Student Statement Re: Professor John Whitehall

This week Western Sydney University students became aware that Professor John Whitehall, an academic at Western Sydney University, is set to speak on an Australian Christian Lobby panel regarding conversion therapy in June. We note his panellist entry lists him as a Professor of Paediatrics at Western Sydney University. We also note the disclaimer that he does not represent the views of Western Sydney University and question why, if this is the case, he has listed the institution in the first place.

Conversion therapy is the practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual or gender identity. Health authorities widely and largely discredit conversion therapy in numerous countries, including the American Psychological Society and the Australian Medical Association. The Australian Federal Health Minister does not support it. The ban on conversion therapy in Victoria is based on extensive evidence of harm found by the Health Care Complaints Commission.

Professor Whitehall’s position on this panel supports conversion therapy and arguably anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric. Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner Karen Cusak describes conversion therapy as “caus[ing] long-term psychological harm and distress to people who have undergone these ‘therapies”. She has also stated, “the trauma suffered by people who have been subjected to the practice can be deep and all-consuming, even many years after the conversion therapy ‘treatment’ has ceased”.

The undersigned students note that Professor Whitehall recently published an article in the Quadrant Journal regarding his opinions on conversion therapy and that this article was not subject to peer review. We understand Professor Whitehall has stated he has never worked with gender diverse children. Professor Whitehall makes many claims in his article, but it is challenging to determine where his evidence is drawn from. We also note The Quadrant has previously been accused of editor bias.

We condemn his ostensibly pro-conversion therapy views and his inclusion on this panel. We are very disappointed with this decision to participate. We also wonder how Professor Whitehall’s inclusion on this panel sits with Western Sydney University’s 2017-2020 Sexuality and Gender Diversity Strategy. We urge the Western Sydney University Executive to provide clarification regarding this. We further urge the Executive to strongly consider the well-being of Western Sydney University’s queer and gender-diverse students and staff.

The undersigned students stand in solidarity with all of our students and are especially concerned about protecting the wellbeing of our LGBTQIA+ student community. We welcome any student distressed by Professor Whitehall’s statements and inclusion in this panel to reach out to these student representatives for support or if they wish to provide a comment for us to pass on to Western Sydney University staff.

Hollie Hammond (SRC General Secretary elect, incoming NUS delegate, Academic Senate Rep)
Sarah Cupitt (SRC Vice President of Education – Undergrad, NUS delegate)
Vicky-Rae Renier-Clark (SRC Disabilities Rep)
Danielle Wolf (SRC Environment Rep)
Jaime Vassallo (SPU President)
Leanne Markovic (SRC Online Rep)
Mandii Carr (Student)
Jade Winter (Student)
Kezia Baxter (Student)
Desi Quintans (Student)
Western Sydney University Queer Collective
Western Sydney University Wom*n’s Collective
Western Sydney University Environment Collective
Western Sydney University Disability Collective

If you feel you need further support, please contact the services below:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Twenty10 incorporating GLCS on 1800 184 527
ACON on 1800 063 060
The Gender Centre on (02) 9519 8200

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