States does not have a federal ban on the tactic, but several US states prohibit it to some degree.
Conversion therapy can include talk therapy, hypnosis, electric shocks and fasting. In extreme cases, exorcism and "corrective rape" for lesbians have been documented.
You would have to live a pretty sheltered life to not know someone who is gay, lesbian, transgender or who expresses another variation of gender or sexual identity.
I am tired of hearing people who I believe have closed their minds to new ideas say things like, "I'm not changing the pronouns I use".
If someone who was previously referred to as 'he' wants to be 'she' or 'they,' who are they hurting? I will likely slip from time to time and use the old pronoun, but at least I'm trying.
A friend recently told me someone we attended high school with changed his name from Averill to Benjamin. He remains male in appearance and identity, but he had never liked his old name. He wanted a moniker that reflected who he was, rather than who his parents thought he might be when he was born. Good on him and anyone else with the courage to express who they feel they are.
Failure to accept and celebrate our true selves can be fatal.
According to the Ministry of Health, research has shown queer young people have greater levels of depression and that this can also have a negative effect on how well they do in school. Queer young people have higher rates of suicide attempts, victimisation in school violence, drug and alcohol abuse, early onset of sexual behaviour, eating disorders, and teenage pregnancy than other youth. Suicidal behaviour is more common at the stage where these young people have become aware of their sexual feelings, but before they have talked about it with others.
According to a 2012 national survey of the health and wellbeing of secondary school students by the University of Auckland, almost half of queer youth had seriously thought about taking their own life in the previous year.
One in five had attempted suicide, compared with one in 20 of their non-queer peers. Queer youth were three times more likely to be bullied every week than their heterosexual peers and almost half had been hit or hurt at school in the previous year.
I know of at least two friends whose teenagers have contemplated suicide after discerning their sexual orientation or gender identity did not conform to society's norms. No doubt there are many other parents in my circle whose children struggle with the same issues.
Despite how far we've come regarding matters of orientation and gender, slurs, discrimination and prejudice abound. It's up to all of us to listen and seek to understand.
The only thing that needs converting when it comes to gender identity and sexual orientation is the opinion of folks who believe there's only one path to accepting ourselves and others.
Where to get help
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.