ACT government officials intervened at a Christian school after a letter was sent out urging parents to oppose legislation to ban sexual and gender conversion practices.
Trinity Christian School sent a letter to parents and carers on Monday claiming that the bill introduced to ban conversion therapy could lead to criminal action against parents or teachers and posed a threat to the teaching of Christian values in schools. The letter was from principal Ian Hewitt and council member Anush Avakian.
The letter said proposed legislation were so broad it could force parents, teachers and health professionals to agree with a child experiencing confusion about their sexuality and gender.
An ACT government spokeswoman said representatives met with school officials to correct misconceptions.
"Unfortunately, the correspondence sent out to parents by Trinity Christian School does not reflect the operation of the Bill," the spokeswoman said.
"The ACT government stands by the proposed legislation as both human rights compliant and properly constructed to ban harmful 'curative' conversion practices and treatments."
Trinity Christian School, which has come under fire for their treatment of homosexual students in the past, was contacted for comment but did not respond by deadline.
The letter quoted legal advice received by Christian Schools Australia, which claims that if a five-year-old girl told her parents she wanted to be a boy, criminal proceedings could be brought against her parents, school, teachers and doctor if they continued to treat her as a girl.
Christian Schools Australia public policy director Mark Spencer said the organisation obtained advice from Human Rights Law Alliance, a firm which is affiliated with the Australian Christian Lobby.
Mr Spencer said the definition of conversion therapy in the legislation was too broad as it could include counselling, pastoral care and provision of resources.
"It's too vague and doesn't have any clarity around it," he said.
Mr Spencer said that any stance that was "non-affirming" of someone's gender or sexuality would be "caught up with the definition" in the legislation.
Under the bill, a sexual or gender identity practice means a treatment or other practice with the purpose to change a person's sexuality or gender identity.
The bill excludes practices which aim to assist a person to express their gender identity, provide acceptance, support or understanding of a person or facilitate a person's coping skills, social support or identity exploration and development.
It also excludes activities to assist a person undergoing or considering a gender transition.
The government spokeswoman said the bill's objective was to prevent harm and that a parent or teacher did not have to agree with a child. However, they could not take active steps to change that child's sexual or gender identity.
"The bill does not in any way interfere with a parents right to care for their child according to their religious beliefs, unless that involves clear and damaging practices that seek to 'cure' or 'convert' their sexual or gender identity."
Diversity ACT Community Services secretary Megan Watt said several of her friends had been subjected to conversion therapies, including being held under water during forced re-baptisms, exorcisms, being prayed over and being counselled by church leaders to marry people of the opposite sex and live as a straight person.
"It is happening in Canberra and it needs to stop," she said.
She said it was inappropriate for a school to direct parents on a political matter.
"I would encourage [parents] to actually read the legislation rather than the letter. I would encourage them to talk to people working on the legislation but also talk to a LGBTIQ+ Christian."
- A previous version of this story said ACT government representatives visited Trinity Christian College. The meeting was held online.