A few weeks after coming out as pansexual, Teri O’Neill was offered the chance to speak with a priest at her Catholic high school to make sure her “strong values” did not “go away”.
O’Neill was among a crowd of about 60 people who gathered outside Parliament on Wednesday to deliver a petition calling for a ban on gay conversion therapy.
Gay conversion therapy is any act that attempts to change a person’s sexual preference or gender identity.
O’Neill spoke to Stuff about her experience. No one else was present when she told her teacher she was pansexual. It was weeks later when her teacher again pulled her aside.
“She said … ‘I am here to provide services for you and if you’re considering that maybe your feelings aren’t correct … we’ve got strong connections in the church. We can set you up to talk to the priest if you’re questioning your identity or any of your values, but we believe you’ve got really strong values … so we don’t want to see that go away’.”
O’Neill’s teacher talked about “Catholic values” and how students at her school stayed true to those values.
“She spoke about being able to help me if I was questioning myself … the conversation was presented to me as an opportunity to reaffirm Catholic values against homosexuality.”
The petition presented on Wednesday was made up of 15,448 signatures obtained by by the Young Greens and Young Labour, and another 5157 signatures obtained by the Rodney Area Rainbow LGBTQ+.
InsideOut National Coordinator Tabby Besley said a ban was important because gay conversion therapy was an “extremely damaging, harmful practice”.
“We already are five times more likely to attempt suicide than non-rainbow people in New Zealand and [gay conversion therapy] sends people into this place where they’re being told that who they are is wrong.”
The petition, and a law change resulting from it – would be a “good start” and that while it would be “hard to know” how it would be policed, it would still be useful,” she said.
“If people are being coerced into that therapy, they’ve actually got the law backing them up so they can report that or get support that will actually help them.”
Young Greens co-convener Max Tweedie said there had been “barely any” resistance to the petition.
“I was expecting the Brian Tamakis of the world to come out against us.”
The petition showed a “groundswell of support” for the ban, he said.
“There are young people that are being harmed by this practice. We know this practice doesn’t work.”
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson, who was one of several MPs from the Greens and Labour in attendance, said gay conversion therapy was “appalling” and “inhumane”.
Labour MP Louisa Wall said the party would like to discuss the options National, as well as within caucus.
“To be responsive we have to the discussions with our coalition partners,” she said.
“The National Party need to be a part of this conversation and stand with us and say anything that harms, particularly, our young people, we all must take some responsibility in ending it.”
She acknowledged the work of National MP Chris Bishop as “a huge champion of LGBT rights”, as well as Nikki Kaye.
While Wall and fellow Labour MP Tamati Coffey had not seen any reports of the practice in their electorates, Coffey said that was “not to say it doesn’t happen”.