People

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A Message from Margaret

5 February 2021

Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021

Last night, the Victorian Legislative Council passed the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill into law,
29 votes to 9, following a 12-hour debate. The lower house voted in favour in December.

The Act prohibits change or suppression or conversion practices that seek to change or suppress an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These practices are deeply harmful and can cause long-term mental health issues and, in the most tragic of cases, suicide. While the most extreme practices of shock therapy or aversion therapy are seldom practiced now, the relentless messages that LGBTIQ people are broken or disordered continues to cause enormous harm.

Where these practices continue, the Act will allow for both education about, and enforcement of, the prohibition. In circumstances where the practices continue after warning and education, it allows for prosecution and the imposition of penalties.

The Victorian Government developed the legislation in consultation with survivor-advocates such as the Brave Network. Meetings were also held with faith communities and leaders.

Based on their often highly traumatic experiences, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) survivors of these practices and advocates believed that an effective law should:

  • Contain a strong affirmation that LGBTQ people are not ‘broken’ or ‘disordered.’
  • Ban practices in both formal (medical/psychology/counselling) and informal (including religious) settings, whether paid or unpaid.
  • Protect all adults and children, and people with impaired agency, including prohibition of the removal of children from the jurisdiction for the purpose of conversion practices.
  • Target the false, misleading, and unscientific claims that drive most conversion practices.
  • Focus on practitioners’ intent to facilitate change or suppression of a person’s orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
  • Prohibit advertising and promotion of paid or unpaid conversion practices, including promotion of false and misleading claims designed to generate demand.
  • Prohibit referrals from practitioners, whether in informal or formal contexts, to conversion practices, while also covering unsupportive health practitioners who fail to refer LGBTQA+ people to appropriate supports
  • Be accompanied by survivor supports, such as counselling and redress for survivors.
  • Provide investigative powers to a suitably advised body or commission, with scope for investigations to be initiated internally or as a response to complaints by third parties, not just by survivors, using strategies that prevent re-traumatisation.

There was vigorous opposition from some churches and religious bodies, while others supported the legislation. The debate around religious freedom was particularly contentious.

Prohibiting change and suppression practices is not the same as prohibiting theological beliefs including beliefs about same-sex attraction and gender identity, or ideas about sin or hell. The law prohibits practices based on unscientific claims about the causes of LGBTQ identity and experience. It does not prohibit religious belief, but it does prohibit harm caused in the name of religious belief. Maintaining this distinction is a vital part of navigating ‘religious freedom’ arguments. Conversion practices are harmful regardless of where they occur. In this respect, religious bodies are treated the same as other people who might promote conversion practices.

In light of the harm caused by suppression or change practices, the Church Council of St Michael’s agreed to support the legislation. This decision was made after careful consideration of the issue of Religious Freedom, making it very clear that the Council believes that religious freedom is a right to be respected and safe-guarded. It was also agreed that I would offer resources to assist the congregation to understand the decision.

Under the UN Declaration of Human Rights, every human being has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This includes freedom to practice religion or belief in worship, observance and teaching. However, religious freedom is not an unfettered right. A human right may conflict with another right. To use a well-worn example, the right to free speech does not include the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre (when there is no fire). Many nations have legislated against female genital mutilation even though it is regarded by some to be a requirement of their religious belief. In Australia, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse made it abundantly clear that there must be limits to religious freedom, and that religious bodies are not laws unto themselves when it comes to causing emotional or physical harm.

The work of survivor-advocates was crucial to the passage of the bill into law. They know that it is legislation that will save lives, but the process has again taken a toll as survivors have re-told their stories of trauma in order to help politicians and the broader community understand why the law was necessary. I am grateful for their work and that of the allies who have supported this legislation.

If you would like to better understand survivor experiences, I encourage you to do so through these websites.
The Melbourne-based Brave Network – https://thebravenetwork.org/
The SOGICE (Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Change Efforts) Survivor Statement –
https://socesurvivors.com.au/

I am also happy to discuss the legislation with members and friends of St Michael’s.

St Michael’s Minister
Rev Dr Margaret Mayman

“I have passions that have grown out of 25 years of ministry in three liberal/progressive congregations, two of those in CBD locations like St Michael’s. I hope to support St Michael’s to engage more deeply with the communities of people who live, work, study and play in the city of Melbourne – to be a meeting place where people come together to reflect and act ethically for the common good. I believe that the Church has a role to play in bringing together diverse groups to foster ‘courageous civil conversations’ about what really matters. I dream of a church that is committed to nourishing the spirits of city dwellers, building social connectivity through the arts, social justice, and hospitable, inclusive community. This is genuine evangelism, which is based not in a desire to convert, but in love for the world, for people and creatures and our planet home”.

On Sunday, February 9, 2020 the Presbytery of Yarra Yarra inducted Rev Dr Margaret Mayman to serve as Minister of the Word to the Congregation of St Michael’s Uniting Church.

Ministerial Experience

Dr. Mayman has extensive experience in contemporary progressive ministry, social policy, community engagement, theological and social ethics and advocacy.

Dr. Mayman was ordained as a Minister of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand in 1982 and her first appointment was at West Dunedin Union Church. This was followed by a move to New York where Dr. Mayman pursued doctoral studies at Union Theological Seminary and taught Christian Ethics and Religious Studies.

In 1995 Dr. Mayman took up the position of Minister at St Ninian’s Presbyterian Church, a theologically liberal suburban congregation in Christchurch.

In 2002 Dr. Mayman became the Senior Minister of St Andrew’s on the Terrace, a large city church in Wellington New Zealand. The congregation numbers had been dwindling and needed revitalising. Working with the Church Council, she initiated a number of changes which significantly increased the numbers attending worship. In addition, a strong presence in the city was fostered through a ministry which engaged the community and focused on social justice and sustainable models of church community.

Dr. Mayman was also involved in a large scale $3.5 million capital works project to renovate the heritage-listed church which became a thriving hub of civic, artistic, spiritual and communal activity.

In 2013 Dr. Mayman became the Minister of Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney. During her tenure of six years the membership, drawn from across Sydney, grew and the congregation’s identity and purpose were articulated and expressed in fresh ways. A Mission Plan was been developed focusing on both the life of the congregation and engagement with the city.

In 2016 Dr. Mayman became a Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church in Australia. She lectured in Theological Ethics at the United Theological College, North Parramatta and is well known in the progressive theology network, has been a keynote speaker at numerous conferences and is sought after for comment by the mainstream media.

Community Engagement, Social Justice and Pastoral Care

In relation to her commitment and concern for her congregation Dr. Mayman has noted that:

“In the life of a faith community, I am committed to expressing the inclusive love of God for all the glorious diversity of people and planet in language and practices that dismantle the hierarchies of race, gender, religion, ability, class, gender identity and sexual orientation.”

Dr. Mayman has also had significant leadership roles in:

  • Achieving marriage equality in civil and church contexts in New Zealand and Australia
  • Engaging the church in theological reflection and action to address climate change
  • Support and advocacy for refugees and people seeking asylum
  • The living wage movement in New Zealand
  • Abortion Law Reform in New South Wales

She has also:

  • Advocated for people with a disability for appropriate education and services
  • Participated in the Walking on Country pilgrimage to Indigenous communities with the Synod of NSW and the ACT
  • Developed and resourced effective pastoral care systems

Theology, Leadership and Consultative Personal Style

Dr. Mayman has noted that theology:

“is not about believing a set of claims about God and Jesus, but rather a reflection on a path of transformation that leads to participation in the Sacred”, and that “I accept the historic creeds of the church, recognizing the ecclesiastical and political contexts in which they rose. However, I seek to express timeless theological truths in language that is accessible and meaningful.”

And in relation to successful leadership that:

“Hierarchical and individualistic leadership is no longer a viable model for ministry. I am committed to a leadership style that is engaged, relational, collaborative, interdependent and empowering of others. Leadership requires self-knowledge and self-care. It demands attention to one’s own spiritual journey.

A leader must be a listener discerning the vision and hopes of the faith community and reflecting them back to the community in conversation and in worship that nourishes and inspires.”

It has been noted that Dr. Mayman is a passionate and compassionate person and has a warm and engaging personality with pastoral care as a valued part of her Ministry. She has outstanding presentation and preaching skills and is inspired by the Gospels in her public theology and actions. She is a leader in the Uniting Church of Australia through her progressive and thoughtful preaching, social advocacy, and in the care and compassion she has for the members of her congregation.

St Michael’s Organist and Manager of Music
Rhys Boak

Rhys Boak was born in Melbourne into a musical family.  Experimenting as a toddler playing the piano, his formal training commenced at age 4 with his mother, Laurice Boak. Rhys began playing the piano as he learned to walk, and his interest in the king of instruments, the pipe organ started soon after.

Rhys has been the organist and Manager of Music at St Michael’s Uniting Church in Melbourne’s CBD since June 2007. Notably in 2005 he initiated the first series of organ recitals to be held in mainland China, when he opened the world’s largest pipe organ museum in Gulangyu China along with Japanese organ virtuoso Ryoko Mori. He has undertaken numerous international tours throughout Europe and Asia.

In 2006, Rhys notably toured China playing duets with the late Geoffrey Tozer, and has toured with many artists, most recently as part of the nationwide ‘My Hero’ tour with Australian soprano, Greta Bradman presented by Universal Music.  He has toured Europe twice with the Australian Chamber Choir, and also with the Choir of Ormond College of the University of Melbourne.  Rhys is also a notable collector and restorer of historic Australian pianos and is a certified piano technician. As a highly active orchestrator and arranger, his work has been recorded by the likes of the English Chamber Orchestra, Sir Richard Bonynge and can be heard on the Sony, Decca and Move Records labels.