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New Zealand, Israel Take Steps Against Conversion Therapy

LGBTQ+ rights demonstrations in Israel and New Zealand
From left: LGBTQ+ rights demonstrations in Israel and New Zealand

New Zealand passes a law banning use of the practice on minors and certain others, while Israel issues rules barring medical professionals from offering it.

New Zealand and Israel have joined the list of countries taking action against conversion therapy, the discredited and harmful practice aimed at turning LGBTQ+ people straight or cisgender.

New Zealand's Parliament gave final approval Tuesday to legislation banning the use of conversion therapy on minors and certain other populations. The vote was 112-8, Newshub reports.

The measure makes it illegal to perform the therapy on people under 18 or those of any age who have impaired decision-making capacity. Violations could result in a prison sentence of up to three years. Also, if anyone of any age sustains serious harm because of conversion therapy, the practitioner could face up to five years in prison.

Member of Parliament Kiri Allan tweeted about the harm she suffered from an attempt to "pray the gay away" when she was 16. "My 'illness' & 'weakness' to temptation was etched as sin into my skin," she wrote. "It took a long time to shake that shame and trauma. Tonight our Parliament will ensure this practice is banned in our country for good. For our next generation of babies, I am so incredibly relieved. Thank you to everyone that championed this change."

The ruling Labour Party has committed to follow-up steps that include defining sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, plus setting guidelines for the treatment of intersex people. Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said this legislation was not the right place for those moves, however.

Israel's action is not a legislative solution but instead a set of rules the Health Ministry has established for medical professionals, Haaretz reports. The ministry Monday put out regulations barring doctors and other practitioners from offering, advertising, or performing conversion therapy. Penalties for violation include loss of license.

"No one needs to be converted," Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said at a press conference. "Lesbian, gay, trans, and straight people, you are good and beautiful just the way you are. 'Conversion therapy' is cruel abuse of young people in distress. This practice is murder of the soul and sometimes even the body. We are obligated to act against those who do it and endanger people's lives."

Israeli lawmakers introduced a conversion therapy ban in the Knesset, the nation's legislative body, in 2020, but it did not pass before the body disbanded, meaning there had to be a new election. The measure has not been taken up since.

Officials said that even though the new rules don't constitute an outright ban, they will be helpful. The move "provides an important basis for legal proceedings in lawsuits by patients in cases where they feel that professionals have caused them harm or injustice in this matter, and not just disciplinary measures within the Health Ministry," said Tal Bergman, director of the Health Ministry's mental health division.

With the addition of New Zealand and Israel, 17 countries ban conversion therapy to some extent either by law or regulation, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which runs the Born Perfect campaign against the practice. In the U.S., 21 states and the District of Columbia ban the use of conversion therapy on minors, as do numerous cities and counties.

"Today marks a major milestone in the global movement to end the deadly practice of conversion therapy, which has wreaked havoc in the lives of millions of LGBTQ people across the world," said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter. "Today, the New Zealand parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to enact a powerful new law banning conversion therapy in that country, and the Israeli Health Ministry announced that medical professionals who subject patients to conversion therapy will face severe new penalties, including removal of their licenses. These measures are part of a growing drumbeat of support, spurred by the testimony and advocacy of survivors, to put a stop to these cruel practices that have no place in the practice of modern medicine."

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