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Parents and ‘terrified’ counsellors face prosecution over opposing gender transition of kids

A new Victorian law which forces mothers and fathers to accept their children’s desire to change gender has left distraught parents fearing prosecution if they do anything to try to prevent potentially harmful and irreversible treatment.

 So far-reaching is the new law that even trying to arrange counselling and expert assessment for their kids could lead to parents – and the mental health professionals – being prosecuted if the advice did anything other than affirm the children’s newly-discovered gender dysphoria.

Many parents feel trapped, unable to do anything to prevent their children pursuing  potentially irreversible and harmful changes – from chest-binding to taking hormone blockers and ultimately sex-change surgery.

And while the parents are powerless to intercede, their kids are often subject to encouragement and cajoling from activist pro-trans teachers and counsellors.

One parent even found text messages from a counsellor to her daughter advising the child to leave home so she could escape her sceptical parents and freely pursue her newly-found wish to transition to being a boy.

Fearful of prosecution, parents in this predicament have formed a clandestine network to exchange ideas on how to approach the legal minefield laid down by the Change of Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021.    

A new Victorian law could see parents face prosecution if they try to prevent their children pursuing a gender change .

A new Victorian law could see parents face prosecution if they try to prevent their children pursuing a gender change .

Sarah*, who is also a health professional, said her teenage daughter suffered low-grade anxiety and had become caught in the ‘social contagion’ of gender dysphoria , and health professionals were too scared to treat her.

‘One experienced mental health professional told us candidly that no one would see our child because it is too politicised,’ Sarah said. ‘So, my child is just a political football for vote-chasing politicians.’

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has been tasked with policing the Act.

Its website states it is now an offence for a parent to refuse to support their child’s request for medical treatment that will prevent physical changes from puberty that do not align with the child’s new gender identity, and it is also an offence to deny their child access to any health care services that would affirm that identity.

And in case any parents thought they could seek counselling for their children outside Victoria, the Act now makes that an offence too.

And so too is telling your child to reflect further before going ahead with gender transition, with the Commission’s website warning parents that the definition of gender suppression could include ‘wait and see’ approaches, and not just overt opposition to the children’s wishes.  

Distraught parents seeking help from professional counsellors and therapists find many are refusing to take on gender dysphoria cases among children for fear of being prosecuted themselves if they do anything other than affirm the child's wishes.

Distraught parents seeking help from professional counsellors and therapists find many are refusing to take on gender dysphoria cases among children for fear of being prosecuted themselves if they do anything other than affirm the child's wishes.

Distraught parents seeking help from professional counsellors and therapists find many are refusing to take on gender dysphoria cases among children for fear of being prosecuted themselves if they do anything other than affirm the child’s wishes.

Sarah – and many other parents – now live in fear of being charged for simply trying to get mental health support for their vulnerable children, many of whom are affected by an array of conditions including autism spectrum disorder, trauma, family dysfunction and neurodiverse issues.

‘My daughter needs help, but the government has passed a law that makes it so difficult for this to take place, and if you can’t pay for private care, it is even harder because all the public services are funded by groups pushing affirmation,’ Sarah said.

‘It is hard to know how broad the law is. It seems to be saying if your child wants to take hormones and if I try to talk to her and explore other issues it be considered conversion therapy.

‘It feels like the government is interfering in families and personal relationships. It is very enraging to think that.’

She has a constant fear that her daughter’s school and allied health professionals will encourage the girl to commit to transitioning as she struggles with normal bodily changes associated with puberty.

‘She goes online and is told its ‘period dysphoria’ or ‘chest dysphoria’ so she must be trans,’ Sarah said.

‘This law is just promoting that.

‘I don’t know how gung-ho [the police and commission] will get about the law. It’s so broad and poorly worded.

‘If she’s harming herself by binding and I stop her is that conversion therapy? Not being able to tell my child not to do this harmful practice is absolutely crazy.

‘Parents are so scared they aren’t even seeking each other out. You become a bit paranoid.’

Parents have found themselves battling teachers and counsellors at schools, who are encouraging often vulnerable and confused children to pursue a gender transition.

Parents have found themselves battling teachers and counsellors at schools, who are encouraging often vulnerable and confused children to pursue a gender transition.

Parents have found themselves battling teachers and counsellors at schools, who are encouraging often vulnerable and confused children to pursue a gender transition.

Jane* and her husband have just found themselves caught up in the nightmare of the law after her 13-year-old daughter reported a sexual assault by another student at her private school two weeks ago.

When her father went to the school to get his distraught daughter it took him two hours to convince her to come home to her family, while she sat clutching a rainbow lanyard with the pronouns ‘they/them’ which had been given to her by the school.

During this time a private counsellor she’d been seeing was texting her encouraging her to leave her parents, telling her they were unsafe, and she needed an immediate safety plan and warning her not to let the sexual assault overshadow her gender issues.

‘We would never have got her back if she had gone into care,’ Jane said. ‘If she was put in an environment that affirmed her parents were abusive because we wouldn’t affirm her gender, she would have been put on a path to out-of-home care and all the implications that come with that.’

After the incident she was horrified to see more text messages the counsellor had been sending to her daughter.

‘We can’t find a new therapist for her, and she needs help,’ the desperate mum said.

The professional parents, with two older children, have had to withdraw their daughter from the school due to its pro gender-transition approach.

‘We actually feel lucky that we have the sexual assault cover as an excuse to pull her out,’ Jane said. ‘If we said we were pulling her out because their policies were going to put her on a path of lifelong destructive choices that would have irreversible consequences, we’d be at risk of breaking the law.

‘We want our child to have a neutral path until she has an adult brain. We won’t affirm a transition or the idea that you are born in the wrong body.

‘I’m fearful if we say the wrong thing someone could contact Child Protection Services and accuse us of abusing her and remove her from our care. We haven’t told our GP because I don’t know where she stands on gender.’

Rachel is also trying to protect her autistic 18-year-old daughter from Victoria’s laws.

After just two mental health sessions she came home and told her mum she was trans and wanted to start testosterone and get a mastectomy.

‘She couldn’t articulate what gender she was,’ Rachel said, fighting back tears. ‘It seemed to be non-binary.

‘I got the feeling it was more about running away from being female rather than a strong feeling of being male. She admitted she was terrified of men and didn’t understand them.’

‘I was dumbstruck. I reassured her I loved her, but my immediate gut reaction was just sadness that she had so much internal hatred for her femaleness. That she had so little joy in being a woman, that she wanted to escape.’

Rachel began to look for another therapist but was unable to find one willing to address her mental health and autism, rather than just affirm her gender dysphoria.

She has had to go interstate.

‘It’s ludicrous that there is so much evidence what the recommended approach is, including from the National Association of Practicing Psychiatrists, who recommend a neutral exploratory approach to treat gender dysphoria, but the Victorian legislation is counterproductive in promoting that,’ Jane said.

Last year she wrote to the Health Minister and the Attorney-General on three occasions outlining her situation and impediment the legislation has had on her daughter getting help but has had no response.

She now plans to seek support from the Ombudsman and the Opposition.

‘Every mother I have spoken to in the same situation has a daughter with neurodiversity, trauma and bullying,’ Rachel said. ‘The characteristics are so similar. 

‘They need so much more than someone chopping their breasts off and putting them on testosterone.’

Former professor of psychology at the University of Sydney, Dr Dianna Kenny has been treating children with gender dysphoria for about four years and said there has been a steady of flow of parents from Victoria contacting her for help since the legislation was passed.

‘Psychologists in Victoria are terrified of practicing non-affirming psychotherapy for children with gender dysphoria,’ Dr Kenny said.

‘They don’t want their children going to gender affirming therapists.’

Dr Dianna Kenny, the former professor of psychology at the University of Sydney, said the Victorian act had left counsellors and therapists 'terrified' to take on gender dysphoria cases for fear they could be prosecuted if they did not affirm the child's wishes.

Dr Dianna Kenny, the former professor of psychology at the University of Sydney, said the Victorian act had left counsellors and therapists 'terrified' to take on gender dysphoria cases for fear they could be prosecuted if they did not affirm the child's wishes.

Dr Dianna Kenny, the former professor of psychology at the University of Sydney, said the Victorian act had left counsellors and therapists ‘terrified’ to take on gender dysphoria cases for fear they could be prosecuted if they did not affirm the child’s wishes.

Dr Kenny said the gender clinics claimed to know that about 40 per cent of the children presenting with gender dysphoria had other significant mental issues such as autism, but ploughed on with transitions anyway.

Often they were started on that path after only a couple of short therapy sessions, which was the same discredited model used at London’s Gender Identity Development Centre based at the Tavistock Clinic.

That clinic was ordered to close last week following a damning report into its practices on expediting gender transition among children.

‘Some of the parents are now more aware of the dangers of puberty blockers and cross sex hormones and want another opinion and other attempts to help their child manage their issues,’ Dr Kenny said.

‘But a lot are now coming straight to the non-gender affirming therapist because they don’t want to take their children to the gender affirming clinics.

‘The majority of clinicians won’t go anywhere near it unless they agree with the gender affirming model because they fear running foul of the legislation, so they’re not treating children.’

Dr Kenny stated that Victoria’s gender legislation was the most rampant in the country, calling the state a ‘hotbed’ of gender-affirming therapy and the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne at the centre of it.

‘It is a very flawed piece of legislation and hard to prove in court that you are practicing conversion therapy which is a complete misnomer and inappropriately applied to gender therapy,’ Dr Kenny said.

Professor of Law at the University of Queensland Patrick Parkinson warned Victorian parents should be very worried about every aspect of the government’s approach to children that experience gender incongruence.

‘They should be worried about what is happening in schools, at the Royal Children’s Hospital and the policies of the Department of Health,’ he said.

‘The law is highly damaging to the wellbeing of some children, particularly because it discourages clinicians from engaging with children suffering from gender dysphoria or gender incongruence and could deprive them of the help they most need.

Prof. Patrick Parkinson, the professor of law at the University of Queensland, said the Victorian act was based on ideology and falsehood  as there is no evidence of harm arising from therapy that helps a child feel comfortable in their own sex.

Prof. Patrick Parkinson, the professor of law at the University of Queensland, said the Victorian act was based on ideology and falsehood  as there is no evidence of harm arising from therapy that helps a child feel comfortable in their own sex.

Prof. Patrick Parkinson, the professor of law at the University of Queensland, said the Victorian act was based on ideology and falsehood  as there is no evidence of harm arising from therapy that helps a child feel comfortable in their own sex.

‘It has no scientific basis because there is no evidence for harm for therapy which helps children become more comfortable with their natal sex.’

Professor Parkinson said the legislation was ‘quite extraordinary – based on ideology and a falsehood.

He highlighted the hypocrisy of a law which does not consider the encouragement of a child to change gender to be conversion therapy, but any therapy which allows kids to become more comfortable with their natal sex is considered so.

He said the over-reach of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission went so far as to trump the federal Family Law which required court approval if one parent refused gender medical intervention.

‘The real risk comes from the activities of the Human Rights Commission which could create a chilling effect preventing clinicians seeing children,’ Professor Parkinson said.

A spokesperson for the Commission said the Act was designed to prevent and respond to harms being inflicted on LGBTQ Victorians, and existed to ensure they were able to live authentically and with dignity and safety.

‘Medical and psychological treatments undertaken in line with professional standards and that are necessary in a health service provider’s reasonable professional judgement remain legal,’ the spokesperson said.

‘Whether or not a health professional’s conduct is a change or suppression practice will depend on the exact circumstances of a case.

‘There is clear empirical and anecdotal evidence that change, and suppression practices continue to take place in Victoria.’

The spokesperson said the Commission did not believe the Tavistock decision had any implications for the Act and that decisions about Victorian law were a matter for the State Government.

A Victorian Government spokesperson denied the law stopped young people getting mental health or medical support.

Instead the spokesperson said it stopped ‘dangerous practitioners from dressing their harmful quackery up as genuine psychological treatment’.

‘We consulted extensively with survivors, LGBTIQ+ groups and religious organisations to develop the laws and the public strongly supported that change or suppression practices be banned,’ the spokesperson said.

‘These laws are keeping children and young people safe from those who would seek to convince them they need ‘fixing’ when they are perfect as they are.’

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