Not affirming transgender children is family violence in Victoria

Tucked away in the recent Victorian Change or Suppression (Conversion Therapy) Prohibition Practices Act 2021, is a law change that could send parents to jail – not for “conversion therapy” (which is a clear risk to parents under the new law) but for “family violence”.

The story of Jonathan

In 2019, HRLA was contacted by a Queensland father, Jonathan* who was taken to court by his daughter Kate* for refusing to refer to her as a male and refusing to use her preferred names and pronouns.

In her early 20s, Kate announced that she was transgender and demanded that her father recognise her as male. In 2018, when the relationship with her father broke down, she made an application for a Domestic Violence and Protection Order against her dad, supported by a psychotherapist who insisted that Jonathan’s refusal to use a new name and pronouns was violence that caused psychological harm. On the court date, Kate failed to turn up and the application was dismissed. The judge remarked to Jonathan that there was no basis for a restraining order and a dad can’t be compelled against conscience to support their child’s decision to transition. You can read more about Johnathan’s story here.

In Victoria, with the passing of their Conversion Act, this is no longer true.

Victorian conversion therapy law – new forms of family violence

The recently passed Victorian Change or Suppression (Conversion Practice) Prohibition Act 2021 (Conversion Act) will come into full effect in 2022.

The law makes it a criminal offence to engage in conversion practices intended to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. You can read commentary that focusses on the conversion therapy provisions here and here.

The Victorian Conversion Act also includes the following change to the Family Violence Protection Act 2008:

Why is this of concern to parents?

The example added to the meaning of “emotional or psychological abuse” is a red herring. No adult child is likely to denigrate their elderly parent for same-sex attraction. The example will target parents. A Victorian parent can now be convicted of emotional and psychological abuse which is family violence if they do not affirm a child who wants to transition to the opposite sex.

Victoria now has a new legal basis to compel parents to endorse their children if they pursue a transgender identity. People like Jonathan will no longer be able to follow their conscience and their instincts as parents – to continue to affirm biological reality and their lived experience of the child that they raised. Anything less than affirmation could have serious consequences.

A recent case in Canada gives a picture of the risk that Victorians face in relation to their children.

Canada criminalises parental care

A Canadian father has been fighting the transgender transition procedures that his daughter has been encouraged through by her mother and school. The father contested what was being done to his daughter in court, but the judge told him that his consent was not relevant and the if he did not affirm his daughter’s transition, he would be implicated in an offence of “family violence”.

The father was eventually arrested and jailed because he refused to treat his daughter as a boy and because he continued to oppose the chemical hormone interference with his daughter’s development. The father’s crime? His refusal to acknowledge the biological reality about his daughter was “family violence” and he was in contempt of court by publicly speaking out about his belief that his daughter cannot transition to a different sex.

The story of this Canadian father is confronting. These new laws and the approach of courts in their application interfere with the fundamental rights of parents to insist on biological reality when raising their children.

With changes to the family violence laws in Victoria under the Conversion Act, parents now risk jail if they don’t fully affirm a child’s confusion about gender or sexuality. Much has been written about the shortcomings of the Conversion Act.

This is just another example of why this badly conceived law is an attack on fundamental freedoms.